Megan Gordon, Miss South Carolina USA 2017, answers her final question as a top 5 finalist onstage with host Terrence J during The MISS USA® Competition at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on Sunday, May 14, 2017. Photo by Patrick Prather, courtesy of the Miss Universe Organization.
Speaking with your hands (and knowing when not to) is an important component to consider when preparing for your onstage interview. Hand gestures, in moderation, create interest in what you're speaking about and can help you illustrate important points. This portion of the competition is known to give pageant contestants a bit of anxiety. You can soothe these uncertainties if you have some tools to help you effectively communicate through hand gestures. Dynamic, accomplished speakers have been known to utilize their hands when speaking in public. The following is a compilation of tips, techniques and things to avoid doing with your hands during the onstage interview to help you achieve greatness, too!
Waiting to enter the stage before the onstage interview might be an opportunity for nerves to set it, but try not to let them. Smile, take some deep breaths and keep your thoughts positive. Speaking these positive affirmations will change your mindset and help maintain a calm look on your face as you walk on stage.
Bayleigh Dayton, Miss Missouri USA 2017, chats with host Julianne Hough as a top 10 finalist during The MISS USA® Competition at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on Sunday, May 14, 2017. Photo by Patrick Prather, courtesy of the Miss Universe Organization.
When you do walk out there, strut your very best walk – we know you've practiced it a million times! Arms and hands should be doing nothing but moving naturally as you walk, relaxed and down at your sides. Please do not tuck a loose strand of hair away, fidget with jewelry, place your hands on your hips/behind your back or wring them nervously as you walk. (Read: How to Perfect Your Pageant Walk)
For illustration purposes, let's go with the scenario that there is someone with a microphone who you'll join at center stage. Walk confidently to this person and do not stop far too away. This could show nervousness and make the microphone exchange difficult. Get as close as your "personal bubble" will allow. Do not ever shake the person's hand unless it is offered.
Answering the Question
The emcee or outgoing queen has asked you the question. Acknowledge this person by briefly looking he or she in the eye while you visibly say "thank you" as you take the microphone. (Read: How Much Eye Contact Should I Make While Onstage?)
Grasp the microphone with just one hand, while allowing approximately the space of two fingers between your mouth and the mic. Always tilt at your wrist instead of your arm if you need to adjust the position. Never hold it parallel to the floor; people will not be able to see your beautiful face! Be sure to hold it at a forty-five degree angle or less. (Read: The 5 Biggest Mistakes Girls Make During Onstage Question)
Of course you are thinking about a million things as you begin your onstage interview. It's important to remember to add some significant hand gestures, as they can illicit as much as 60 percent added value to your message. Both the audience and judges should both hear AND see you speak.
Kára McCullough, Miss District Of Columbia USA 2017 (the newly crowned Miss USA 2017), answers her final word question as a top 3 finalist onstage with hosts Terrence J and Julianne Hough during The MISS USA® Competition at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on Sunday, May 14, 2017. Photo by Isaac Brekken, courtesy of the Miss Universe Organization.
One important piece to note is that hand gestures can also be a surprising saving grace: they can help jog your memory! Using some positive hand gestures can aid you in moving through the question calmly if you start to derail. (Read: 5 Pageant Mishaps and How to Recover)
Imagine watching someone speak on stage without moving his or her hands whatsoever. Chances are you'd be bored stiff, as words without gestures lack meaning. Hand gestures help your audience understand what you are talking about and keep it interesting. Purposeful gestures will also highlight the most important parts of your onstage interview.
Hand Gesture Tips
Some great tips I've read about in the past derive from the Genard Method, which offers their clients performance-based training in public speaking. Gary Genard states that keeping an audience attuned to what you're saying can be achieved by following the NODS formula: neutral, open, defined and strong. Neutral means that you should always begin with your hands just simply down at your sides, which helps you to remain open to the whole crowd as you speak. Your gestures should be defined and clean while making them strong.
Meridith Gould, Miss Minnesota USA 2017, answers her final question as a top 5 finalist onstage with host Terrence J during The MISS USA® Competition at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on Sunday, May 14, 2017. Photo by Patrick Prather, courtesy of The Miss Universe Organization.
Although you want to be visible on stage, make sure to avoid grand hand gestures. They should be contained within a certain space in front of your body. Imagine a small box in front of you that starts at the top of your chest and goes to the bottom of your waist. Avoid using gestures that go anywhere outside of these boundaries. "Never clasp your hands behind or in front of your body while speaking," said Brittanie Brooks, a communication professor at Richland Community College and Queen of Multimedia at The Pageant Planet.
She also happens to have served as a former Miss Black Illinois USA in 2016. "Keeping your arms at your sides at times may feel awkward, but it looks perfectly fine." Some hand gestures to consider adding to your onstage interview would include steeple hands, which demonstrate wisdom. Palms up is a gesture that shows openness while palms down indicates certainty. Hands on hips is a classic symbol of portraying a high level of confidence and independence. The photos in this article serve as great examples of these gestures!
Chhavi Verg, Miss New Jersey USA 2017, answers her final word question as a top 3 finalist onstage with hosts Terrence J and Julianne Hough during The MISS USA® Competition at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on Sunday, May 14, 2017. Photo by Isaac Brekken, courtesy of the Miss Universe Organization.
Some hand gestures to avoid include clasped or wringing hands, which shows nervousness. In addition, "never point or use a closed fist," Brooks said. "These hand gestures can come off too demanding, as though you are telling people what to do." "Practice at home with your hands at your sides and start talking," Brooks said. "Your hands will come up on accident as a reflex. These are the points when you know to use your hands." Don't force more hand gestures into your onstage interview if you don't typically talk a lot with your hands. "Do what feels natural," Brooks said. "If you are going to use your hands, use them. If you don't usually use a lot of hand gestures, avoid forcing them. It will show on your face if you are struggling."
Remember that hand gestures are just a small portion of the body language we use to communicate with others every day. Make sure when you're on stage that you practice good body language manners. Stand up straight, smile, make good eye contact and try to avoid these body language mistakes to help you through the onstage interview. Stay motivated and practice, practice, practice! Especially work on answering onstage interview questions while looking in a mirror or with your coach. Pay attention to the gestures you naturally make and see if there is room for improvement. (Read: 10 Motivational Quotes to Help You Through Pageant Week)
Watch videos of talented speakers online as you prepare. This can help give you a collective idea of multiple gestures and patterns in action. You must learn to use a variety to avoid repeating the same ones over and over. Mock interviews with an experienced Pageant Planet team member can also help you prepare for any interview and give you feedback on body language, including your use of hand gestures. Check out our one-on-one coaching and/or VIP memberships here! Good luck!
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