10 Transferable Skills for Real-world Communicators
By TRICIA HOMER
SMITH BRAIN TRUST – Seeing an opportunity to culturally refine a hyperactive, 7-year-old “tomboy,” my mother entered me in the Prince and Princess Competition — a traditional part of Caribbean carnival festivities. I was a first runner-up in this pageant, but I won titles in future pageants: Miss All Saints Cathedral (high school) and Miss Congeniality while representing the U.S. Virgin Islands in the Miss Universe 2005 pageant.
Today, as an executive communication coach and with the Miss Universe 2017 competition in Las Vegas approaching, I can’t help reflecting on pageantry’s positive impact on me.
From the outset, I experienced the rigors associated with pageant preparation. As a Prince and Princess competitor, I worked for weeks with teams of coaches and a chaperone to polish my skills and prepare for performances for such pageant sections as “dance and speech,” “question and answer” and “talent.” Such activity subsequently helped feed and reinforce my hunger for competing and performing. As a Wesleyan University undergraduate and prior to competing for the Miss Universe title, I played Division I rugby, studied African Dance and performed in a production written and directed by then-fellow student Lin Manuel Miranda, who now is well-known for creating and starring in the Broadway musical Hamilton and more recently as a leading advocate for disaster relief in Puerto Rico.
With pageant season coinciding with the end of the calendar year, and pageantry naysayers tending to come out of the woodwork, I want to share 10 key lessons and transferable skills I’ve developed through competing in pageants and in my reign as Miss U.S. Virgin Islands Universe:
1. Interviewing effectively: This pageant segment isn’t seen by the public and is often overlooked in debates over pageantry pros and cons. The import of this skill speaks for itself. Interviewing effectively is the foundation of launching a successful career, and it is difficult to be an effective interviewee without practice.
2. Taking a good photo: With LinkedIn and other social media platforms being used in the business space, taking a good photo is increasingly relevant — especially with the ability for employers to research candidates online. Presentation matters. Quick tips: Drop your chin (and stick it out slightly) and turn at a slight angle for the most relatable and flattering photo.
3. Comfort in front of the camera: Most people tense up or freeze in front of cameras. It can be intimidating. Producing video content and hosting webinars is increasing in popularity. Executives and business development professionals must master a level of comfort that allows them to come across as authentic and credible in front of the camera. My appearances and hosting duties as Miss Virgin Islands more than aptly prepared me to let my authentic self “shine” through on camera.
4. Answering a question on the fly: In most pageants, finalists are asked an onstage question. Contestants work with coaches to prepare for potential questions — from personal questions to current events. Quick tip: Buy yourself some time by acknowledging the interviewer and thanking them for the question while you consider your answer. Don’t be afraid to say you need a moment to think about an answer while you gather your thoughts.
5. Posture, poise and confidence (and how to walk in heels): I took my first modeling classes before my first pageant in 1989. A coach taught me “how to walk.” By this, I mean how to quite literally glide across the stage. Poise and confidence comes through in the way you stand, use the space and address a room. This draws significantly from Albert Mehrabian’s seminal research into nonverbal communication.
6. Small talk (effective networking): Pageant contestants are judged at every stage of the pageant process. Miss Universe contestants begin competing three weeks prior to the televised event. Judges (and potential employers) are looking for contestants who are relatable; who can get along with anyone and maintain a conversation. As a Miss Universe competitor, I was able to find common ground with women from all over the world. It was my ability to build relationships that won me the Miss Congeniality title.
7. Speech: Understanding of how to develop and deliver an effective speech is important for both pageants and business. Knowing how to tell your story effectively can make all the difference in being heard and well received.
8. Public speaking: Once you craft your story or message, you have to be comfortable presenting it (or at least come across that way). As Miss All Saints, I spoke at school assemblies, represented students at parent teacher meetings and represented the school in Carnival parades. As a communication coach, I work with students before they present to potential employers and for competitions.
9. Fearlessness and resiliency: I always entered pageants intending to win. But if you don’t win, you find lessons to take away and focus on the positives gained. I am not afraid of rejection -- nor risks. I didn’t win the Miss Universe pageant, but I now have 80 friends across the globe. Are you planning a trip to Sri Lanka? Czech Republic? Belgium? I have a friends there. I can connect you!
10. Teamwork and project management: Contestants have a small support network, but ultimately they have to “pull it all together” themselves. Contestants write and construct a speech that shows who you are; design and manage the construction of a cultural costume and an evening gown; manage timetables and personnel (not to mention the um... personalities and competing priorities of pageant coaches and national directors) - all while maintaining a smile. Time management. Project management. Logistics. Personnel and relationship management. These are as relevant in the business world as they are on the pageant stage.
I do not intend to make a blanket defense of pageants. They certainly have downsides. I am sharing the lessons I have learned and value I have gained. The benefit is lifelong. Competing in pageants elevates one’s brand and teaches skills that are transferable in the long-term. On top of all that, it can be fun.
Tricia Homer is a trainer and facilitator with the Office of Diversity Initiatives, and an executive communication coach at the Robert H. Smith School of Business.
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