It’s the moment every contestant has nightmares about. The judges’ coordinator calls your name, you take a deep breath, and walk into the interview room. The judges can’t help but notice how beautiful you are and they’re already impressed with the accomplishments on your contestant bio. A judge asks the first question; you start by saying ‘umm,’ and everything goes downhill from there.

There’s nothing worse than saying ‘umm’ during your pageant interview. It immediately sends the message that you’re not ready to be the next titleholder.

You tell yourself not to say ‘umm’, but it keeps popping up. But just telling yourself not to say it is not going to fix the problem. You’ve got to know why you’re saying it to get rid of those ‘umms.’

Based on years of working with fabulous contestants like you, here are the top 4 reasons contestants say ‘umm.’

1. You’re Nervous

This one is pretty obvious; when you’re nervous, you’re much more likely to say ‘umm.’

It can be tough in the interview room. You know that the judges are scoring every word you say. It’s easy for your nerves to get the best of you and suddenly you find yourself saying ‘umm.’

If you’re saying umm because you’re nervous, you need to work on your competition skills. Competition skills are the skills that you rely on to get you through the stress that’s part of any competition. Competition skills include the ability to remain calm under pressure, think on your feet and manage self-doubt.

You can use everyday situations where you feel stressed to practice your competition skills. Don’t take things personally, maintain a positive attitude, engage your critical thinking skills and ‘make it work’. By using everyday situations to practice your competition skills, you’ll be able to remain poised and relaxed at the pageant.

While this one is pretty obvious, it’s not the most common reason contestants say ‘umm.’ Surprising, right?

2. Umm is Part of Your Natural Speech Pattern

Your speech pattern is a part of your everyday life that you don’t even notice. It’s made up of the words, grammar, and communication style that you use in a typical conversation.

Every day you use the same words, pace, and inflection when speaking. And over time your you develop a natural speech pattern. It becomes second nature to you.

It’s so second nature to you that you don’t notice that your natural speech pattern includes ‘umm.’ You don’t realize that you start every sentence with ‘umm’ or that you use it as a transition phrase to link one thought to another.

What does this mean? If you say ‘umm’ in your everyday conversations, you increase the probability of saying ‘umm’ in your pageant interview. Umm is super easy for the judges to spot in an answer. They might not notice that you start each sentence with ‘so,’ or that you say “passionate” three times in one answer, but they will definitely notice every time you say ‘umm.’

If ‘umm’ is a natural part of your speech pattern the only way to get rid of it in your interview is to get rid of it in everyday conversations. Make a game of it and see how long you can go without saying ‘umm.’ Before you know it, you’ll be umm-free!

Since nerves aren’t the number one cause of saying ‘umm,’ surely saying it as part of your natural speech pattern is the most common reason. But it’s not.

3. You’re Unsure of Your Content

Before we talk about how content can contribute to saying ‘umm,’ let’s clarify what content is. Content is your answer – the words you use to answer the question. Content is separate from delivery skills, which is how you deliver your answer. To get a top score, you’ve got to have solid content and well-developed delivery skills.

When you’re not sure of what you want to say in your answer, you’re probably going to say ‘umm.’ Your content isn’t on the tip of your tongue so you say ‘umm’ to buy a little time while you rack your brain for an answer.

Or, you might rely on ‘umm’ when you sort of know your content, but you haven’t practiced how to transition from one thought to the next in your answer. In this case, umm is used in place of a transition phrase that links the content of your answer together.

There’s only one way to avoid using umm because you’re unsure of your content: you must practice your interview. And no, thinking about your content doesn’t count as practice. You have to practice your content out loud.

Public speaking and interviewing is a skill that needs to be practiced, just like any other skill. When you practice, you need to use a wide range of pageant interview questions to develop content. When you practice out loud you can correct content that doesn’t sound as good as you thought it would and practice transitioning from one thought to the next.

This is, the #1 reason contestants say umm in their personal or onstage interview. So if you’re saying umm and you want to stop, you should start by making sure your 100% confident of your content.

4. You Haven’t Developed Your Delivery Skills

Okay, I’m just going to do a quick refresher here: delivery skills are the skills you use to deliver the content of your answer. Great interviewers know that the secret to a winning score is developing specific interviewing skills that are also used by professional spokespersons, broadcasters, and corporate executives.

Sure there are basic skills like how to begin and close an answer. But I’m talking about winning skills like knowing how to handle trick questions or when to ‘pivot’ during a current events question. If your delivery skills aren’t top notch,  you’ll probably say ‘umm’ during your interview.

You can get solid scores if you’re confident in your content. But delivery skills are where the interview is won. Just think about it: if you gave an answer with great content but didn’t deliver that answer with poise and confidence do you think you’d get a winning score? No, you wouldn’t.

Well-developed delivery skills are like the icing on a delicious cake. While the cake may have substance and flavor, it’s the icing that pulls everything together and makes it special.

So once you have solid content, your next move is to work on your delivery skills.

Oh, and I’m sure you already guessed, poor delivery is the #2 reason contestants say ‘umm’ during their pageant interview.

Understanding why you’re doing something is the first step to fixing it. I’ve been able to stop contestants from saying ‘umm’ in just one appointment. So if you’re saying ‘umm’, start with content and then move on to delivery skills.

You’re going to be FABulous!

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