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How to Answer Onstage Question Confidently When You Don’t Know the Answer

Chalita Suansane, Miss Universe Thailand 2016 - Photo: Miss Universe Organization
Chalita Suansane, Miss Universe Thailand 2016 answers a question during the 2016 Miss Universe Pageant. Photo: Miss Universe Organization

Onstage question. While the shortest phase of the competition, these twenty seconds ultimately decide a contestant’s fate. A source of many…interesting…answers in past years, it is important to always prepare and educate yourself on world events and issues because anything can be asked on the stage.

However, you can study every issue under the sun until your eyes bleed and then it happens. You walk on stage, pull your question from the fishbowl and hand it to the emcee. She reads the question aloud and it is the one issue you did not catch, the one opinion you did not form. You do not have an answer ready.

In this moment, when you are in a beautiful dress, hair and makeup absolute perfection and have worked so hard, how do you eloquently give your take on something you do not know? (Read: The 10 Toughest Pageant Interview Questions and How to Answer Them)

How to Answer Onstage Question Confidently When You Don’t Know the Answer

Admit You Do Not Know the Answer

Admitting you do not know the answer may sound like the worst option. You may be scared it could hurt your score if you acknowledge there is an issue you did not study. After all, you do not want to seem unprepared to the judges.

However, this is actually not true. You are only human. You cannot expect yourself to know every single thing about every event and issue in the world.

It takes a lot of courage to admit you do not know the answer to a question. Use the same tone, inflection and grace when you talk as if you do know the answer. Admitting you do not know with confidence, instead of rambling, will leave a positive impression on the judges and should not affect your overall score. Especially if you have done well in all other areas of the competition. (Read: How to Prepare for an Onstage Interview Question)

However, this type of answer is best for small, local pageants. While I would personally love for a contestant on the Miss USA or Miss America stage to admit they do not know instead of embarrassing themselves, it is not really feasible. If you are competing at that high of level, you really have to at least attempt to answer the question.

“It’s best to take a moment and collect themselves,” said 30-year veteran pageant judge and director Amy Crews Pickens. “Try to think of something short to say.”

Stay Positive

“Never say anything negative,” Crews advised. “The worse answer I have ever heard was at a college pageant. The question was, ‘If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be and why?’ The girl’s answer was, ‘I guess my attitude because I have a bad attitude.’ I just about fell out of my chair!”

This is a great example of what not to do. You never want to say anything negative about yourself, especially when you are trying to convince the judges why you would make their perfect titleholder.

Staying positive and possibly adding some humor shows that your personable. It also shows that you can think on your feet. Mostly importantly, being comfortable with who you are enough to poke fun at yourself will radiate confidence on stage. (Read: How to Standout During Onstage Question)

Giuliana Rancic looks on as Marissa Powell, Miss Utah USA 2013 answers a question from a judge during the 2013 Miss USA Pageant. Photo courtesy of North Country Public Radio.
Giuliana Rancic looks on as Marissa Powell, Miss Utah USA 2013, answers a question from a judge during the 2013 Miss USA Pageant. Photo courtesy of North Country Public Radio.

Avoid Rambling

Never, never, never, I will say it again, never ramble. There are tons of examples in recent years of why this is a horrible idea. Rambling never ends well. There are videos of “pageant question fails” on YouTube that live there forever to serve as a reminder as to not do this. (Read: What To Do When You Start Rambling During Your Pageant Onstage Question)

Miss Utah USA 2013 Marissa Powell is one of the most infamous onstage question ramblings in all of pageant history. At Miss USA 2013, she shined throughout the final night of competition. She was favored by many prediction boards to take home the crown. After killing it in swimsuit and rocking her evening gown, she was called into the Top 5.

Then, it happened. Judge Nene Leakes asked her, “A recent report shows that in 40 percent of American families with children, women are the primary earners. Yet, they continue to earn less than men. What does this say about society?”

From the beginning, it was a train wreck. The resulting answer went viral in minutes with headlines quoting the most infamous part when she said, “create education better.” The flub is still talked about today nearly four years later.

See Marissa’s full answer here.

“You can answer the question with the question,” Crews said. “For example, if you are asked, ‘If you could have lunch with anyone, who would it be and why?’ Answer, ‘If I could have lunch with anyone, I would say it would have to be Rosa Parks. I would love to hear her tell the historic story from her view. Thank you.”

Regardless of how you choose to handle the question, remember that the key to winning any pageant is confidence. As long as you are sure in what you say and how you say it, you will do well.

Best of luck, ladies!

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