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How to think on your feet and avoid #MissUtah moments

Improving the way you think on our feet and speak “off the cuff” is a vital life skill – whether you are at work, at home, or competing in the Miss USA pageant.

These tips will help you in business presentations and meetings and pitches as well as Miss USA pageants. 


Poor Miss Utah did a very poor job answering her Miss USA question. Her incoherent and rambling response  has attracted a blizzard of stinging barbs from the mainstream media and social media.

Here’s a link to a quick re-cap –  including some of the stinging criticism.

While I can understand the nerves and pressure of performance when facing such a question so publicly – I believe #MissUtah could have performed much better with some simple preparation.

You don’t have to be a brilliant poli-sci (political science) major to come up with an impressive answer – you just need to go prepare with this easy process.

I’m a presentation coach from Australia and Australian contestants in similar events would come in for presentation coaching (especially Impromptu Speaking) to make sure they are prepared for the question time part of the event.


The Process:

1. Know how long your answer needs to be and practice out loud to get a feel for speaking for that length of time. This is vital because you need to know when to start wrapping up the answer and finish strongly (rather than trailing off)

2. Practice following a simple structure like this:

A: make a point

B: back up your point with a few simple reasons

C: Repeat your point and finish strongly

3. Listen carefully to the question and link your answer to the question

The question can be a great springboard for your answer.

I help business leaders and media spokespeople prepare for answering difficult questions and here’s how we use the question. I’m not familiar with the Miss USA question answering rules – so you may need to modify this approach for such pageants.

O.K.  – here’s how Miss Utah could have delivered a better answer.

She may not have known the actual question – but she could have prepared some general“building block” statements to use in her answer. I believe the judges are looking for HOW contestants express themselves.

You can prepare some general statements around general topics: hunger, the environment, children’s education, equality and yes women’s rights

Listen to the actual question + use the question to launch your answer

This was the question:”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 it say about society?”

When I train executives we “buy some thinking time” by repeating the question and then using the key words of the question.

Here’s an example of an answer. Sure it’s full of generic statements – but they are expressed with strong structure. (in a future post I’ll discuss techniques such as the rule of threes and the power of poetic devices such as rhyme and the power of the pause.


“What does this says about society?

I believe what this says about society is that society needs to change and I am confident that society WILL change.

And here’s why. (pause – draws in attention and buys you some thinking time)

I believe this country is founded on equality and living up to its promise and making change happen.

I believe in equal pay for equal work.

40 percent of  women are the primary earners – that’s a good thing

(Note: repeating parts of the question set-up links your answer to the question)

More women in the workforce – that’s a good thing

This report making us aware of the earning inequaity – that AWARENESS is a good thing –  because it tells us we need to DO SOMETHING about it.

My message to you is this: (pause – look at audience especially the person asking the question)

You don’t just blame society – you change society.

Women we ARE society –  an increasingly powerful part of  society.

We don’t ask for equality to be given to us – we demand equality – in numbers too  big to ignore.

Remember we are women and we are AMERICAN women

and that’s why I truly believe that   – on this issue of earning equality – WE as  a society need to change and I am confident that we WILL change.

(Delivery note: build to strong finish and then pause with strong eye contact. Don’t rush into thank you or turn away)

Now, my suggested answer was just off the cuff. You may disagree with the content and it may be over the top  ( and even channeling “I am Woman” – but I ask you to focus mainly on the techniques – the techniques of:

1. using the question words to launch your answer

2. using the basic structure of A: your point B: backing up you point and C: closing strongly with your point.


If you enjoyed this post – Let’s connect:

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I blog lots about about fun pop culture stuff as well as more serious  business communication tips – and yes…about coffee and cafes! 


tony biancotti


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One comment on “How to think on your feet and avoid #MissUtah moments

  1. Pingback: A “spin doctor’s” tips on how you can bounce back from a #MissUtah moment | efangelist

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