BARSTOW Eleventh-grader Beau Van Nornam knows what it's like to be judged on a first impression. There are key things to remember:

Hold eye contact.

Remember to smile.

Keep it under 20 seconds.

The 16-year-old competed at the state competition of SkillsUSA in Fresno last weekend, where students compete in various professional or trade competitions ranging from hands-on timed performances to professional presentations, against over 800 high school and college students from across the state.

Back in February, Van Nornam was one of two Barstow High School students who qualified for the state-level competition.
Van Nornam qualified in SkillsUSA's shortest competition a 20-second elevator pitch where a contestant's body language, demeanor and confidence count as much as what they say on a given topic.

In this case, he was asked to encapsulate the purpose and mission of SkillsUSA in less than half a minute.

Though he didn't place in the top three spots, Van Nornam said he plans to be back next year and has already recruited a few of his peers to join him.

Barstow High School SkillsUSA club advisor Gil Grimsley, who accompanied his student to Fresno, said Van Nornam competed against students from schools where SkillsUSA is a class rather than an after-school activity.

"He's going up against tough competition," said Grimsley.

"It gave him a lot of insight for what to prepare for next year," said Dawn Van Nornam, Beau's mother who traveled with him and Grimsley to the competition.

While minding the ticking clock, Van Nornam said he tried to avoid sounding too rehearsed once he stood up before the judges.

"An elevator conversation should be a casual conversation with somebody, not practiced," he said.

That's no problem for Van Nornam, who has had lots of practice talking to crowds, according to Dawn.

In 2006, Van Nornam participated in a cross-country traveling antique car show with his father called "The Great Race."

While the self-described car lover was barely a teenager then, Van Nornam and the team would roll into towns where Van Nornam would field questions from the crowd about their custom-built 1950 Peterbilt semi-truck.

"Beau was kind of a natural," said Grimsley, about the competition. "He's learned to be very professional in the way he portrays himself."

Fellow state qualifier Cheyenne Beason, also an 11th-grader, was unable to attend the competition.

Contact the writer:
(760) 256-4122 or elee@desertdispatch.com