What we can learn from a DECA competition

I was recently a judge for a DECA mock competition. DECA prepares emerging leaders and entrepreneurs in marketing, finance, hospitality and management in high schools and colleges around the globe.

The competition is one where the participants are given 10 minutes to read a business problem and come up with a solution following 5 key performance indicators. They then do a role play with two judges where they speak to us like we are their managers and they are sharing their solution to the problem. They must present themselves with confidence, authority, poise and convey business acumen. It would be a difficult assignment for many adults.

In this particular competition we judges gave the students feedback immediately after they finished their presentation. The things we paid attention to were their handshake, their body language, eye contact, whether they greeted us or not, their talking speed, how well they thought out the problem and how complete their solution was. For instance, did they have examples of how they would increase communication and morale between management and employees?

I realized how important it is that they master making a great first impression, and those who did scored much higher than those who didn’t, even if their solution was brilliant. This is exactly one of the areas I teach as a business etiquette consultant. So, let’s look at some of these things:


I can’t emphasize enough how important a good handshake is. Your hand should be fully in the other person’s hand web to web and you should have a firm, but not bone crushing grip. Accompany the handshake with good eye contact. A dead fish handshake or lack of eye contact can immediately affect people’s perception of your confidence and authority. Not sure if you have a confident handshake? Ask a few friends for feedback.

Eye Contact

In America, if someone doesn’t look at us when speaking or when we are talking we believe they are either being disrespectful or they lack confidence. It’s important we look people in the eyes when we are communicating. You don’t want to stare, but hold your gaze for a bit to show interest and confidence. If you are presenting, look at your notes briefly to read your next point then look at your audience when speaking it.

Body language

Standing and sitting tall says we are confident and interested. The students who slouched or who bent over the table did not make a favorable impression. The other thing we watched for were nervous gestures such as playing with a pen, their hair, shuffling their notes. One young woman conveyed quite a bit of confidence through her handshake, eye contact, facial expressions and her delivery, but she kept playing with her hair, so that made what could have been a great presentation less so.

You may not have to create and present a solution to a business problem in 10 minutes, but think of the many times making a great impression matters – a sales presentation, a job interview, a lunch meeting with a client. Make sure you are conveying confidence and authority by keeping these points in mind.

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Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>

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