laura clark, miss earth usa, miss earth, pageants, pageantry, beauties for a cause

Six months ago, I never imagined I would produce a top ranking national pageant via virtual format. Who knew my next Miss Earth USA would conduct online media interviews two to three times per week and spend over 100 hours filming Miss Earth international competition segments?

To date, there has been no book written on how a virtual pageant should be operated or how to compete in online elements. We are all learning as we go! I commend the Miss Earth organization in the Philippines for hosting the very first major international pageant via online format. Many other programs chose to skip 2020, hoping next year will usher in fewer health restrictions and distancing requirements and easier international travel. Miss Earth knows the beauty pageant industry is not just about glamour and stage production, it is most important our representatives use their voices on a national and global platform to make an impact.

During two months of online international competition, we witnessed incredible creativity and a more intimate look at each candidate’s home country. The Miss Earth live chats have united the delegates without ever being in the same room. We were seeing the candidates’ gowns and swimwear modeled in their country’s most beautiful locations. The delegates showcased incredibly impressive talents and national costumes without having to transport expensive equipment around the world.

I certainly hope the pageant industry (and everything) soon returns to normal. However, even when COVID-19 vaccines are widely available and restrictions are lifted, we can expect organizations to have learned there are some areas of competition which can easily be held online. Let’s discuss the importance of your online presence while competing in a pageant.


Social Media Platforms

There are only two times in life when a beauty queen is perfect: At birth and during her pageant. Chances are pretty good you have displayed somewhere in your internet history that you are far from perfect. If you aren’t on social media, or you’ve chosen to take a break from a popular platform, it is vital a titleholder establish a professional, attractive and useful social media presence. We have incorporated social media into our scoring for the last five years, including introduction videos, getting to know you chats and general evaluations of how a candidate engages her fanbase. When evaluating social media presence, I am not looking for someone to be the perfect, flawlessly filtered Instagram model. I want to see an inside snapshot of the person and her life! I want her to chat openly and freely with a media interviewer or sister queen, engage with followers, and fearlessly be ready to address any question.

We are living in a very divisive time in the United States, which is evident when scrolling through social media. The Miss Earth USA organization has chosen to enforce rules to create a positive social media experience. This includes not supporting or opposing political candidates or parties via social media and not engaging in conversation with others “bashing” pageants. When confronted about posts, I have heard candidates say, “Oh, that was posted to my personal page.” When you are a titleholder, you must embrace the fact that your personal life is now your life as a titleholder. The public will look at your personal and professional social media platforms as a representation of your title. It’s tough to admit we may have skeletons in the closet, but it is never too late to do a sweep of your social media and remove content that was not representative of your title when posted months or years ago.

The beauty of pageantry is you are permitted to “reinvent” yourself—but only in an honest way. Remember your social media presence is not just beautiful photos or Boomerang videos, it is also your comments on other people’s posts. It is the groups you belong to. It is your support of messages shared to your story. If your pageant does not blatantly state they are scoring your social media presence, most are doing so off the record. My advice is to allow social media to be a tool for you to easily market your organization, amplify your voice and unite others.


Live Chats

In 2017, Facebook Live video view count was 2 billion viewers. In 2018, the number of Facebook Live broadcasts reached 3.5 billion. Opportunities to “go live” are being incorporated more often in pageant marketing, and they are a great way to immediately engage your audience. Individual and group live chats are a great way for me to evaluate if a delegate can:

1) Successfully operate technology

2) Portray herself in a professional manner via live video

3) Naturally engage with others

As a pageant director, my goal is for communication to encompass over 50% of a delegate’s score.

The Miss Earth USA organization has gone away from live public speaking competitions and in-person group media interviews. Now, taking into account COVID-19 health concerns, we host online group chats moderated by a national titleholder. This allows our legacy titleholders to get involved. It lets the delegates get to know one another, take questions from the audience, and show that beauty queens are indeed more than just beauty. Over the last few months, many television and radio interviews with Miss Earth USA have been scheduled remotely, as opposed to sending her to the studio. While your pageant may not choose to incorporate live videos, you can still incorporate them into your social media presence to draw a larger audience and engage fans.

