How to Be a Beauty Queen and Influence People … Stuart Jay Raj on the Language of Miss Universe

Somebody’s Gotta Do It …

The Miss Universe 2009 pageant has just wrapped up (not without controversy) at the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas. Another amazing year where I was fortunate to spend a lot of time meeting some wonderful people and rub shoulders with the gorgeous, the glamorous, the influential … and the not so influential (though many in this final category would probably have liked to have thought otherwise), surrounded by egos, hairspray, horrible overpriced American greasy food and two giant manta-rays, not to mention more languages than you could poke a stick at… all the ingredients for the perfect ‘gig’!

My life started to be fatefully influenced by the Miss Universe pageant back in 2005 as a result of a series of seemingly random events stringing from the Tsunami in Thailand leading up to a chance encounter interviewing Miss Indonesia 2005 (Artika Sari Dewi) in Bangkok for an Indonesian television network. Since then, I’ve had the honour of working with one of the most amazing bunch of linguistically endowed people on the planet who wait all year for dinner conversations where sex, politics, syntax and the subjunctive can (and more often than not DO) all get rolled up into one sentence!

Putting the Odds in Your Favour at Miss Universe

Having been a qualified Dale Carnegie facilitator in a former life, I realized that the first 9 Dale Carnegie Human Relations principles could well be the key to success at Miss Universe. I see mistakes being made time and time again by contestants and their managers. If you’re going to be competing in Miss Universe in the future, it mightn’t hurt trying to implement some of the following suggestions.

Principle #1 – Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.


In my eyes, the Miss Universe Competition is not a beauty contest. It’s a branding exercise where the right character / image for the Miss Universe brand is selected to represent the organisation for the next year.

Think of some of the top brands out there –

Coca Cola[![](](
Whether you love them or hate them, the statistics (and bottom lines) show that strong brand names help generate higher returns, stability and growth for the organisations that they represent. In May of 2008, Coca-Cola’s brand was valued at US$58.2 billion. This four-syllable piece of intellectual property is THE MOST VALUABLE asset that the company owns.
Miss UniverseDayana Mendoza – Miss Universe 2008Donald Trump
**Miss Universe is a powerful brand that is associated with another powerful brand-name – Donald Trump. The person who is crowned ‘Miss Universe’ for the next year takes that mast-head position for the organization and will be just as important to the success of the Miss Universe Organization as the name, font, design and colours of the Coca Cola logo are for the Coca Cola organization. **

In saying that, the process of coming down to that one person who is going to represent the brand and ensure that the organization has a future is more than just skin-deep.

Girls … You’re on Stage 24/7! The Miss Universe Competition is a Psychological Game of Stamina

There are many physically beautiful women on this planet. I am blessed by living in Bangkok, Thailand where in my humble opinion I think that there is an inordinate ratio of stunningly gorgeous women mixed into the general population. The Miss Universe organisation needs something more than just a pretty face. If I were running the organisation and were to write a list of 6 of the most desirable traits that I would be looking for in Miss Universe, it might look something like this:

  1. Physically Attractive – May not be so politically correct in this day and age – but hey, it’s a beauty pageant… right?

  1. **Interesting –** There is some degree of depth to their character that makes other people want to be around them. Some of the more interesting people there this year included:
  • Miss Honduras (Bélgica Suárez) – a real life ‘CSI’ forensic scientist who was passionate about her work and had some amazing stories to tell about cadavers and other related things.

  • Miss China (Wang Jingyao) was always in a good mood, and always appeared to be really interested in everyone she spoke to – and could tie something of herself into each person she met. Enthusiasm won out over any language barrier.
  • Miss Egypt (Elham Wagdi) is a psychologist / marriage counsellor – extremely fascinating person.
  • Miss Indonesia ‘Zizi’ (Zivana Letisha Siregar) was an amazing ambassador for Indonesia this year and captured the hearts of many.

  • Miss Israel (Yulia Liubianitzki) is a soldier, and had some fascinating perspectives on world politics.
  • Awareness and Empathy – have a keen understanding of the current social talking points and can take a stand on one side or the other, though understanding all sides of an issue – e.g. War, politics, economy, health issues, minority issues, environment etc. Even if they don’t agree with something, they should be able to as we say in Dale Carnegie “Disagree in an Agreeable Manner”… and not just make groundless claims or use cliché garble statements (most infamous point in case – Miss South Carolina)
  • Understands the Business – she should realise that Miss Universe is a business and understand her own role and her impact on both the longevity of the organisation and the bottom line.

