Helpful Hints from a Past Participant
Future City is a competition for the young engineers of this world. It’s an organization that has inspired kids to change the world. This program definitely changes who you, as a student, will be. Whether it’s a change for the better or the change for the worst is up to you to decide. You can treat this as just another project that your science teacher has assigned OR you can treat this as an opportunity to experience what it’s like to use teamwork and creative to solve challenging problems and help improve the Earth.
New and old teams, from all around the world, come to Washington DC to compete in the International Future City competition. In order to make it to DC, all the teams had to win their Regional Competitions. Lucky for me, a Future City alum, had the chance to visit DC with my team. We had won our Regional Competition in Ohio and we set out with our city for the capital.
My name is Jett Young and I was a speaker in 2014. My team and I placed 16th in the National Competition and we won a special award. We brought pride back to our small hometown and all of my teammates were blessed to be a part of this life-changing experience.
Here are some quick and easy tips to help you succeed in this competition.
Pre-Competition Day Tips
The pre-competition period can be a stressful or a relaxing one. It depends on how organized and dedicated your team is. Teams who are in it to win it work as hard as they can to complete the deliverables on time. The following tips will help you survive the months leading up to the big day.
Tips for Sim City
Start early! My team started working on developing a successful online city in October. Unfortunately, the computers we were working on crashed multiple times. Our city was wrecked on numerous occasions. As the system continued to crash, we realized that we were using the wrong version of the game! If we hadn’t started so early, we wouldn’t have turned our city in on time. We encountered a lot of problems when it came to the simulation but we didn’t give up. Instead, we hopped back on those cruddy computers and built another city from the ground up. If we waited a week before the deadline, we wouldn’t have had time to overcome these complications.
Save often. One night, when we all stayed after to work on the simulation, one of my teammates logged off without saving. He had developed a thriving city that followed the rubric. That cost us a lot. The next day, he started a new city and chugged away. Even if there is an automatic save function, it is still safe to manually save your city. Nothing hurts more than meeting your goal and dumping that goal down the drain by not saving.
Tips for Research Essay/Narrative
The essay may be the hardest deliverable to win. It may not be the flashiest thing in this competition but it is definitely a contender for most important. Make sure the strongest writers on your team are writing the essay and/or narrative.
Start early! As soon as you have an intelligible plan for your city, have your writing team hop on the computers and start typing. It’s inevitable that the writers are going to experience writer’s block and it might take a couple of days to get over it. If you start writing early, there will be time for writer’s block.
Use all of your graphics. This year, you are only allowed four graphics in your research essay. Use all four of these. The graphics cut down on your word count by a tremendous amount. The word count was a huge problem for my team. We only used two graphics in our essay.
Tips for Model
Start early! Once again, this rule comes up. My team started before Christmas break and we spent the rest of the year working on the model. We had “Build-Days” three days a week after school. If I wasn’t in the workshop, I was drawing up plans for the model.
Assign roles/Organize. The most successful teams are the most organized. When our first build day came around, our teacher asked what interested the kids. Some of my classmates spoke up about woodworking so they were allowed to build the structure of the model. Our resident artist was assigned to paint our background, which turned out amazing. He took some creative liberty to give our city the background that made it pop. The three speakers took on a the role of the chiefs. We helped every group accomplish their goal. When the “Tree Team” (a group of girls assigned to solely focus on the production of small trees for our model) fell behind, the speakers stepped in and spent a day wrapping green wire around white lollipop sticks.
Take a risk. Don’t be afraid to be bold with your model. This model is the first thing the judges and every other team sees. Before your speakers even start talking, your team has made a first impression. It is your job to make sure this impression is a great one.
Listen to all ideas. Every team member can contribute something to the model. Whether it’s an idea about your moving part or the color scheme of the model, all ideas are brilliant and creative ones.
Budget wisely. To create the model, you may only use $100. Ask all the teammates and see what kind of recyclables are lying around at everyone’s house. You’d be surprised at what resources you can find in your basement. Our mentor hoarded so many things in her house. Two of our teammates had gone scouring through the throngs of odds and ends and had found a glass egg! This egg became the centerpiece of the model as our moving part. There are some incredibly creative and ingenious people on your team. Put your minds to work to build a flourishing model under $100.
Tips for Speakers
Become best friends with your fellow speakers. Out of all the Future City presentations I’ve seen, the best and most fluent ones have been the ones with a team of speakers with chemistry. During my year, I was a speaker as well as two of my classmates. By the end of the competition, those two people became my closest friends. We spent endless hours practicing our skit together. We began to eat our lunch in empty classrooms, instead of the cafeteria, going over every aspect of the presentation. If the three speakers don’t like each other, it will show prevalently in your presentation.
