4 great techniques to help when you don’t know the answer to an on-stage question
You have been asked an on-stage question on-stage by the pageant emcee. You don’t know how to answer. Responding to a tough pageant question with hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people watching is a scary possibility that contestants have to learn to handle. The surprise is that even pageant winners have successfully survived such moment — and so can you. Here are 4 effective strategies to handle the moment when you don’t know how to answer a question in a pageant…
Don’t Panic!! Stay Calm
First, stay calm! The way that a young woman handles a question she is unsure about determines how judges react. If she becomes unsettled by her uncertainty and loses her composure, the judges will see that she lacks the ability to remain confident and composed under pressure an absolute requirement for a titleholder. Lose your cool and you lose the crown. You must stay calm.
You will be comforted to know that even contestants who won the crown have had this experience, survived…and won. The legendary Gretchen Carlson faced such a situation (Gretchen Carlson who had her own television show on Fox TV and now runs the Miss America Organization.).
During the on-stage questions during the televised finals of the 1989 Miss America pageant, Carlson was asked what she thought about the media in the political process. With her background as a Stanford/ Oxford honors student, the question was a giveaway. Unfortunately, Gretchen became fixated on host Gary Collins’ beautiful teeth. She lost her concentration, heard only part of the question, and gave a mish-mash of Norman Rockwell-ism and legal-speak. “I blew it,” she told reporters after her coronation. “I had enough confidence in my intelligence that I thought I could answer the evening gown question to a ‘T,’ but to be quite frank, when I got offstage, I thought that I had blown it.” Luckily for Gretchen, the judges saw past the glitch to her bright mind and awarded her the crown.
As Carlson’s experience demonstrates, you may think your lack of confidence or outright mistake has cost you the crown, but, in reality, the judges may overlook a mistake and score you highly for other interview qualities such as personality and poise. It ain’t over until that crown’s on somebody’s head, so don’t let a shaky reply or outright mistake undermine your confidence and composure.
Don’t panic. Stay as calm as you can. No matter what you say, the goal is to look as calm, relaxed and gracious as a queen. You can fix this! But you have to stay calm to do so.
- As you are listening to the question, take a slow, deep breath. (Breathing deeply helps you to relax.)
- Even if you are scared, focusing on looking confident and relaxed.
- Jitters can raise the voice. Lower your voice slightly.
- Relax. This is not brain-surgery. You can handle this!
Always Try to Answer the Question
Second, you are always better off to try to answer a question than to give up. Here is why you always try. At one national pageant, a state titleholder was asked what she thought about having caps on the amount of money someone can be awarded in a personal injury lawsuit. As a pre-law major, she really should have had an answer. Instead, she simply shrugged her shoulders and said, “I am sorry. I don’t have a view on that.” She didn’t even try to answer the question. That is NOT what you want to do. You do not give up. Here are some strategies to help you handle such a moment.
Do Not Ramble
Do not nervously Rambling means you wander all over the place. It’s like turning on an energizer bunny at the pageant and letting it race in circles all over the stage floor. Not a pretty picture. Rambling is what happened to that poor Miss South Carolina Teen USA who gave what most people consider to be the worst pageant answer of all time.
She was asked: “Recent polls have shown a fifth of Americans can’t locate the U.S. on a world map. Why do you think this is?” She clearly had no idea what to say, so she just started talking with no plan and rambled all over the map….
“I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because, uh… some… uh… people out there in our nation don’t have maps and, uh, I believe that our education like such as in South Africa and, uh, the Iraq, everywhere like such as… and I believe that they should… our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S… uh… or… uh… should help South Africa and should help the Iraq and the Asian countries… so we will be able to build up our…”
When your answer is going in the wrong direction, you’ve lost your train of thought, or you’re “freezing” . .. don’t give up. Instead, try these tactics to salvage and close your answer:
• Pause and take a breath to compose yourself.
• Keep things simple- focus on one train of thought.
• Restate what you’ve just said to close your answer.
• Smile gracefully as if nothing has happened.
• Judges “read” faces so keep your expression confident.
Don’t quit. Close.
Feel Out the Question
The next step is to admit you don’t know…but you are willing to explore the subject to show that you can think on your feet.
(1) Admit that you are not sure. (2) Explore the problem they asked you about. (3) Admit that it obviously is a problem. (4) And agree that somehow we need to solve it. Let’s apply that to the question asked of Miss South Carolina Teen USA.
“Recent polls have shown a fifth of Americans can’t locate the U.S. on a world map. Why do you think this is?”
- “I am not sure if I know exactly why that is happening.
- But my immediate reaction is that, if students can’t tell where the U.S. is on a map, that does not reflect well on American education.
- Obviously, there’s only two reasons it’s happening. It’s either the students or it’s the schools. Maybe our students are not fully engaged. Perhaps there is a problem with how we teach geography.
- But, in either case, as a country, we want our students and schools to be the best they can be, so we need work at finding a solution. Whatever the cause of the problem, we need to fix it.”
Basically the approach is “I’m not sure I have the full answer, but this is what I think…”
In a situation where you don’t know the answer, you try to limit the damage. But, as you already know, it is always better to be well prepared to begin with so you never face this situation.
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
Please, rather than ever having to face such a situation, simply prepare well ahead of time. Here are the strategies to help you prepare for your pageant interviews. Here are a dozen different tips to help you with on-stage questions, answering pageant questions, and being confident in your pageant interviews. >> Pageant Interview Tips[clear-line]
You might also like our huge Pageant Questions area!