When I tell people that I compete in pageants, there are a few typical responses. Sometimes I get weird looks, sometimes people think it’s really cool, and if I’m lucky, sometimes I get a Miss Congeniality reference (the best movie of ALL time). I love getting to compete in pageants for so many reasons: the people I meet, the scholarship money I make, and of course, the crown is a plus. However, lately I’ve found myself thankful for how the Miss America Organization has prepared me for my career in public relations- whether that be through communicating well with others, branding myself, or being able to think and act quickly.
Thinking On Your Feet
The most daunting part of pageantry is the questions. Between your interview, your onstage question, and Q&As at speaking engagements, you can bet people will expect you to share your opinions and views. These questions can range from “If you were a tree, what tree would you be?” to “How do you think our country can stop illegal immigration?”, so you’d better be prepared for anything. (And yes, I’ve been asked both!)
The world of public relations isn’t much different. Whether you’re pitching an idea to your client or working with the press, you have to be prepared, creative, quick-witted and well-spoken in order to get your point across.
An often-overlooked area of pageantry is developing your personal brand. The most important question my mentors asked me is “What makes you stand out?” At Miss Michigan, there are somewhere around 30 girls competing, and each one wants the title just as much as you do. What makes you special, and how will you consistently develop whatever that is to make sure the judges remember you?
In PR, we’re not just helping our clients with branding, we have to brand ourselves, too. Getting to experiment with my personal brand in pageants has been invaluable in learning who I am and getting ready for the ‘trying to find a big-girl job’ season of life.
Using Social Media
It’s one thing to learn about social media in your public relations classes, but it’s another to put that knowledge into action. As a local titleholder in Miss America, I run an Instagram account devoted to the title I hold, and let me tell you, it’s harder than I expected it to be.
In PR, we know that social media can have huge benefits when used well, and it’s often a large part of the work that we do for our clients. Things like posting consistently, interacting with their followers, and so on are often overlooked by clients, but are so valuable when it comes to building relationships with consumers. I’ve gained a new understanding of how important this is through getting to experiment on my own social media.
Communicating with a Variety of Audiences
Can you imagine if your professor came into class one day and started presenting their lecture as if they were talking to kindergartners? Or if they took their lecture and presented it to a group of kindergartners the way they’d normally present it to you? People will understand our message better if we craft it with them in mind. Understanding the culture, context, and understanding of our audiences is vital to helping them understand what we’re trying to say.
When working as a public relations specialist, you’re interacting with everybody- the marketing team, lawyers, press, the public, you name it. Even if you’re trying to get the same message across to these different groups, learning how to make your message audience-focused will save you time, energy, and frustration.
Staying Calm under Pressure
This is, without a doubt, the most valuable skill I’ve learned through pageants. I’ve often said that if I can stand on stage in a bikini, knowing that I’m being judged, and keep my cool, I can do just about anything. It sounds strange, I know, but pushing my comfort zone through competition has taught me how to maintain my composure even when I just bombed my onstage question or my dress rips right before I go onstage.
This isn’t just valuable in PR but in any area of life. Let’s be real, things are never going to go exactly how we plan, and flexibility is the name of the game. Instead of becoming frustrated and anxious, I’ve learned how to take it all in stride, take a deep breath and keep my head high.
While competing in Miss America is often a huge leap out of my comfort zone, I am so much better because of it. Pageants aren’t for everybody, but I’m grateful for how they’ve shaped me and prepared me for my future career in PR.
Sarah Dudinetz is about to finish her junior year at Grand Valley, where she’s studying Advertising and PR with minors in Writing and Digital Studies. She joined PRSSA and GrandPR in 2019 and has loved every minute of it. In her free time, you can find Sarah leading worship with GV’s Campus Ministry, snuggling with her cat, Sue, or singing show tunes in her car.