If your pageant schedules a delegate live chat, do not treat the conversation like a competition. This is your opportunity to develop relationships and show viewers that pageantry is a sisterhood. For the most part, keep things lighthearted. Smile and remain engaged in the conversation when you are not the focus (oftentimes, we can still see you!) Take the opportunity to share facts about important issues, but also personal stories. As a judge, I want a delegate who is polite, relatable, confident, prepared and a thoughtful communicator.


Virtual Interviews

Even when a pageant is being held on stage, many organizations, including Miss USA and Miss Earth USA, are realizing the benefits of holding judge interviews online. Online interviews allow for less time and space occupied during the pageant. They can also enable pageants to lengthen the interview time, as you are less pressured to stay on schedule and get on to the next activity. On the other hand, online interviews limit judges from seeing a delegate head to toe and experiencing her “presence” because some candidates are indeed more approachable or carry a certain energy in person. They can also be hindered by technological or location difficulties, like slow internet connection, poor lighting, or difficulty hearing judge’s questions. My advice to candidates conducting online interviews is first and foremost—Be Yourself! Guess what! That’s always the first piece of advice given for interview, right? You must practice this new format to be comfortable with your online presentation. If you can practice with your coach and review the video, you will see how you are successfully showcasing your personality and intelligence through the online interview.

Next, don’t rush into interview by grabbing your cell phone and sitting outside on your patio. Set up your interview area with care. Examine your background and your lighting. Always face into the light and do not have light behind you. Check your quality of audio and ensure there are no distractions on the day of the interview, like construction outside or your family watching television. Finally, just because the interview is online does not mean you can’t rock an amazing interview dress or jumpsuit. Take the same time to perfect your look and show the judges your very best face during this important part of the competition.


Virtual Modeling

I certainly believe pageantry is best experienced in person, especially the modeling of wardrobe on a beautiful, well lit stage. However, due to venue cancellations and a deadline to prepare our candidate for Miss Earth 2020, the most recent Miss Earth USA competition was held virtually in August. Due to the rush to prepare for this competition, I asked delegates to not edit their modeling videos. We provided an example video of the simple runway walk and poses, and we gave a time limit of 45 seconds per look. This video was then submitted to the national office and spliced with the other delegates to create the modeling competition, with our own music running over the video, a few visual effects and the name of each delegate added to the screen. Without having a guidebook on best practices to organize a virtual pageant, I think we did a pretty great job!

Now in the midst of preparing our candidate for the Miss Earth virtual competition, we have been given more time to perfect our national candidate’s video submissions. Our team traveled to three different US cities and filmed Miss Earth USA modeling eight wardrobe components in different locations, and our editing team was able to create really incredible segments to submit for her competition. If your pageant is requesting you submit modeling videos as part of the competition, choose your location wisely. If you are asked to submit virtual modeling videos, first – consider the lighting. If you cannot set up high quality lighting, you should select a location allowing for natural lighting.

Next, carefully craft your background. Pay attention to the details provided by the organization such as color of background, should you be outdoors, how much of the wardrobe should be shown while walking or posing. Be sure there are no distracting elements seen in your video like a purse resting on the floor or the edges of your background taped to the wall.

How much is this going to cost? It may be entirely possible for you to film independently on a quality phone. If the organization has given you more time, I encourage you to find a partner to video, use a high-quality camera or even hire a professional video team. If allowed, use computer video editing software to put together the best final submission. I believe we will see more and more pageants asking for virtual modeling submissions as part of the application process or even asking the candidates to film at home for an opening number production. Don’t be scared of this new experience! It may be different from your usual pageant format, but it can also be very fun!

In conclusion, it’s not just the pageant industry that is placing more emphasis on a digital format. Model castings are being held by models photographing and filming independently. NFL cheerleader auditions were held virtually and now during NFL season, the squads are showcasing pre-filmed studio performances on the Jumbotron. Job interviews are being held via Zoom and new jobs beginning via home office. Pageantry should prepare you for all other aspects of your life, so take this opportunity to fine-tune your skillset even further. God bless.


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