  • Has Style – needs to be a good cutting-edge image for the organisation whether attending a cocktail-party, or just woken up and called out for an urgent shoot. The right person needs to be able to compose themselves and broadcast a consistent image with consistent sound-bites. Luckily, she will have people like Lou during the pageant and Roston to help take care of this.
  • Presentation Skills – Whether speaking one on one, doing a photo-shoot, attending an orphanage, Guantanamo Bay or addressing a crowd of thousands at a sports meet, Miss Universe’s entire life for the next year will involve presenting themselves and the organisation. More importantly, they need to be able to successfully and positively present their values and the values of the organisation based on solid arguments – not just claims. The non-physical side of presenting (owning your message, enthusiasm, knowing your audience, structuring your message) are just as important as the physical aspects (posture, voice, body language, grooming etc).

During the 3-4 weeks that the girls are living together running up to the final pageant, they are being assessed on how they measure up to the criteria for a successful ‘Miss Universe’. The above criteria are my own assumptions – I’m sure Mr. Trump, Paula, Roston and the gang have their own personal wish-lists.

Back to The 3 C’s …

Getting back to the 3 C’s, ‘Don’t Criticize, Condemn or Complain‘ – Understand that if you do Criticize, Condemn or Complain, it will eventually more likely than not come back to bite you. It’s not just a matter of trying to put on your happy face when you’re on stage or out in public being watched. The fact is that eyes are on you the whole time. Who’s eyes? Your minders, any of the hundreds of MU employees roaming the corridors of the event facility / hotel, hotel staff (house-keeping, restaurant staff, security etc), managers of other contestants that are chomping at the bit to find some mud to sling on the competition (NOTE: some of these people can be very influential in the blogosphere, social networks, print / broadcast media and beyond!), people viewing the video feeds from the TV cameras constantly rolling in the venue. There are literally thousands of eyes on you ALL THE TIME. All it takes is one nose to be put out of joint, one smart remark that was taken the wrong way to blow it for you. Speaking on your mobile phone or checking your Facebook page or email when you’re supposed to be paying attention to someone ‘important’ and you could well have just cost you your position in the top 15 and subsequently any chance of winning the crown.

Blogs and Forums could Make You or Break You

Blogs, mobile phones and the organic communication channels that develop as a result of having so many people living in close quarters during the lead-up to the pageant can either work for you or against you. Communication is swift and rumors traverse at lightning speed.

What does this mean for you as a contestant?

Always be painfully aware of what effect you are having on your environment. It’s always better to have a mentor that can be your eyes on yourself rather than assuming (filtering) through your own eyes that everything is rosy.

I have seen on many occasions where contestants have finished the pageant and gone back home in a delusional state that they were the bees knees, that they had done everything right and that there was some how some kind of conspiracy against them in the end to keep the crown away from them. Many of these people have been the ones that I’ve noticed during rehearsals to have been constantly not paying attention, talking on their mobile phones past the breaks and showing other anti-social behavior.

Principle #2 – Give honest, sincere appreciation.

Spend every day there with a confident attitude, but never let this turn to arrogance. Understand that when it all comes down to it, it’s a privilege that you’re even there – not your God given right.

Look Out for Other People’s Strengths

As a contestant, look for the strengths in all of your peers and other people you come across in the organisation and try and be something that edifies them, builds them up and brings value to who they are. Each time you do this, by default you’re bringing value to who you are.

Principle #3 – Arouse in the other person an eager want.

Everyone has their own agenda. Whether you’re a salesperson, CEO, or a housewife, one important key to being successful on this planet is to be able to build a passion in other people about things that you’re passionate about. To do this, you need to understand what’s important to THEM first! …that means going back to Principle #1 and Principle#2.

One example where this can really come in handy is during the interview session. You might have a burning passion to let the world know your views on a certain topic. Before you go doing this though, make sure that you put things into perspective first. Ask yourself:

  • Is there a chance in hell that the judges will be interested in this?
  • Why do I want them to hear about this?
  • Is telling them about this going to help the Miss Universe Organisation achieve its goals over the next year?
  • Is this topic going to demonstrate a personal value / virtue that the judges would be looking at in a successful candidate?
  • Is this something that is going to be important / interesting to the world at large, or might it only be interesting to my own countrymen?
  • Can I deliver this message concisely and effectively in the restricted time that I have? (If they tell you you have 3 minutes – then you have 3 minutes!)

If you hesitate in answering ‘yes’ to any of these, I strongly suggest that you suspend your need to share and find something more middle of the road to talk about.

Principle #4 – Become genuinely interested in other people.

The time you spend there is going to be one of the most amazing networking experiences in your life with people for every inch of the globe and every walk of life imaginable. I highly recommend going in there with the attitude that you are a sponge that’s going to absorb as much of every person you meet and every moment that you experience that you can. These people and experiences can’t help but have an influence on your life and make you a richer person.

While you’re there, spend more time learning about other people than you do telling them about yourself!

The questions that you pose and interest that you take in other people will already be telling the world a lot about who you are.

Principle #5 – SMILE

This is my favourite Dale Carnegie principle.

