March 21, 2011

How to train a beauty pageant candidate

SUMMERTIME usually heralds the beginning of the beauty-pageant season and what could be more prestigious than the Bb. Pilipinas contest? No doubt, all gays and dolls will be glued to their TV sets on April 10, eager for the parade of gorgeous Filipinas who will have a shot at becoming a future Ms. Universe or Ms. International.

One of the usual sidelights to these beauty contests are the grammatical boo-boos and diction-challenged statements of some candidates. Fortunately, over the years, these slip-ups have become fewer and far between.

For the past 17 years, the Executive Training Institute of the Philippines, local franchise holder and sponsor of the Dale Carnegie courses, has partnered with the Bb. Pilipinas Charities Inc. to help train the contestants how to answer questions appropriately and project themselves better. Carnegie, of course, is the renowned author of the bestselling self-help book How to Win Friends and Influence People, and had introduced in 1912 out of a YMCA a public-speaking course and taught students how to express themselves better by gaining more self-confidence. It has since grown into an encompassing training program for leaders.

I sat with ETIOP president Bienvenido Policarpio recently to talk about the girls’ training, and other Dale courses that can help managers and business executives motivate their staff better, make presentations, push sales, etc. Some of their graduates include Tony Tancaktiong, president of Jollibee Foods Corp.; Mariano Que, founder of Mercury Drugstore; Ambassador Francisco del Rosario; former senator Freddie Webb; the late industrialist Enrique Zobel; and actress and social worker Rosa Rosal, to name a few.

Abroad, Dale graduates include Chrysler’s Lee Iaccoca, billionaire investor Warren Buffett, Walmart’s Sam Walton, hotelier JW Marriott, cosmetics entrepreneur Mary Kay Ash, actress Isabella Rossellini, Honduran President Jose Manuel Zelaya Rosalos, etc.

For the Bb. Pilipinas, training at ETIOP begins when the 24 semi-finalists have already been chosen. These three half-day intensive sessions are conducted in the areas of personality development, confidence building, answering questions in the Q&A portion, as well as human-relations skills. “The training will help the 24 semi-finalists get equal and better chances to prepare for coronation night. These are long sessions where we see how they move, speak and project themselves. We correct them, especially their diction, because this is usually the first thing that is noticeable,” Policarpio explains. ETIOP also trains the winners who will represent the country in the Ms. Universe and Ms. International pageants.

The 24 semi-finalists of the Bb. Pilipinas beauty pageant 2011 pose for photographers by the swimming pool of the Hotel Sofitel Philippine Plaza. (Photo by Nonie Reyes, BusinessMirror)

How difficult is it to train beauty contestants? What’s the most difficult part of training them?

Generally speaking, it depends on their educational attainment and the provinces they come from, although it’s true, just because someone is in college, it doesn’t automatically mean their thought processes and articulateness are better than someone who is, say, in high school. Also, depending on whether the candidates live in urban or rural areas—it is easier sometimes to correct the diction of someone who has spoken a wider amount of English than someone who has spoken in her dialect most of her life.

What areas do you focus on when you train them?

Usually it’s three things—thought processing, thinking globally and verbal expression. Thought processing is the ability of the candidate to understand the question asked in context; to see the nature and intent of the question as it is asked; and to give the answer in the full satisfaction of the intent. For thinking globally, some contestants have a parochial way of thinking, so we need to be able to make the candidate understand that the issues raised are for a global audience. Then we teach them to express themselves with clarity, and in proper grammar and diction.

Have you come across candidates or titleholders who just don’t get it, and you were close to giving up?

Yes, there have been a few. It depends on how the person was brought up, the educational background and the environment she grew up in. For example, the way she speaks and certain terms she uses, for example, jologs siya magsalita. Because of the limited exposure and educational attainment of the candidate, many of the terms she uses or the attitude she projects are acquired through experience and the exchange of ideas in that environment she grew up in.

But we believe that everyone is “trainable”, so to speak, as long as one is willing to learn and put her heart and soul in the training.

Is there a way to turn them around?

