There’s nothing more frustrating than spending hours and hours to practice your pageant interview and feeling like you’re not getting better. You try your best, people give you tons of advice, but your skills just don’t improve. So, you decide to try even harder. You schedule marathon practice sessions and read about every current events topic in the news. But the more you practice, the worse your answers seem to get. You end up frustrated and confused.
One of the mistakes many contestants make when practicing their interview is to jump right in, without a specific strategy. If you’re competing in the same pageant over and over, then you’re probably fine with just one practice strategy. But if you’re competing in multiple pageant systems, you’ll need to tailor how you practice your pageant interview for each pageant. Whether you’re competing in one pageant or multiple systems, here are the 4 things I always cover with a contestant before beginning interview coaching.
1. Determine the Style of The Interview
There are several factors that you need to know to determine the style of your interview. First, you need to know whether you will be seated or standing. The body control, appropriate body position, and gestures that get great scores in a seated interview are completely different from those in a standing interview. In a seated interview, you need controlled, yet relaxed body language. And in a standing interview, you’ve got to manage your entire body while delivering your answers. No swaying back and forth, no tilting of the head, no strange little facial expressions that your mom thinks are cute. In order to master all these skills, you must practice in the style of the interview. Sounds simple, right? But you’d be surprised by how many contestants miss this step when practicing.
Second, you need to know which format the judges will use to interview you. Will you be meeting with each judge individually and then rotating to the next judge after your time is up? This is often referred to as round-robin or seated-one-on-one judging. Or will you be interviewing in front of a panel of all the judges at the same time? This is typically referred to as a panel interview. A seated one-on-one interview is a very intimate, friendly style of interview. You’re typically sitting directly across from the judge, so you need to work your best conversational skills. A panel interview is more like a press conference where you have to manage several judges at a time.
Lastly, and most importantly, you need to know the length of your interview. If you have a 2 to 3-minute interview, you will want to practice delivering your answers in sound-bite format, and if you have a 5 to 10-minute interview, you’ll want longer, fully developed answers. Once you know the length of your interview, you should practice the correct length for your questions during every practice session.
2. Complete Your Paperwork
It’s normal to be excited right after you sign up for the pageant. You want to get a great interview score, so you jump right in and start practicing your pageant interview. But you can’t build a winning interview on a shaky foundation. You’ve got to complete your pageant paperwork first. If you don’t, you’re just wasting time practicing questions that the judges may not ask. The paperwork that your judges see is the foundation of your personal interview. The content on your contestant resume or platform statement is the basis for most of the questions asked by the judges. This is your first opportunity to control the interview. By strategically completing your paperwork, you can influence the type of questions you receive. And since you’re controlling the type of questions you’ll receive, you know which questions to practice so that you’re ready for the interview room.
3. Practice Frequency Beats Length
The #1 mistake pageant contestants make when practicing their interview is to practice for long, infrequent sessions. Instead of practicing several times a week for short periods of time, they practice once a week for one or two hour sessions. Studies show that teenagers and adults can only maintain ‘focused attention’ for 10 to 20 minutes. This is why when you practice longer than 20 to 30 minutes, you find that your answers start to get worse. You’re confused as to why you sound worse, so you practice even longer. It’s kind of a merry-go-round, isn’t it? I know it sounds crazy, but shorter practice sessions will actually get you the results you’re looking for.
The second most common mistake pageant contestants make with their interview practice is to practice once a week or maybe once every 2 weeks. In order to develop solid content and deliver your answers with ease, you should be practicing 4 to 5 times per week. Would you practice your Talent for one hour once a week? Of course, you wouldn’t. The ability to interview is a skill that you learn by doing, just like any talent. And to become a master of your interview, you have to practice 4 to 5 times per week.
Now, that doesn’t mean that you have to practice for hours and hours several times a week. I’m really not trying to torture you. If you combine short practice sessions with frequency, you’ll see an immediate improvement in your interview skills. Don’t believe me? Just try practicing 4 to 5 times a week for 10 to 20 minutes per session for one week. You’ll be surprised how much your interview skills improve with this method. (If you’re a Pre-Teen or Jr. Teen you might want to stick to 10 minutes. If you’re a Teen or Miss contestant, shoot for 15 to 20 minutes.)
4. Use A Huge List of Questions
This might come as a surprise, but when you’re working with a practice partner they will typically ask you the same 40 to 60 questions over and over Why? It’s hard to think up new questions on the spot. Not everyone has extensive experience interviewing pageant contestants. They’re doing their best, but they’ve never judged so they don’t know all the off-the-wall questions judges might ask. You can give them a helping hand by working with a huge list of pageant interview questions. Now, I don’t mean a list of 50 to 100 questions. I mean a list of 400-500 questions.
The fear of every pageant contestant is that they won’t have an answer to a question in the interview room. So, if you practice with a huge list, you’re more likely to be prepared for those off-the-wall questions. Don’t be tempted to stick to a list of 100 or 200 questions. That’s just not going to do it. You need a list of 400 to 500 questions.
And your list should have similar questions with one or two-word variations. So the questions sound the same, but they’re not. Sometimes just one word can completely change the meaning of a question.
For example, a judge might say, “Tell me about your most embarrassing moment.” You’re now going to answer with an amusing story where you made an unplanned mistake that drew attention to you for making that mistake. But the judge might change one word to say, “Tell me about your silliest moment.” Most contestants will jump right in with the answer they’ve practiced for most embarrassing moment, but that’s not the right answer. What you really want to talk about here is a time that you purposely did something that was funny, amusing, or ridiculous. You might talk about the time you dressed up in a clown costume and went out to eat with your friends.
Just like any talent, you’re going to have to practice your pageant interview to fully develop your skills. You might be a natural conversationalist and the top speaker on the debate team, but that’s not the same as interviewing. That’s like saying since you’re a whiz at tap or jazz, so you’ll be a prima ballerina in your very first ballet class. Trust me. Practice. But be smart. Practice correctly.
You’re going to be FABulous!