beauty pageants

What’s it like to coach beauty queens and kings on Q&As? We talk to a pageant communication expert

Marguerite de Leon

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What’s it like to coach beauty queens and kings on Q&As? We talk to a pageant communication expert
'Some of the difficulties that pageant kings and queens face include unfamiliarity with current events and social issues, the construction of ideas, and delivery,' shares communication coach Michelle Joy Padayhag

MANILA, Philippines – The Q&A portions of beauty pageants are often the most memorable part of the viewing experience; it’s where fans get to see how intelligent, principled, and interesting the contestants are. And while there are triumphs, such as Miss Universe 1969 Gloria Diaz’s witty “man on the moon” remark, there are also catastrophic (and highly meme-able) failures, such as 2008 Binibining Pilipinas World Janina San Miguel’s “my pamily” meltdown.

Interestingly, there are actual people whose work it is to train budding beauty queens and kings on communicating well during Q&As and interviews. One of them is 29-year-old Cebuana Michelle Joy Padayhag.

We asked her about the difficulties of the job, her advice for effectively expressing yourself, and more in the following interview:

What exactly is the title of your job, and how would you describe what you do? How long have you been doing this?

It is known as a Q&A mentor in the pageant world, but I prefer to refer to myself as an effective communication coach. I am currently independent and don’t have beauty camp affiliations, and I’ve been in the industry for four years already. 

I have a training program called #QuickThoughts, where I mentor aspiring kings and queens to be effective communicators not just for the final Q&A format, but as well as the screening process, press conferences, and closed-door interviews for pageants.

Aside from being an effective communication coach, I also develop their advocacies. Among the advocacies that I’ve worked with them on were Miss Universe Philippines 2020 Rabiya Mateo’s “Stories of Hope,” and Miss Universe Cambodia 2022 Manita Hang’s visit to Loveyourself Cebu, where I served as a writer and researcher, respectively.

SMILES. Bb. Pilipinas Globe 2022 Chelsea Fernandez (left) before her departure for Ms. Globe 2022 in Albania, and Ms. Universe Cambodia 2022 Manita Hang (right) during her trip to the Philippines for training and advocacy. Courtesy of Michelle Joy Padayhag
How did you get into this profession? Have you done coaching outside of the pageant world? Have you always been a pageant fan? 

My love for pageantry began when I was in grade school. I used to watch pageants in our barangay, where Ms. Kawasan Tourism was staged.

I was quite interested in how pageantry emphasized the advocacy, strength, and substance of women. I immediately fell in love with it and began watching major pageants like Ms. Universe and Ms. World on television.

In 2013, I began my career in journalism by writing police stories for Cebu Daily News, and in 2016, I was assigned to write entertainment stories, with my first topic being Ms. Cebu 2016. 

My passion for pageants continued when I covered Binibining Cebu 2017 and interviewed all 54 candidates. Following this, my pageant industry network expanded.

When I ended my stint in Cebu Daily News in 2019, a manager from a modeling agency in Cebu asked me to be Nicole Borromeo’s PR and effective communication coach for Eat Bulaga’s Ms. Millennial Philippines. She was the first beauty queen whom I worked with. 

At first, I was hesitant to accept the offer since it was challenging to give Cebu a back-back win after Shaila Rebortera’s victory in 2018. Admittedly, I prayed for a sign. I told myself I would only continue in the industry if Nicole won. Fortunately, Nicole made it and gave Cebu a back-back win. 

To add, mentoring pageant kings and queens is not my full-time job. It’s just my passion. Majority of my mentees are pro-bono since I understand that some want to learn but can’t afford to hire a mentor. Currently, my full-time job is being a marketing manager for a business processing management (BPM) in Mandaue City; at the same time I am an entrepreneur, as I own a travel service provider and property in southern Cebu.

During weekdays, I focus on my full-time job while my effective communication mentorship is scheduled during the weekends. 

What are the biggest challenges that beauty queens and kings face when training for Q&As? What problems/issues do you tend to fix the most?

