By now you’ve probably heard about the epic interview fail by Miss Utah during the Miss USA pageant.
On the other hand, I’m guessing you don’t know who Rich Harvey is (unless you live in Colorado or have some relationship to Colorado Springs).
Both of them have recently encountered a challenge that faces public speakers and presenters everywhere: questions.
For those that don’t know much about either one of them, let me explain who they are and why we’re talking about them today.
As a Top 5 Finalist in the Miss USA competition, Miss Utah was hit with this interview 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 this say about society?”
Miss Utah attempted to answer by shakily relating the question to education (a topic she presumably knew more about), giving a panicked, self-aware smile, and then utterly imploding.
For the second year in a row, Colorado Springs has been hit with a devastating wildfire. Last summer the Waldo Canyon Fire destroyed 340+ homes. This summer the Black Forest Fire has destroyed more than 500. As of this writing, the fire is still not 100% contained, though the threat to property and life appears to be mostly under control.
Rich Harvey was and is the Incident Commander for these disasters. In addition to making tactical decisions about resource allocation and how to combat monstrous, destructive fires, Harvey speaks at press briefings where he is hit with countless questions. He approaches Q&A with humor, humility, and honesty.
Handling Interviews and Q&A Sessions
Like Miss Utah and Mr. Harvey, every public speaker faces the possibility of being asked questions. Learning how to handle an interview or Q&A session is crucial to public speaking success. It’s especially important that speakers consider how to approach unexpected questions because they have the greatest potential to undermine an otherwise confident and authoritative presentation.
Miss Utah and Mr. Harvey know the questions are coming, of course. They aren’t being ambushed on the street. They’ve undoubtedly had some interview coaching and practice. They’ve answered questions on a public stage before.
But their divergent approaches to unexpected questions made Mr. Harvey a beloved hero and Miss Utah a punchline.
Perfect vs. Genuine
Miss Utah’s interview answer was not an epic fail because it was rambling, incoherent, and non-responsive. It was a failure because she tried to maintain an illusion of polished, knowledgeable perfection as she haltingly delivered a stream of nonsense. She wasn’t real. She wasn’t relatable. She wasn’t honest.
Mr. Harvey, on the other hand, laughs, smiles, and acknowledges when he doesn’t understand a question or know the answer. His humility and humor make him accessible and trustworthy. He is completely himself. He is genuine.
Imagine Miss Utah adopting Mr. Harvey’s approach. As the question is asked, she realizes she has no idea how to answer it. (It’s a ridiculous question, after all!) She smiles her beautiful smile, laughs, and admits with a self-deprecating shrug that she is stumped.
What happens? The audience claps and laughs with her. She said exactly what they were all thinking: I couldn’t answer that question.
Granted, there’s no telling what her interview scores would be. Perhaps low (no loss there because a rambling, non-responsive answer leads to low scores anyway). Perhaps high (the judges might be impressed by her poise, humor, and authenticity). Either way, she becomes newsworthy for being refreshing, unexpected, honest, relatable, and funny. Infinitely better than being known as a dumb failure.
Of course, admitting lack of knowledge on a public stage takes confidence, character, and a strong sense of self. Mr. Harvey is older, wiser, and a self-assured expert in his field, whereas Miss Utah is quite young and has been trained to be the embodiment of beautiful perfection, not an innovative problem-solver.
Furthermore, Mr. Harvey’s answers directly impact the decisions and actions of thousands of people, while even the most brilliant answer in a Miss USA pageant is unlikely to impact anyone. And let’s face it, answers in the Miss USA pageant aren’t intended to persuade audiences to think or act. They are intended to showcase “perfection.” Unfortunately, in Pageant Land, a “polished”, non-responsive ramble is preferable to imperfect honesty. Despite the massive interview implosion, Miss Utah placed 3rd in one of the biggest beauty competitions in the world.
But when it comes to effectively communicating with audiences, Mr. Harvey’s genuine and honest imperfection will always be more convincing and informative than faked perfection.
Do you struggle with interviews or Q&A sessions? Let HugSpeak help with one-on-one coaching (in-person or online).
Do you prefer speakers that are polished or genuine? Share your thoughts below!