Key messaging tips for beauty pageant contestants


From Melanie Marquez exclaiming with confidence “I’m contented with my long-legged,” to Charlene Gonzales’ “High tide or low-tide?” to Ruffa Gutierrez quoting Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s ‘The Little Prince,’ Filipina beauty queens have given headline-grabbing answers to beauty pageant questions over the years.  Some of these answers are so iconic that they are now part of our collective memory, and have become Pinoy pop culture references and memes. 

Illustration by Luciano Ramirez

Over the years, questions in the crucial Q&A portion of the finals night in beauty pageants have become more and more difficult. Questions are no longer limited to asking the girls about what makes them stand out from all the other contestants or what they intend to do if they win.

Recent beauty pageants are now striving to maintain their relevance and be more conscious of contemporary matters by asking contestants tough questions about the environment and their perspectives on social and political issues – basically questions that probe into their character, moral values, and awareness and understanding of what is happening around the world right now.

In the recently concluded Miss Universe pageant, for example, some of the questions asked were:

  • If you were the leader of your country, how would you have handled the COVID-19 pandemic?
  • Should countries lock down due to COVID-19 despite the strain on their economies, or should they open their borders and risk a potential increase in infection rates?
  • What would you say to the women watching tonight who are currently experiencing sexual or domestic abuse?

I think everyone agrees that these are questions that even some world leaders would find difficult to answer.  What makes it more challenging is the fact that pageant contestants are only given 20 to 30 seconds to answer.  Needless to say, it is a nerve-racking situation. And yet they have to remain poised and calm during the entire process.

On July 11, both Binibining Pilipinas and Miss World Philippines will hold their annual beauty pageants again. By now, contestants are already busy preparing for these contests. Part of this preparation is practicing their answers to questions that might be asked of them at any time throughout the duration of the pageant, on or off screen.

I’d like to offer some help to these contestants by giving some key messaging tips. But before I proceed, I’d like to issue this disclaimer: I have no beauty pageant experience, and, unfortunately, no hope of ever gaining that experience. But I do have a lot of experience coaching spokespersons of some of the top companies and organizations in the country on how to communicate with their various stakeholders.

Spokespersons give key messages that embody the brand they represent. So, the first thing you have to do is to think of your name as a brand name. And then ask yourself these questions:

  • As a brand, what values do you stand for?
  • What would you like people to remember when your name is mentioned?
  • What is your objective for joining the contest, and why do you want to win?

Write down your answers to these questions — they are your key messages. Now it should be noted that it is very important to be truthful when you answer these questions. Your key messages have to showcase your authentic self. When you are being true to yourself you radiate self-confidence, which is one of the primary traits that beauty pageant judges look for.   

The next step is to find out the objectives of the pageant you are joining. The Miss Universe Organization, for example, “prioritizes the importance of being involved and giving back through a dedicated international platform of charitable partnerships. As leaders and role models within their communities, our delegates and titleholders affect positive change through volunteering, fundraising and advocacy.”  Naturally, they expect the winner to fully support and contribute to these initiatives. Look at your key messages and see how they align with your pageant’s objectives. Find common ground and highlight those as you fine-tune your key messages.

Now that you have your key messages, go and take a look again at that list of potential questions your trainer gave you. Write down your answer to each, but this time carefully align each answer with your key messages. See how you can highlight your key messages through your answer. Of course, you also have to be mindful of the time limit. Review and revise your answers until you are satisfied.  

And then practice answering them in front of a mirror. After all, practice makes perfect. You would see that when you are true to your values and objectives, you do not even have to memorize your answer. They will come to you.

Now I won’t deny that developing key messages and incorporating them in your answers is a lot harder than simply memorizing ready-made answers, but it will definitely pay off in the end because it will help you process questions quickly and confidently while shining a light to your true self.

About the Writer
Joy Cabrillos

Joy is a Senior Vice President for Media Relations of WSP, Incorporated. She is a well-rounded communications expert with more than two decades of experience in the areas of Journalism, Public Relations Consulting, and Corporate Communications. Her area of expertise spans strategic communications, media relations, reputation building, issues & crisis communications, and spokesperson coaching. As a writer, her work has appeared in nationally circulated publications such as the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Manila Bulletin, Entrepreneur Philippines Magazine, The Manila Times, among many others.

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