Yes, by being able to install formulas and mechanisms in the candidate that allows them to quickly give sensible and seemingly intelligent answers to the question which includes quotations, experiences, history and analogies.

Because of the Venus Raj “major, major” incident, there have been calls for our girls to bring interpreters to the international beauty pageants. Your thoughts?

As far as I’m aware of, we cannot do this. The Philippines is identified as an English-speaking country, so our candidates to these international pageants cannot bring interpreters, unlike the ladies from non-English-speaking countries.

Even if we claim, for instance, that our country is no longer an English-speaking country and we would like an interpreter for our candidate, there are many events and social gatherings leading up to the coronation night where the candidates are observed closely by organizers, judges and even the media.

So it would be easily found out whether our candidate is conversant in English. In any case, we train the girls as hard as we can, and if their schedule permits, we do this every day before they leave for the international pageant.

ETIOP trains the 24 Bb. Pilipinas semi-finalists in interpersonal and relationship skills, how to project themselves better, and answer questions appropriately. (Photo courtesy of ETIOP)

Honestly, did you cringe when you heard Venus’s answer?

If you look back at the questions asked of the candidates before her, all were answerable by either “yes” or “no.” Her question was a bit more complicated, requiring some introspection that, even for us, will probably take more than the required 30 seconds to answer. If you saw that US news video on YouTube right after the coronation night, even ordinary Americans couldn’t answer the question—“What is the one big mistake that you’ve made in your life, and what did you do to make it right?” The question required recollecting, selecting through your memories, sorting, then finally choosing.

Another thing is, the hardest to recall is a mistake. The mind normally rejects it. Even if you do manage to recall a mistake, can you do it in three to four seconds, and would you be willing to divulge it in front of millions of people who are all strangers? Would you be able to live it down if you actually disclosed the big mistake? Basically what Venus did was try to “bridge” the moment. While she didn’t really answer the question directly, she gave an answer with all enthusiasm, with a smile, in proper grammar, without stammering or “fainting” at the question.

Can you say that most of the candidates you’ve trained have benefited from the Dale training?

Yes, before the Dale training, many candidates took too long to answer. They were not spontaneous, had no thinking formula, had little or no sense of the global environment, and used common language and not politically correct terms. Dale changed that as they went through the training.

For example, this well-known candidate, before her Dale training, she used to stutter during the Q&A portion and she took too long to answer. After Dale, she showed improvement in the way she answered questions during the international competition she joined. She did not stutter or lose her poise and was able to answer the question right away. And as you can see, quite a few have made an impact in the international pageants by either winning the title itself, or at least placing among the runners-up.

How can others benefit from enrolling in a Dale course?

There are several courses that cater to the different requirements of managers, chief executives, sales and marketing staff, etc. We customize the training module for participants. There is one for every need—is it assertiveness you need? EQ? Enthusiasm? Habit? What industry are you in? Are you in the food industry? Hotel? Airline? Manufacturing? There is a training module for every need, industry, executive level. We’re here to train leaders and future leaders on how to behave in public gatherings, how to make sales pitches, how to manage staff, and also public speaking.

What’s your most popular course?

The most popular course especially among supervisors, managers and some executives is the basic Dale course for Effective Communications and Human Relations. This course helps participants strengthen interpersonal relations, communicate clearly and concisely, tackle complex challenges with confidence, move beyond their comfort zone, as well as control worry and manage stress. Other courses include Leadership Training for Managers; High-Impact Presentations; and Sales Advantage.

Local companies and organizations whose executives and staff have already benefited from our Dale courses include: Nokia Phils., Globe Telecom, Jollibee, Caltex/Chevron, San Miguel Corp., Sun Life of Canada, Texas Instruments, Federal Express, Dole-Stanfilco, the US Embassy, Pryce Waterhouse, etc.

*For training inquiries, call ETIOP at tel. nos. 687-2482 up to 84, 632-7719, 638-4780, 633-7995.

(This is the unabridged version of my column, Something Like Life, published on March 18, 2011 in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. The column is published is every Friday.)

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