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First-year Daniels student Marilyn Collins presents at the Undergraduate Case Competition earlier this month.

I first learned about the Daniels Undergraduate Case Competition from one of my academic advisors early in Winter Quarter, long before the competition occurred in early May. Once I heard about this opportunity, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. I have a history of working to improve my communication skills, and this was what interested me most about the opportunity to compete.

I am a freshman and am surrounded by a large number of other first-year students in many of my business classes. Because of this, the team I ended up forming consisted of all freshmen, many of whom I had met in my communications class. They had proven themselves to be very motivated and proficient speakers, and I knew we would work well as a team. Since we were younger than many of the other teams, this motivated us to prove ourselves as equally capable as the undergraduates in higher level business classes.

When we first received our case, my team and I wrote down the big issues that needed to be addressed. From the questioning period, we discovered that a lack of upward mobility was a perceived challenge for millennials and members of Generation Z at the company Vertafore. After we documented everything we thought we should explore in order to address this issue, my team and I came up with a few solutions that would appeal to and motivate young people, including demonstrating opportunities for upward mobility through the Vertafore Visionaries leadership program.

Our team figured that other groups might have similar ideas. Because of this, we decided to distinguish ourselves by providing the judges with a folder of accessories to accompany our presentation, including brochures and graphs further explaining our points and reminding the judges of what we had said. After fully developing our ideas, we worked to create the accessories while simultaneously creating our presentation. We divided and assigned parts of the presentation to each team member so we all knew what to work on, and ended our working session around 11 p.m. the night before the competition in order to get some rest.

The next day, our team gathered at 10 a.m. to review our presentation with the presentation advisor. We showed her our slides and went through everything that we were planning to say. From there, we began to cut down the fat of our presentation since some of our individual parts were longer than they needed to be. In addition to this, our advisor recommended that we give the judges our accessory folders after the presentation, so they would not be distracted during our presentation. We followed this advice when the time of the presentation came.

Although the competition officially started at noon, we were able to practice until 3:30 p.m., which we found to be a blessing. This gave us a great deal of time to work on our specific presentation skills and help each other become better and more cohesive as a group by including transitions to one another’s points. We decided to make our presentation slides less word heavy and to speak more without relying on our notes too much. This memorization was perhaps the scariest part of the presentation, since there is always the possibility that you may forget what you are saying on stage. Another major stressor was the time constraint. Knowing we only had 15 minutes to present, we knew we had to be conscious of time and make sure that we left enough room for others to talk. We constantly practiced cutting down our time without sounding too rushed.

Right before we presented, I had one bad practice run where I forgot what to say and I took up more time then intended. I believe this made me very nervous before the presentation. At the presentation, our team was given microphones, but since we had practiced without holding them, we found it easier to simply present without them and instead broadcast our voices. Everyone made sure to keep on time and we ended up finishing in 14 minutes, but because I was nervous about forgetting what to say and about going over, I noticed while speaking that my voice sounded shakier than I felt. I tried to compensate for this by speaking louder and with more confidence, but it was something the judges noticed as well. Although I felt fine on stage, my voice continued to do this and there was nothing I was able to do to stop it. I was disappointed because this has never happened to me before while speaking. By the time the questioning period came, however, my voice was back to normal. I was very proud of our team because we knew it was essential for at least three of us to talk and contribute during questioning. Although the judges only asked us two questions, my team made sure that three of us had the opportunity to speak.

Although we did not win, the experience was valuable since I got to work with a passionate and dedicated team to develop a well thought out business idea. I was proud of our presentation, and I believe it has helped me to work with teams, develop myself as a leader and prepare me for future case competitions, which I am excited to participate in!