The question and answer portion is a much-anticipated part in beauty contests. It is an opportunity for a contestant to convince the judges that she deserves the title. But this moment can be frazzling for candidates. More so, if they are expected to eloquently answer in a foreign language.
I, too, had experienced the pressure to use English for Q & A. When I was 16, I joined an inter-high school best muse contest in our home town. I was 4’10, shy, and had baby fat. The Q & A was the only thing I was confident of. Still, I felt anxious. I was last to be called to pick a question. I do not remember what it was anymore, and what answer I gave. But I did well. I won. Despite this, I find it unreasonable to ridicule those who make mistakes in Q & A. Public speaking is not an easy task.
Neuropsychologist Dr. Danilo Tuazon agrees. He had told our class that it’s not okay to bash candidates with lackluster performance in the Q & A. For one, eloquence is just an aspect of a person’s overall intelligence. It is not even an indicator of aptitude for effective humanitarian work, which is the ultimate purpose of pageants.
The Q & A portion is stressful. It could break even the most experienced of contestants. Dr. Tuazon explains that the rush of adrenaline and cortisol hormones could block the retrieval of information from memory. This causes a person to forget even the most basic grammar rules: “The audience often laughs at the contestant if a stupid answer is given. If you are just listening it is easy to give a very convincing answer because you are not under duress. Retrieval of stored data from our brain is easy when cortisol hormone is controlled.”
If Q & A blunders could happen to the already articulate ones, those who are not used to public speaking are at a greater risk of humiliating themselves: “Foreign language issue in relation to answering a question in front of an audience leaps cortisol release. Understanding the question and constructing an answer and translating your thoughts to a language which you are not comfortable is double jeopardy. It is a sure killer”, Dr Tuazon said.
Culture plays an important part, too. Filipinos are emotional. We use non-verbal cues to express ourselves. Dr. Tuazon has observed that Filipinos are not even articulate with the vernacular language: “We rely a lot on non-verbal expressions – the use of hands, or generic words like k’wan, ‘yon, gan’un, ‘di ba, etc. We often do not complete our sentences as we give allowance for the listener to add to our opinion. Mahilig tayo sa bitin na sagot na subject to fill in the blanks.”
This gives basis to pageant training, which includes speaking well in public and doing away with undesirable speaking habits. Like any other skill, eloquence can be learned. Dr. Tuazon assures, “the brain can still rewire itself based on interest, attitude and exposure to strong continuous regular stimulation.” The only limit to learning is a person’s biological make up. If all the body’s organs necessary for public speaking function normally, all one needs, according to Dr Tuazon, are effort, persistence and a coach.
Expertise, however, will not assure a blunder-free performance. Daniel Goleman, in his book “Focus,” cites two systems of thinking process: the bottom-up and top-bottom systems. Bottom-up thinking is involuntary and automatic, governed by the bottom part of the brain. Top-bottom thinking requires effort and focus, performed by the prefrontal cortex.
Regular pratice of a certain skill, makes that skill part of the automatic system of thinking. This makes it easy for the person to perform the skill when needed.
There are times though that top-bottom thinking interferes with the bottom-up system. This happens when a person begins overthinking a task he is already good at. When thoughts such as: “Am I pronouncing the word correctly?” “Is my diction okay?” “My preposition use has to be flawless”, nag you in the middle of your speech, the more your pronunciation, diction and prepositions mess up.
I have seen some of Maxine Medina’s interviews. They were okay. That press conference, however, was indeed painful to watch. Her beautiful features could not hide the apprehension, the overconsciousness, and the overthinking. We must understand that the pressure on her has been increasingly overwhelming. Anyone in her position could fall victim to overthinking, to cortisol and adrenaline rush. So even if she gets an interpreter, if overthinking distracts her, she would not be able to articulate her thoughts even in Filipino.
Having said all these, this unsolicited advice would probably make sense to Maxine and all the other candidates: let go and be yourself. Trust in what you have learned as a beauty queen. And when you get to the stage, forget all advice and forget all the bashers.
[Entry 197, The SubSelfie Blog]
About the Author:
Tricia Zafra is a correspondent and anchor working for GMA News. She graduated from UP Diliman with a degree in Bachelor of Arts in Broadcast Communication, cum laude, and is currently taking up graduate studies in the Department of Psychology in the same university. She is a vegetarian, painter, and a certified open water scuba diver. Read more of her articles here.