Public Speaking Disasters: Miss Utah’s Second Chance

It’s always nice to see someone get a chance at redemption, and Marissa Powell got hers this morning on The Today Show. Asked the same question she famously flubbed over the weekend, she did much better when she just gave a straightforward answer (just as I had suggested). Once she can drop the trappings of the pageant she also seems much more natural and charming.

Think about how you can apply this lesson in your own presentations. Can you get rid of the formalities (slides, script, lectern) and just talk to people? Chances are your audience will like you better and you’ll be more effective.

Miss Utah Marissa Powell on the Today Show

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Public Speaking Disasters: Just Answer The Question

I have to admit, I love a good beauty queen breakdown.

Luckily, there’s a steady stream of them and we seem to have a new candidate for “worst answer since Miss Teen South Carolina Caitlin Upton’s” after every pageant. This week it is Utah’s Marissa Powell being asked how to solve the problem of unequal pay for women and responding:

I think we can relate this back to education, and how we are … continuing to try to strive to [long pause] figure out how to create jobs right now. That is the biggest problem. And I think, especially the men are … um … seen as the leaders of this, and so we need to try to figure out how to create educate better so we can solve this problem. Thank you.

Honestly, I don’t think this answer comes close to taking the crown from Miss Teen South Carolina. How could it when Miss Utah doesn’t even manage to work “the Iraq” into her response? But it’s still pretty incoherent and a great opportunity for us to feel superior.

So what do we have to thank for these entertaining disasters that wind up being the most memorable events of these overblown pageants? The contestants are young and probably don’t have much experience speaking in front of an audience–anxiety is almost certainly an issue. But a big part of the problem is that they are over-prepared. Just like a political candidate, every pageant contestant has a platform. So, instead of just honestly answering the questions they are given, they do their best to work in their platform agenda while trying to sound smart and smile in a way which won’t make their lips stick to their teeth. It’s a tragedy waiting to happen. What do you want to bet that Powell’s platform had something to do with education (which, ironically, would have been the best angle for Caitlin Upton to have used)?

It may have been years since your last beauty pageant, but there’s still a lesson here for all of us. If you find yourself taking questions during a presentation, do your best to answer them in an honest and straightforward way. Audiences are quite adept at detecting bullshit and will quickly turn on a presenter who they see as dishonest or phony. Most of us just aren’t quick enough to speak and spin at the same time.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t prepare answers for questions you can anticipate, especially when you’re talking about emotionally fraught topics. Just deal with them honestly and don’t try to pigeonhole the answers to fit your own agenda. Always remember that if you want your presentations to be successful they need to meet the needs of your audience, not your own.

Miss Utah Marissa Powell

Miss South Carolina Caitlin Upton