Speaking is hard: Reflections on the response of Miss Utah USA

I did not get to see the answer live (fortunately for my masculine cred I was watching the NBA Finals Game 5 last night), but by this morning I had heard all about the flustered answer from Marissa Powell, Miss Utah USA, in the Miss USA pageant in Las Vegas, NV on Sunday night.

I find myself lamenting poor public speaking all of the time. Whether it is a incomprehensible presentation or an awkward Best Man’s toast, I find myself wondering why people can’t just put a little bit more effort in preparing for oral communication.

However, as we can see from this young woman with experience and accomplishments on the pageant circuit, it is not very difficult to crash and burn on the biggest stage. Anyone can relate.

The final speech of my high school speech career took place in the International Extemporaneous Speaking finals of the National Forensics League Southern Minnesota District Tournament. In addition to the normal seven minute speech, district finals in Extemp Speaking that year consisted of a cross-examination session where the previous contestant would ask the ask the speaker a question on the topic of their speech not exceeding a minute which would be allowed an answer of no more than two minutes.

It seemed to be fairly common to begin your question with a compliment, so I started my cross-ex with a string of venerations. Unfortunately for me the compliments came out way more complimentary than I intended and before long I was sounding like an idiot saying way too nice of things about a guy I barely knew for twenty seconds.

I can see the look on the face of Miss Utah that she knows what she is saying is not what she wants to be saying, but she is so far into her words that she can not dig her way out of it.

Note: I am trying to stay away from the politics of the question and the answer. In my opinion, the question is far too broad for that type of forum. It is also leading and conflates two only tangentially-related issues, the gender wage gap and gender roles in families. I challenge anyone to come up with a coherent impromptu thirty second answer to that question.

I also believe it is worthwhile to note what she did well. She took a complex issue and attempted to bring it back to a broader issue of education. Unfortunately she was not able to do it in a way that actually answered the question, but I believe that she was on the right track.

It took her over ten seconds, but at about the 39 second mark in the video, she finally took a pause to think about her answer. I was really hoping that it was going to be the point that she was going to get her thoughts back on track, but unfortunately it did not happen at that point either.

Public speaking is incredibly difficult and that makes it all the more important that we learn the organization, skills and techniques that are need to be successful communicators. Even those with success and practice in the art of speaking can lead to embarrassing moments.

Image credit: jadedtom, 2013

Question: What is your most embarrassing moment while giving a speech?

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One comment on “Speaking is hard: Reflections on the response of Miss Utah USA
  1. Emily Kringle says:

    Mr. Dahlman,
    I do believe you were graduated by that time, but my most embarrassing moment was also in an international extemp speaking round at NFLs (definitely NOT finals) the ONE year I attempted that category (and only for NFLs). It involved a 63 second speech and judges laughing at me. Good thing I didn’t expect to win anything.

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