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When the VCU School of Business created its 25-hour Creative Communication Competition, its objective was to give students an intense experience in developing, rehearsing and delivering a three-minute presentation. Yet what they ultimately created is a vehicle that students are actively using to test and build their own resilience.

Giovanni Knight was a freshman at the VCU School of Business when she attended her first competition. “I did not have the confidence to participate. I just watched,” she explains. The next year, as a sophomore, she participated and earned a modest cash prize for “best use of story.” Last year, she relished the re-engineered competition and was proud to compete in the final round. This year? The senior Information Systems major took home the top cash prize of $1,000. 

2020 Creative Communication Competition Winners



Giovanni Knight, Senior, Major – Information Systems



Kalah Branch, Senior, Major – Financial Technology



Delawit Assefa, Senior, Major – Business, Supply Chain Management & Analytics Concentration
Note: Delawit Assefa recently was selected from a field of 648 applicants to receive a $15,000 national fashion scholarship. Learn more.



Yosef Mirakov Cohen, Sophomore, Major – Marketing Communication and Analytics Concentration.



Erin Klich, Senior, Major – Marketing, Personal Selling & Business Marketing Concentration

“I am very much an introvert, but there are times I have to have extroverted energy. It’s not really a choice,” she says. “So I try to practice and polish myself through competitions and classes and feedback. I knew if I kept trying, I would reap some type of reward, even if it was just making it to the finals again or placing,” she says. “I tried to be better than I was last year in every aspect.”

Knight credits her Winning Presentations teacher, Bryant Pugh, for her success. “I took his class my freshman year. He was the first person to give me feedback on the presentation skills I needed to work on and I was able to start improving in a way I’d never been able to before. Every year that I’ve competed, I’ve received feedback from the coaches and built on that. But it all started with him.”

After winning, Knight was eager to text VCU alumna Tammie Goode, whom Knight describes as “one of my best mentors.” Goode, now employed with Altria, won the first competition that Knight watched as a freshman. “I’ve been tight with her ever since, so it feels like it came full circle that I would come through in the end and win as well. I can’t wait to tell her I won!” Knight will graduate in May and recently accepted a job as a data analyst with CapTech Consulting.

More than 20 students competed in the extracurricular, two-day, 25-hour competition that began on Friday, February 21 at 4 p.m. Each student was assigned a topic with background research and, with help from presentation consultants, had until 10 p.m. to develop a compelling outline. The next day, at 8 a.m., students were back at Snead Hall to begin rehearsing in small groups under the guidance of presentation coaches. At 1 p.m., all students participated in the first round of judging. Eleven finalists were selected to compete in the finals at 3:30 p.m.

Lonnie Thompson, a senior manager for customer solutions with Altria Group Distribution Company, was one of five professionals who volunteered as judge. Though his judging tasks were completed after the first round, Thompson stayed to watch the finalists. “As program manager for Altria’s customer supply chain internship program, we’ve had a few years of history recruiting at VCU. After seeing these students compete, I wanted to see how it all ended.”

Other judges from regional businesses included: Daniel R. Gill, Retired Federal Executive, Becky Kamguia with JenCare, a ChenMed Company, Meriwether Roberts from Altria and Dan Walsh of Dan Walsh Consulting, LLC.

Like Thompson, the student competitors not selected as finalists stayed to watch the finals and award presentations. Among them was freshman Eric McHenry who learned about the competition from an employee in VCU Career Services who knew he planned to double major in theater and economics and recommended the competition.

“I’m trying to get better at coping with failure,” McHenry explained. “As a theater major, I regularly have performances and auditions that don’t work out. I wanted to stay to respect the people who moved on to the finals, and also to take notes on what they did so I can do better next time.”

McHenry asked competition coordinators Aaron Anderson and Marisa Guida for copies of his round one scorecard with judges’ notes. “I knew my general topic – animal testing – but there was a second sheet with specific questions we needed to address. I was supposed to talk about consumer products, but I didn’t talk about consumer products at all. Next year, I’ll definitely pay better attention to all the details.”

Senior Catalina Currier also stayed out of solidarity for her peers. Currier actively participates in the International Toastmasters program hosted weekly in the VCU School of Engineering. But, having only recently declared a minor in business, she had never before competed. “I stayed to compare myself and grow from that. Any evaluations my peers get are lessons I can absorb. In our small groups this morning, I got to hear other people’s critiques. If they were speaking too fast, it made me realize I might be too. It was great to see the winner present so that someday I can strive to compete at that level as well.”

2020 Creative Communication Competition


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