Chelsea Hardin, Miss Hawaii USA 2016, answers a judge's question as a top 5 finalist onstage with hosts Terrence J and Julianne Hough during the 2016 Miss USA Pageant. Photo: Miss Universe Organization
The onstage question — every girl’s favorite part of competition! Wait, you mean it isn’t? Well, like it or not, thinking on your toes and speaking in front of a crowd are just part of a pageant girl’s job.
The onstage question is a phase of competition that allows the judges to see how well you handle yourself under pressure and how you can apply your knowledge in a brief, but thoughtful answer. When you are competing for a title that entails attending press conferences, making news appearances, and meeting with countless groups of people, having an onstage question is especially important.
Onstage question is NOT something meant to freak you out or trip you up for the rest of the pageant. Let’s face it, you will probably be nervous walking up to the microphone just like everyone else, you will probably give a bad answer at least once in your lifetime just like everyone else, and you will probably be a pro after you read this article just like every other Pageant Planet girl, *wink*. (Find out how to become a VIP girl to prepare you for your upcoming pageant: VIP Membership
Now that we have stated the facts, study these three simple steps to help make this nerve-racking moment a little less stressful.
3 Ways to Master the Onstage Question
1. Say what you mean
Think before you speak. It is as simple and as complicated as that. Pause for a quick moment just before you answer into the microphone to allow yourself a moment to process the question asked and to collect your thoughts. It may feel like forever, but I promise that a moment of thought is something the judges will respect. Then, once you have an idea of where you want to take your answer, just go for it and don’t overthink it.
In doing so, you can eliminate word vomit once and for all. However, if word vomit still happens, and you notice your train of thought drifting further and further in the wrong direction, there is a simple way to straighten things out. Close your mouth and finish. You will save yourself from a dreadful train wreck.
You can also get to your point more quickly and thoroughly by making each word matter. There are several words and phrases you can avoid to shorten your answer and pack it with a punch.
1. Eliminate “I think” or “honestly” from your vocabulary.
2. Never start your answer by repeating the question or commenting on the difficulty of the question.
3. Avoid filler words like “um.” (Read: Speaking Effectively: Words and Phrases to Avoid in an Interview
4. Don’t sidestep. Cut to the chase.
5. Lastly, don’t end your answer with “thank you.” The goal is to answer (pause first, of course) and move on.
Most importantly, say what you
want to say. Don’t say what you think everyone else wants to hear. Think deeply and avoid a general answer if at all possible. Let’s say your question is about the biggest problem facing teens today and you say the biggest issue is bullying. I would not argue with you, but I challenge you to think deeper. That answer is usually the first thought that comes to everyone’s mind, and you are want to make an good impression with an answer that is outside the box.
However, if you know
the biggest problem teens are dealing with is bullying and you would argue that with anyone, stick to that. The judges want to see your thoughts and your heart, but be sure that you find a way to make your answer as different and unexpected as you can. You can add a personal experience or an interesting statistic if you know one. Just make sure that you keep it original. No one likes a canned answer.
Saying what you mean is just speaking from your heart. Anyone can do that. It just takes a little confidence to be able to do that on a stage and on the spot. (Read: The Pageant Planet's Best Tips to Manage Your Nerves
2. Mean what you say
With all that to say about saying what you mean, I’ll just go ahead and tell you that how
you say it is even more important. Speak with purpose and speak from your own opinion and experience. If you give a memorized answer or someone else’s opinion rather than your own, you will either mess up and draw a blank or you won’t sound genuine. You cannot mean what you say if you aren’t answering from your heart. I won’t even apologize for being corny because it’s true.
It is also true that people will forget what you say. Seriously. The judges hear from a lot of girls. They can’t possibly remember every word from every contestant, but they will remember the way you present yourself and how you make them feel.
3. Control your body language
This means your hands, your posture and your eye contact. From the moment you choose your doom on that piece of folded paper, exude confidence and grace. Maintain good posture and a pleasant expression. As you wait for the emcee to ask your question, keep your attention fixed on them. Only when you speak should you look out into the audience and toward the judges. When you finish answering, look back at the emcee. (Read: How Much Eye Contact Should I Make While Onstage?
While you are answering, think outside the box, but remember to keep your hands IN the box. If you talk with your hands, confine them in a small, imaginary box in front of you that does not extend much beyond your torso (vertically or horizontally). Flailing your hands can be a huge distraction and is much more memorable than an “um” or two.
One last thing to remember regarding your body language is your facial expressions. I am a smiley person, so I have had to learn not to smile involuntarily when speaking of serious matters. Consider the content of your answer, and if it is happy and lighthearted, smile. Otherwise, maintain a solemn expression. To clarify, that does not mean frown. It simply means to be reverent and aware of the seriousness of what you’re talking about.
Body language is part of meaning what you say, and it, too, is very memorable to judges. It says a lot for you, so don’t ever doubt the power of your posture, eye contact and confidence. (Read: Top 5 Interview Dresses of 2015
A general answer will make you blend in. An incomplete answer will make your stand out, just not in the way you want to stand out, but a well-thought out and put together answer will make you stand out in the right way. But, you can’t answer at all if you don’t listen to the question, so pay close attention to what is being asked, and from there, do your thing!
And remember, life goes on. Once you answer, however you answer, you will walk off that stage and continue on with the competition. Think of each phase of competition separately and see each one as a clean slate. Each one is scored differently (and most times, onstage question is weighted the least).
Don’t set out to be perfect. Set your sights on honesty and transparency. The judges are people, too. They don’t want a robotic, rehearsed response from anyone. I would even venture to say that the judges are nervous with you, so do not let the onstage question be a source of stress.
This is an opportunity to show the judges and the audience who you are. Your opinion is valued. Seeing things from this perspective might even make this your favorite part of competition! Still, no? Well, at least you know you can do it confidently.