USF Business Students Soar To Top Of Regions Bank In Tampa To Hone Elevator Speeches

Saturday mornings are preferably reserved for sleeping in. But if you're a proactive member of the USF College of Business, you may have more important things to do — like compete in the second annual elevator competition. On March 27, 22 finalists gathered at 9 a.m. inside the cavernous lobby of Regions Bank in Downtown Tampa.

The task? Convince a panel of judges that you're confident and qualified enough to land your dream job in one minute or, roughly, in the time the elevator travels from the ground floor to the 37th floor and back to the lobby. 

By the end of the day, two winners --- one each from the undergraduate and graduate program — would be awarded the $1,000 prize.

Why do this? The key is being prepared to present yourself at a moment's notice—a vital asset for any job applicant in today's market. Unfortunately, not enough students are honing their communication skills, says Lorrie Briggs, communications and marketing officer at the USF College of Business.

"People in the business world tell me day in and day out about people who come in (for a job interview) and mess it up," she says.

College of Business Dean Robert Forsythe started the elevator competition in 2009 to give students a valuable learning experience in networking and introduction.

''Of course we want to award prizes," Briggs said. "It's a great way to entice students, but it's really about the opportunity and training."

Among the panel of eight judges students had to impress were hiring managers from Tampa Bay region companies like Clearwater-based coffee manufacturer Melitta and from national companies like Target.

Donna Gray, Melitta's director of public relations, says sponsoring the competition is a great opportunity for the 102-year-old company to share its expertise from the corporate world.

"What I look for as a judge is the confidence level," she says, "and students with a good flow who know themselves, their basic skills and positive attributes."

Making Instant Connection

Some  -- like finance senior Eric Rumore -- step into the elevator and go for the straight-forward approach.  After confidently introducing himself to judge Julia Lawson from Acclaris, Rumore used his upper management skills and endeavors in entrepreneurship to bolster his pitch. International business sophomore Silvia Monroy similarly extended her hand to greet judge Charlie Rodriguez of Enterprise Holdings and touted her skills to make it in a fast-paced environment.

"I had very little interaction with the judges, so it was hard to read them," Monroy says. "In a way, it prepares us for a person who may not want to talk to you in that situation."

Other students like finance and economics senior Carolina Romero, who recently earned a coveted internship at NYC banking institution Goldman Sachs, took that reluctance into consideration when crafting their speeches.

"I pretended I dropped something in the elevator to get their attention and it ended up being my resume," she said. "Two rounds aren't enough to show what you've really got, so you've got to do something that they'll remember you for."

Mark Kelly, a graduate student seeking his MBA in sustainability, left his judges with something tangible: a slinky.

Sporting a sharp blue shirt and tie, Kelley spoke swiftly and confidently the duration of the elevator ride without missing a beat. He also charmed judges with the skills he attained as a three-time Emmy-winning sports broadcaster for an ABC affiliate.

Management finance junior Justin Fries took a different approach. Fries used his qualifications as the description of a new product and at the end of his speech asked whether the judge would be interested in buying it.

His was the same kind of creativity that Briggs saw in the competition's inaugural winner, Carmen Perez. "She was confident, but not aggressive, personable, clever and quick to establish rapport," Briggs said. "She explained the credentials she brought."

If any student at this year's competition had experience on his side, it was 34-year-old Alan Alford. For the last 10 years, Alford has been employed by Geico Insurance and holds the top sales spot in the company. On the day of the competition, Alford patiently waited for his turn while his wife, Nadine Alford, proudly looked on.

"It's not about the money for him," she said. "He's very motivated and he takes this seriously." While Alford's motivation to succeed is evident, he admits his sales experiences put added pressure on his performance. "It's like the Yankees," he said, "if you have the best team you should win!"

Comparing Notes, Adding Humor

By 10:45 the panel had whittled its selections to eight finalists. The students huddled together and wondered aloud whether they had impressed the judges enough to hear their names reverberate off the lobby's white, domed ceilings.

Alan Alford was the first name called, then international business undergrad Cory Bowman, followed by Justin Fries. Carolina Romero and accounting freshman Lynn Francois were the last of the undergrad finalists.  Mark Kelley represented the first of the grad students along with John Lorie and Eva Lee.

The third and final round of competition began.

The contestants entered a board room and delivered their speeches one last time for the entire panel of judges. The waiting room was ripe with competitive tension. Since the air conditioning was off for the weekend, it was up to  Briggs to cool things down.

"I practice speeches in the car all the time," she admits. The students began to relax, lean back in their chairs, and poke fun at their anxiety.

"Can we do a rose ceremony like the Bachelor next year?" Bowman jokes. The laughter helped cut the wait until the last student had made a closing pitch. Soon, it was decision time.

The remaining group shared presentation hiccups and triumphs in the lobby until the big moment.

The first name called surprised everyone because Alan Alford took third, not first. Romero won second and Fries came in first for the undergrads. John Lorie and Eva Lee finished at second and third place, respectively, for the graduates.

Winner Mark Kelley hardly reflected on his performance before suggesting ways to strengthen the competition next year: "I'd like more people to compete to be honest." Kelley says he plans to recruit friends to make the competition even more challenging.

Fries contemplated whether he'd enter again. "I don't want to feel guilty if I win next year," he says.

Matt Spencer is a senior at the University of South Florida majoring in journalism. He is a native Floridian who enjoys sharing his love for Patty Griffin, browsing produce stands, spending hours in record shops and gawking at the ice cream selection in grocery stores. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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