Tips from Project Judges
We asked World Festival and State-Level Project Judges for tips and advice they have for teams. Here is what they shared:
1) It’s always important for the team to pick their own topic to study, but as a coach you need to guide them to make sure that it’s a realistic topic. Have the team look at the rubric and make sure that they can defend the topic in all areas.
2) Even a weak project can have outstanding research.
3) Teams should do a 360’ around their topic. Every question leads to an answer that leads to more questions. You never know who your judges are going to be. They may be experts in the field or have visited the same locations your team did.
4) Never “fake it”. If you don’t know an answer simply say something like “ that’s a great question and we need to find the answer to that. If you stop by our pit later, we will have it for you”
5) Presentations where stuents are reading from a script are not as engaging. If you having trouble memorizing, make posters to hold and tape your scripts to the back.
6) Many teams spend more time on their skits than on their research. Cute costumes and a complicated storyline will never take the place of facts. Focus on the facts first.
7) Judges don’t have time to look through your binder for information. Make sure that the team TELLS the judges everything they need to know. Convey everything you need to in your 5mins.
8) Bring your binder, but also 1 or 2 pages with bullet points that list the information required for the highest areas of the rubric. That way when the judges go to score you, they have the information handy to refresh their memories.
9) The rubric is your best resource for success. Have the team score themselves using the rubric and see where they want to improve.
10) Judges see a lot of teams, keep your information as clear as possible. A skit that is too involved makes it difficult to find the facts.
11) Make your judges laugh. It breaks the tension and assures that they will remember you.
12) The judges are very interested in your team as a whole and don’t need to know all your names. Save time and wear name tags if you really want them to know who you are.
13) Practice, practice, practice. When you think it’s perfect record yourself and watch it. Chances are, you will want to practice it again.
14) Know your audience. Make sure that any jokes or pop culture references are clear enough to be understood by all age groups and all cultures.
15) Make sure that everyone on the team has some role to play in your presentation (lines in the skit, changing the props, saying the introduction, answering questions).
16) Don’t say that you could not find an expert. There are teams that send scores of “cold call” emails to companies and colleges until they hit on someone who is “kid friendly”. It does happen. Email professors who write professional papers and ask for their help, Fill out the “contact us” section of a corporate website, there are lots of ways to do this. One of our team members befriended the president of Ohio State (via a cold call email) and each season he would pass along her email to a professor at the school who would be a resource for the team. A random email to a paint company led to access to their R&D department. The same with the company who the make the air bags for the mars rover. You can do this!
17) Set up an email account for the team. The coach needs to read all emails before the kids on the team. You never know what someone is going to say. This is basic protection for the kids.
18) When you mention your experts, know their full name, what they are an expert in, and how you found them. “Our coach got Shelia to come talk to us about some stuff” is not a great answer.
19) Don’t give your presentation from the back wall. Instead, move closer to the judges without being making them uncomfortable (give them some space). You’ll be more engaging, the judges will be able hear you, and they’ll also be able to see and read any visuals you bring in.
20) The presentation time includes any setup time. Your 5 mins actually starts the moment all the team members enter the room. If you end up with significant set up time, consider having a team member interact with the judges whilst the others are setting up.
Thank you to Nancy, Haruna, Fiona and Asha for these tips.