In Bangkok, there is an elevated walkway that spans between Siam BTS Skytrain station and Chidlom Station (with Central World linking in the middle). One of my favourite stress relieving exercises is to walk from one station to the other with my iPhone headphones in my ears – (people think you’re listening to music or a funny podcast, but really, you don’t need to have anything playing) and smile all the way along your journey. You will be amazed at how many people smile back at you and even go out of their way to say ‘hi’. I have met many seemingly ‘random’ people via this exercise alone.

Thailand is often referred to as the ‘Land of Smiles’ … but I’ll let you in on a secret. Out of 12 of the main ‘smile’ categories in Thai, only a handful of them are positive!

People can feel a genuine smile from the heart when they feel it. As a contestant, find something inside of you that will generate a genuine smile and keep that burning all the while you are there. You’ll be amazed at what it might reap for you.

I understand that as the times and fashions go, it might not be ‘hip’ to smile when you’re walking down the catwalk. I’ll leave that to the experts – but as much as my two cents are worth, people with a sour look on their face (off the catwalk) day in day out don’t tend to get too far.

Principle #6 – Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.

Learn people’s names and USE THEM.

There are normally over 80 contestants in each pageant. It’s tough for most people to remember everyone’s names, and so you just end up calling each of the girls by her ‘country’ rather than her name(e.g. “Hey Thailand!”, “Can you pass the ketchup please Czech Republic?”, “You’re standing on my train Venezuela!”) . While this is understandable, may I suggest that best practice would probably be to learn people’s names and try and avoid calling them by their country. It will help build warmer relationships between all of you and once again, could reap benefits that you never imagined.

Knowing Who’s WHO

On the topic of knowing names and who people are, I can’t stress how important it is to know who exactly the key people are in the organisation. I was once speaking to a contestant one year that didn’t know who Donald Trump was! Fatal.

Learn about all the key people in the organisation, influential people in the movement, the history of other pageants, relationships between people … basically any intel that you can get. All of this can help you achieve your goal … and avoid sticking your foot in your mouth (or being caught with your pants down!)

There are some very key (and cool) people that have made it a fine art of being inconspicuous during everything.

Principle #7 – Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.

This goes back to Principle# 1, Principle #2 and Principle#3.

Let me emphasize once more how important listening is during events and ESPECIALLY DURING THE REHEARSALS. This is the time where people’s tempers reach boiling point, voices are raised, egos are shattered and relationships break down.

Michael, Lou, Ken and all the gang choreographing and coaching you are some of THE BEST money can buy. Pay attention to every word that comes out of their mouths and more importantly, observe everything that they do. Sometimes, some cultural / language issues might get in the way of everyone comprehending what’s being communicated. Nevertheless, resist the urge to get distracted or even worse, start complaining. Getting negative during these times has no upside. Stay attentive, stay positive!

Principle #8 – Talk in terms of the other person’s interests.

I’ve touched on this throughout this article, but touching on it once more won’t hurt!


Whether it’s a one on one conversation, a press conference, an interview with a panel of judges, or the final ‘big’ top-5 question, your goal is to understand what drives them and let them be certain that who you are will fit into their agenda. If what comes out of your mouth brings no value to the people you’re speaking to, you’d probably be better off putting your soap-box into storage for a while and wait for a more suitable opportunity to come along once the pageant is over.

Principle #9 – Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.

Don’t be fake.

When I was training to be a Dale Carnegie instructor, we would have to coach people and make comments about people’s performance with the goal of telling them something constructive about themselves that they didn’t already know – every time. That means you really have to look into each individual person, observe them, notice their strengths and bring value to them according to what you observe. Just saying “That was good” or “Great!” would result in us being asked to start again and find something meaningful to say. Just making a comment like “Great” without feeling or thought could backfire and leave the person thinking that you’re fake and insincere.

I’ve been able to take this skill that was developed in Dale Carnegie and use it in every facet of my life. It’s good, it works and you continuously grow as a result of doing it as you’re always looking to learn from other people.

Building a Sustainable Brand for Yourself

Whether you win the crown or not, the experience of going through something like this shouldn’t go to waste. In fact, I can think of many instances where people who didn’t get the crown ended up better off in the long run than those that did. Just because you were Miss Universe for a year doesn’t mean that you’re going to be rich and famous for the rest of your life. People get older and good looks fade. You’ve had the opportunity to be coached by some of the most successful and amazing people in the business. Work out a strategy that will hone yourself into a successful, sustainable ‘brand’. When you get back home, continue to build your brand and bring value to other people. For me personally, this mindset has been what has allowed me to live out my dreams every single day – and not have to wait until I’m retired at 60 years old to start ‘enjoying’ life.

As my grandfather used to tell me – “Do what you love doing, and people will pay you to do it”. Ain’t that the truth!

If you have any suggestions on topics that you’d like me to blog about, drop me a line!


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Written by

Stuart Jay Raj