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Why didn’t I win the Causeway Pitch Competition?

Four smiling winners of the Causeway Pitch Competition
Winners of the 2017 Causeway Pitch Competition

This post is specifically about the Causeway Pitch Competition (CPC) at the University of South Alabama (USA). Some of what I write here may be useful to you for other contests as well. This year’s CPC was structured as a two stage contest. In stage one contestants submitted a poster about their business idea. That poster was judged on its own merits to determine which ideas made it in to the finals. In the finals students gave a 1-2 minute prepared speech explaining their idea.

Part One: My Poster Wasn’t Selected for the Finals

There are many reasons your poster might not have been selected. I’ll list and comment on some of them in no particular order.

  1. We received 29 entries. Not all of them could win. It might be that your poster was very very good and you just missed the cut.
  2. We received 29 entries, 23 of them on the last day. It is possible all the entries were working diligently on their entry for weeks or months. It is also possible that some students put together their entry at the last moment. Only you know if this applies to you. Research shows that people believe that they perform well under pressure, but really they don’t. I’m not pointing any fingers here, I had a deadline yesterday (as I write this) of 5:00 p.m. and I turned in the work at 4:12 p.m. I had thought about the project for a while, but I didn’t really settle on exactly what I was going to do until yesterday morning. As a result I was rushed and probably didn’t make as good a case for myself as I could have.
  3. You may not have tailored your poster to what the judges were looking for. This is hard. We tried to make it easy by publishing the judges instructions on the contest web page so that you could see exactly how they were going to judge. For example, in this particular contest, posters for for profit businesses were rated from 1 to 5 on four different things: the problem your business is solving, how your business was going to solve it, why you think it will work, and how much money you think you’ll make. So your minimum score is 4, and your maximum score is 20 (5 in each category). If you said nothing on the poster about how much money you thought your business idea would make it would be very difficult for a judge to give you more than one point (the minimum) in that category. Some judges looked at an idea and decided for themselves how much it would be likely to make, but they were not instructed to do so.
  4. The judges might be less knowledgeable than you, at least in your specific area of expertise, or have a different opinion of what is important than you do, or any number of other differences of that nature. For example, if you take a strong stance on a political issue, and the judge disagrees with you, it is possible that they would score your idea differently than if they agreed with you.
  5. Your poster may have been difficult to read, or hard to understand, or perhaps it didn’t communicate your idea as well as you thought. A poster is one form of communication. It’s different than speaking in person because it has to stand alone. Perhaps if you had been standing next to your poster to explain it, it would have been much better, but that wasn’t point of this part of the contest. If your poster didn’t explain your idea on its own, then it is unlikely it would make it though to the next round.

Part Two: I Pitched, But I Didn’t Win

  1. If you pitched in the Causeway Pitch Competition, you did win and congratulations! But I know what you mean. So let’s talk about it.
  2. There were 12 entries and 3 winners. We had a bunch of judges, and perhaps you were just edged out.
  3. There was a short span of time to prepare your pitch after you found out you were in the finals. All of the winners were preparing their pitch before they got in the finals. I know this because every one of them was emailing me and coming to my office before the finalists were selected. If you started preparing after you found out you were in the finals you may not have had enough time to adequately prepare.
  4. What you presented may not have matched up with rubric the judges were using. This is the same idea as point 3 above. The recommended way to present an elevator pitch for this contest was to present the 5 p’s in order. The reason for this was so that the judges could ‘follow along’ and know where your presentation was headed. This was to make scoring easy and fair. If you presented different information than the 5 p’s or presented them in a different order it is possible that one or more of the judges was confused and didn’t know how to score you.
  5. You may not have presented as well as you could have. This could be due to lots of things. Speaking in front of people is hard. I find it easier to talk to groups about things I care about, but many students tell me the more they care about something the harder it is to overcome nervousness or ‘stage fright’. Again, if you didn’t know your material well you may have missed an important point, or not communicated it as well as you could have.

In Closing

No matter how far you made it in the competition, no matter if you won money or a trophy, I am proud of your effort. The 29 of you who entered did far more than your peers. Just like the sign at our rec center says ‘the only bad workout is the one you don’t do’ or something like that. This was a mental workout. It was hard. It’s supposed to be. I hope it was rewarding, and I hope you learned something that will help you later in life. And great news! We have another contest coming up in the spring. It’s harder, but there’s more money, and I know you’re capable. I look forward to seeing more great ideas from you in the spring.

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