Some of the difficulties that pageant kings and queens face include unfamiliarity with current events and social issues, the construction of ideas, and delivery. 

That’s why my training runs 3 to 6 months for local pageants and 6 months to 1 year for national or international stints. I want my mentees to be equipped all the time. 

However, these concerns can be fixed with the dedication and commitment of mentees who want to improve. Learning effective communication is a process that takes time. Learning should be part of their everyday routine.

TWO NATIONAL CROWNS IN ONE NIGHT. Michelle is flanked by Man of the World Philippines 2022 James Vidal (Ormoc City) and Fitness Supermodel World Philippines 2022 Mayko Toledo (Cebu City). Vidal and Toledo will represent the Philippines this year in the Philippines and Vietnam, respectively. Courtesy of Michelle Joy Padayhag
How do you address these problems/issues? What’s the most common advice you give your clients? 

The journey is always worthwhile if there is consistency in research, study, and training. 

I do assessments after the first session to identify which areas need improvement. I also create a learning tracker for every mentee for monitoring purposes. Every three weeks, I do mock activities/interviews and invite members of the panel from different industries to challenge mentees’ improvement.   

What is your favorite/most memorable Q&A moment from a Filipina queen at any pageant, and why?

It will always be during Catriona Gray’s stint for Miss Universe 2018.

She set the bar high and opened people’s eyes to the fact that beauty pageants are not just all about physical beauty. Her answer will always be iconic in pageant history. It’s been five years after her victory, and Catriona Gray will always be the Filipina queen who has checked all the boxes, most especially for Q&A. 

We celebrate beauty pageants because they give everyone a chance to be heard. Being an effective communicator also helps in utilizing the platform.

What’s your advice when the question given is highly political/controversial?

Always study, research, and stick to the facts. There’s nothing wrong with taking a stand, especially if you’re well-equipped and informed. Be courageous. It’s empowering and worth celebrating.

Miss Universe’s new format under its new owner is steering towards more substantial, intellectual queens. This likely means that questions could get harder or more complicated in the future. How do you feel about this move?

The new move of the Miss Universe Organization is something that every pageant enthusiast should welcome, because pageants are beyond beauty. 

I see this as a beautiful challenge. Ever since, I’ve always perceived beauty queens and pageant kings as ambassadors. They have the power to influence, and being substantial and intellectual is necessary. That is why it is important to master effective communication and at the same time study and research, particularly current events and social issues.

KEFAIAH. Michelle with Miss Cebu 2023 Kefaiah Al-Zair. Courtesy of Michelle Joy Padayhag
What do you love most about your job? What do you dislike most about it? 

It is so fulfilling to see them grow and be more confident in taking a stand and expressing with the right thoughts. Being an effective communication coach gives my mentees the confidence they need both during and after pageants. 

The mentees who lack professionalism is what I dislike the most. I always value time. Respecting someone’s time is a fundamental sort of discipline that can benefit them in all of their endeavors, not just their pageant careers.

What are the traits of a good Q&A coach? Any advice for people who want to take on this profession?

To be an effective coach, one must be consistent, patient, and optimistic.

Consistent. My training period runs 3 to 6 months (local) and 6 months to 1 year (national/international) because I want my mentees to be prepared even before their pageant journey begins. As a consistent coach, I still give them follow-up questions, updates, and additional references to learn every day after the 3 to 6-month program.

Patient. Not all mentees have the same level of intelligence and learning process. This type of career requires patience to understand that each mentee is unique and has different learning styles. My sessions are typically one-on-one to address their needs.

Optimistic. Some mentees experience breakdowns because of pressure and become pessimistic. Being optimistic along the way can ease stress and enhance learning and confidence. Amidst the breakdowns, I want to tell my mentees that I am not just a coach but a friend as well. –

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Marguerite de Leon

Marguerite Alcazaren de Leon heads Rappler’s Life and Style, Entertainment, and Opinion sections. She has been with Rappler since 2013, and also served as its social media producer for six years. She is also a fictionist.