DECA trip gives valuable experience for future career
May 2, 2018
When my friend Andrew Davies invited me to join DECA, I asked him if that was the debate team. “No,” he replied, “but the first meeting’s in a half hour. It’d be easier to just go than for me to explain it here.” Whether he intended it or not, that was a brilliant marketing tactic. I decided to attend, mostly out of curiosity. I never thought DECA would have me traveling to Washington D.C. just two months later.
Standing for Distributive Educational Clubs of America, DECA is a competitive business conference with a wide variety of events to compete in. They range from marketing-based challenges such as fashion merchandising to left-brained, number crunching events like accounting. Andrew and I, both marketing communications majors, became a team of two in the event of the same name.
Our first outing was the Wisconsin State Competition in Delevan. As a first-time participant, the first thing I noticed was the strict adherence to formal dress codes. Every ceremony felt like the Oscars. The conference was essentially a crash course on professional conduct. The events operated on what’s known as “DECA time,” meaning competitors were expected to show up 15 minutes early. Before I even started competing, I was already learning practical habits for the future.
The competitions themselves put all of my and Andrew’s critical thinking skills to use and challenged us to draw from our marketing communications knowledge from the classroom. Once our time came, we were escorted to a table with our scenario waiting for us. We had one hour to read, understand and brainstorm. For our fictional clients, we had to write taglines, advertisement ideas, social media content, promotional ideas and other marketing ideas. In that same hour, we had to organize our ideas until they were fit to present to the judges. At the state conference, we presented twice. Both times, the preparation felt like the shortest hour of my life.
Between the two presentations, Andrew and I performed well enough to earn third place in the state. This qualified us to compete in the DECA International Competition. We were going to D.C.
Travelling across the country for a competition of this level was surreal. When we arrived in Washington D.C., the increased pressure was immediately apparent. At state, a small auditorium was filled for the opening ceremony. In D.C., the ceremony was attended by thousands. Perhaps the increased pressure was exactly what Andrew and I needed. We worked together better than ever. Competing against people from across the continent gave me one of the biggest adrenaline rushes I’ve ever had.
The chance to compete wasn’t the only special experience from the trip. Between events, the team and I got to travel across the city and see what life is like in the nation’s capital. Food trucks are positioned on nearly every street corner downtown, and leaving the hotel 15 minutes before the Nationals game starts is more adequate when using the city’s subway system. The Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial and Smithsonian Museums are all surreal to visit in person, especially after seeing them in so many movies and TV shows. I’m still somewhat bitter that Andrew didn’t want to recreate the opening scene from "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" when we had the chance, though.
In the end, we took third place at the International Competition too. The trip was an adventure in itself, but it was still exciting to end with yet another reason to celebrate. Thinking back, it’s strange to consider that my favorite experience of the semester started with a mild curiosity. I could have easily thought of a reason not to attend that first meeting, but I’d be lacking two awards, a few snazzy pictures for Facebook and countless stories. In the end, my biggest takeaway from DECA was that it never hurts to hear your friends out when they suggest something new. You might just find a new passion.
Bennett Ryynanen is a freshman studying journalism and marketing communications. Because he likes to focus on the positive things in life, he decided to omit the gory details of traveling home from D.C. when the Midwest tried to catch up on its yearly snow quota in April.
Bennett Ryynanen is a student at UW-River Falls.