Ever wondered how to gain a competitive edge over your peers?
Calling all secondary and post-secondary students. The DECA Business Competition is for you.
Before I begin, watch this video from the 2019 International Career Development Conference in Orlando, Florida.
I had the privilege of competing in this competition after qualifying at the regional and provincial levels.
What is DECA?
DECA is a premier international business association that prepares emerging leaders and entrepreneurs in marketing, finance, hospitality and management in high schools and post-secondary institutions worldwide.
Currently, DECA has 220,000 members around the globe. It also has over 15,000 students alone in the Ontario chapter, which was established in 1920 and is now the second largest chapter worldwide!
This doesn’t even include the 833 advisors and 5,200 partners that make a huge impact on the success of the organization.
My Experience with DECA Ontario
Throughout high school, the DECA Chapter at my school was starting to grow. I had always heard about the competition, but never took the initiative to actually join.
That was the case until my final year, when I made the decision to join DECA. I had to interview for a position on the team, but my partner and I both made it.
Little did we know that DECA would dramatically change our high school experience, and essentially, our entire lives. We chose to compete in the Hospitality Team Decision Making (HTDM) category.
With no prior experience, it was a little overwhelming trying to figure out what we were supposed to do.
Luckily, having a bit of foundational knowledge in business helped us out. After a few weekly chapter meetings at school, we were on our way to preparing for the first part of the competition – regionals!
Hamilton Regional Competition
So, it was a few days prior to regionals, but we had to complete a 100 question multiple choice test online. This would account for 50% of our score that determined if we would make it to provincials or not.
It basically comprised of a variety of different business questions in marketing, finance, accounting, human resources, law, and of course, hospitality and tourism.
If I’m being honest, the test was quite difficult, especially considering we were in Grade 12. I can’t imagine how much harder it would be for someone in only their first year of high school.
We completed the test about 5 days prior to the regional competition. This gave us a few days to practice for our first case.
For our category, we are given a short business case which we then have 30 minutes to read and prepare a 10 minute presentation.
What makes this difficult is that the presentation occurs immediately after the 30 minutes are up.
Having a good partner that you coordinate well with drastically increases your success and helps to calm you down.
Our regional competition took place at a local high school in Burlington, Ontario. When we arrived, we were given a presentation time and room location.
We didn’t have to present until 2:15pm, so this gave us a few hours to prepare. Both of us were extremely nervous as we didn’t know what to expect.
Our case was to recommend one of three options for a new hotel in a growing city. Going into the case, you are only allowed to bring a writing utensil and blank paper.
We made several visuals to accompany our presentation, which helped us with the overall flow. We also created an agenda and fake business cards using the paper we had brought in.
After the case, we were so relieved and knew that we had done a good job. All we had to do now was wait for the results.
It was an anxious moment, but we ended up winning a few awards and qualified for the Provincial Competition in Toronto, Ontario.
Ontario Provincial Competition
I will try to keep this section short and leave room for internationals, but provincials was definitely an experience to remember.
This competition lasts two days instead of just the one like regionals. Our school chapter stayed in a hotel near the Sheraton Centre, where the competition took place.
Although we knew what to expect this time around, we were still extremely nervous for our case. Like the regionals competition, we had already completed our multiple choice test online a few days prior.
We felt like our score on the test was alright, but not high enough to make it to internationals. Our school also only had one person ever qualify for ICDC, and that was 5 years ago.
Going into our case, we figured that we would do pretty well, but had no idea of what was to come. The case was about developing new marketing strategies for a hotel that was struggling.
We came up with a multi-tiered platform in order to provide customers with the best experience possible, but also ensure that travellers on a budget had their needs met as well.
Our presentation consisted of many visuals to improve the flow and keep us on track.
Unlike regionals, the awards ceremony took place the following day. For the rest of the night, we all hung out with our classmates in the Eaton Centre and at the hotel.
And then, it was awards time. This awards ceremony was massive compared to regionals which was just in a school gymnasium.
There were lights, speakers, a large stage, and thousands of people gathered in hopes of qualifying for internationals in Orlando.
During the award ceremony, they would call up the top 20 teams for their oral presentation scores and written multiple choice scores. From there, they would announce the top 18 teams overall and gather them in a line on the stage.
We were fortunate enough to be one of those teams. Not expecting this at all, we could both feel the adrenaline rush through our bodies.
It was a super cool and exciting experience to be on the stage in front of thousands of competitors.
After the top 18 teams came up, they announced the top 9 that would be going to Orlando.
This was a crazy mix of emotions for us, because while we weren’t one of the top 9 teams to make it, we had no idea what was going to happen next.
The top 18 teams would then go into a separate room and each of the qualifying teams had to say “yes” or “no” and verbally commit to attending ICDC. We were so lucky in that one team said no, and we were somehow the next team up to qualify.
It was one of the best moments of my life to qualify for internationals when we had no expectations to do so.
International Career Development Conference
It was finally here, internationals!
We were on the way to the airport to travel to Orlando, Florida for our first ever major competition on the world stage.
All DECA Ontario delegates were required to wear a special t-shirt and let me tell you, it wasn’t the most attractive looking shirt.
But, regardless, we were on the way to Florida and that’s all that really mattered!
For the first few days in Orlando, we had training sessions for the entire day. These consisted of practicing multiple choice exams and simulating the event with an actual case from recent years.
Our first task was to write the multiple choice exam. As you know, the other two exams we wrote took place at our high school.
This one was a little different. There were thousands of people gathered in the conference centre, all separated based on their event category.
We were given the paper copy of the exam and used a scantron sheet to fill out our answers. Personally, I found the exam a bit more challenging than at Regionals or Provincials, but I guess that’s what I expected.
When the exam was finally over, we got right back to work.
Our presentation component was only a day and a half away, and we needed lots of preparation and practice time.
However, we were honestly exhausted at this point and did not practice as much as we probably should have.
When we got our case, it was something we had never seen before.
The subject was Economics but the case was a lot different than the ones we were given at Regionals and Provincials.
The presentation didn’t go terrible, but it also didn’t go as well as we had hoped.
Regardless, we were proud to have been given the opportunity to even compete at the international level.
A few days later, it was time for the awards ceremony.
There were thousands and thousands of people surrounding the stage on all sides.
It was an incredible experience to be right there with delegates from all over the world.
While we didn’t end up winning any awards, we still kept our heads up and remained proud.
Now, I won’t give away any more details about our experience.
But, if you are reading this thinking about whether or not you should join DECA…
DO IT! I promise you won’t regret it!
As always, if you have any questions about my experience or some tips, feel free to reach out and send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For now though, good luck and be proud!
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