Take a break. Although my previous tip stated that I became extremely close with my fellow speakers, that does not mean that we fought. The three of us fought… a lot. During our arguments, we would decide to take a break. We stepped away and took a day to cool down. When we came back, we got over our differences and continued to work. Three teenagers spending a lot of time around each other can lead to friction. The biggest thing you need to understand is that fighting will never solve anything.
Don’t just take breaks from each other. Take breaks from Future City. As a past-speaker, I know how stressful this competition can become. At times, I became overwhelmed and took a step back. I came back a couple of days later and my love for Future City was renewed.
Become familiar with your model. Another facet of a good presentation is the relationship between the speakers and the model. Awkward and clumsy skits are usually a result of not practicing with the model. I’ve seen many presentations where the speakers don’t know what to do with the display in front of them. I’ve also see many presentations where the model is never used. The trio of speakers have great chemistry and have nailed every single line and concept, but the model is just sitting there. Remember: the model is a prototype of your city. If you bring up a recreational building, point to that recreational building. Show the judges where each building is on the model.
Use your visual aids. A picture can say a thousand words. In a presentation with a limited amount of time, this famous adage will help you succeed in this competition. Visual aids can turn a wordy chunk of your speech into an understandable part of the presentation. Visual aids not only cut down the time of the skit but they also add to the quality of it. Confidence will ooze from the skit if your speakers are comfortable with the visual aids.
Structure your script. It’s always great to be different and bring a unique presentation to the regional competition, but it’s a good technique to strictly structure your script to the rubric. Pull up the rubric and write the script following each of the points. If transportation is the first point on the rubric, then transportation would be the first point hit in your presentation. This is a great technique, but another way to write the script would be what I call the ABA method. The beginning of the script would focus on some of the big infrastructure points. This represents the first A. Then, you would focus heavily on the prompt topic. This is the B. After the prompt is spotlighted, return to the remaining infrastructure points. This is the second A. This technique has worked well for many teams. However you write the script, have your mentor and teacher grade the presentation, using the rubric.
Don’t become big-headed. Luckily, we did not run into this problem during my year. The three of us were incredibly humbled that we got to represent our small town at the national competition. However, I have met speakers that think they are better than the rest of their team. Every single member of the Future City team is important. From the essay writers to the model builders, every student is a crucial part of the process. Without a team, the speakers would not be able to properly represent their school. Stay humble and remember that everyone on your team is sacrificing something to be a part of this competition.
Competition Day Tips
You and your team are finally here. All the hard work that was put into this competition has come to a head. You’ll be feeling anxious, excited, and hundreds of emotions between. This day can be the best day of your life or the most stressful. Here are some quick tips to help you survive the day.
Tips for Speakers
Look back at what you’ve done. Look back at the day before you were introduced to Future City. Think of how different your life was. You may say that Future City was just another activity to do, but it is so much more. Whether you realize it or not, this process has changed your life. Along this journey, you have become an amazing young engineer and you have made at least one life-long friend.
Now that you’ve looked at your past, look at your future. Look towards the sky when you think of your life after Future City. You are so much smarter and so many opportunities have been opened up to you. Take advantage of these opportunities and change the world with the knowledge you learned from this program.
Looking back at how you’ve made it this far will also help to steady your nerves.
Rock the Meet-and-Greet period. Judges love when the speakers exude confidence and friendliness. They eat it up. Before you perform your presentation, there will be a small meet-and-greet period. This is the time where you show off as much of your city as you can in a couple of minutes. During this time, don’t focus on the prompt this year. Focus on the smaller details of your city that aren’t really featured in the presentation. If you have a killer recreational building but you don’t talk about it in your presentation, bring it up during the meet-and-greet.
During this period, smile! Smile until your teeth fall out. This will not only make you feel more comfortable but this will also leave a good impression on the judges.
Network. If you have discovered your love for engineering during this process, the competition day is your best opportunity at meeting a real-life engineer that isn’t your mentor. I’m a relatively shy person so I, unfortunately, didn’t talk to anyone besides my team and other speakers. However, my fellow speaker was a socialite and she introduced herself to every engineer in that building. She created a lasting memory in some people’s minds which could turn into a job opportunity for her later in her life.
Tips for the Teammates
Encourage the Speakers. You have done your job. You poured your heart and soul into the deliverables. Now, it’s up to your speakers to bring home the win. Make sure they are calm. Sit in on their presentations and make sure it’s a calm and relaxed environment. Try not to distract them and help them as much as possible. This is a calm day for you and an extremely stressful day for them. Whenever they have downtime, try to calm them down by having a nice conversation with them.
Explore! My year, the competition was held in an engineering firm with so many things to do. My teammates ran wild and had fun running around the campus. Once your team is settled in and you have permission from your teacher or your mentor, go explore the building. There will be tours of the building, a recreational floor, and food trucks lining the streets. Go to the coffee shop across the street and have fun. Don’t miss the final award ceremony though. Always stay in contact with a parent, your teacher, or your mentor.
Good luck to every team and I’m so excited to see what innovative creations you can think up!