**An edited version is posted as a guest blog on ThePageantGuy.com**
Pageantry is in my blood. I started competing when I was just 4 years old at my local festival pageant, where I sang Elvis’ “All Shook Up” and became Little Miss Fall Festival. It wasn’t glitzy, and I didn’t have extensions or a spray tan. The pageant was in the local school auditorium and didn’t have a DJ or famous emcee. My mother hand-made my dress and I wore frilly socks and patent shoes from the local Payless. And I won. That day started a journey for me for that hasn’t really ended, and the last 20 years of my life I have loved pageants as a competitor, spectator, consultant, mentor and friend. I believe in them: what they offer young girls and women, the skills of hard work that they instill, and surprisingly how much they discourage vanity, selflessness and bigotry in the girls that compete. (To know what it takes to win you have to know how it feels to lose.)
There are lots of resources out there telling contestants what they need to do in order to win, what is expected of them, and how to be a great titleholder. But there are very few resources that speak to what makes a great director. A pageant director sets the foundation of your reign, creates the environment in which you develop, and ultimately influences your entire pageant experience. I’ve been lucky enough to have had some absolutely incredible, giving, and caring pageant directors during my time. I’ve also had a few bad apples in the bunch, one of which actually almost led me to give up my crown out of frustration and hurt. I’ve been on both sides of the coin in the last 20 years, and I’ve seen so many different leadership styles in the process.
From those experiences, I set out to create a list of 10 ways to be a great pageant director from a contestant’s perspective:
Your actions, your words, and your enthusiasm set the standard for our experience, both as a contestant and a titleholder. Between the pressures of the competition day, the performance standards that are put on us by ourselves (and sometimes our families), and the personal drive to do well, it can sometimes feel like we are carrying a stone on our back. A calm demeanor, an uplifting spirit, and many intentional hugs (especially after competition) can make a world of difference. We value your opinion- so please build us up any chance you get.
2. Set Expectations
It is hard to know our role when we don’t know what you want us to do. From the moment we first sit down to talk, let us know what you expect of us. If you want us to work hard, tell us. Though it seems common sense, you would be surprised how much setting down roles and expectations changes the feel of a year. Let us know how early you want us to be for appearances; set a calendar for deadlines. If you need us to get our own sponsors, that’s ok- just let us know up front. If you promise us the world, please follow through with it. We rely on you too- to provide, to be a role model, and to help us reach our personal goals. If you lead clearly, we will follow.
3. Forgive us
We are human. We will mess up, get stuck in traffic, and inevitably at some point let you down. Extend forgiveness with compassion, and we will do the same when the same thing happens on your end. Your understanding, empathy, and direction teaches us how to respond to others in the future. Through your kindness and firm guidance for those future situations, I will know how to handle a disgruntled coworker one day, a child who didn’t follow directions, and a friend who doesn’t follow through on a promise. Forgiveness doesn’t mean excusing bad actions or poor habits, but it does mean leading with love.
4. If you can’t teach, find
Some directors are amazing coaches. They can teach you to walk, interview skills, and (praise above) sometimes even pay for your wardrobe. Other times, they have no personal pageant experience other than their love for the girls, can’t sing a tune, and are broke as a joke. It doesn’t matter which director you are, as long as you help me find the resources I need to be successful. If the pageant doesn’t have wardrobe funds, please help me find sponsors by making phone calls and making contacts. (And girls, be willing to do work too- this is a dual effort!) Your willingness to find great people to help me succeed is just as valuable as doing those things yourself. Remember, Cinderella loved her fairy godmother for making her dreams come true!
Text me, call me, let’s go to dinner. Forward state info as soon as you get it, and share with me what you hear, what you hope for, and where you find opportunities for me to grow. One of the best ways to form a bond between us is communicating. It shows that I can trust you, proves you have an open-door policy, and allows me to share my fears, concerns, hopes, and even wishes with you without fear of condemnation or laughter. If you see me doing something that isn’t “queenly” let me know (preferably with a little bit of that compassion from #3). If someone has communicated an idea to you, or brought gossip that you are unsure of, talk to me one on one. Most of all, keep me up to date on appearance opportunities, state rules (no one likes to get in trouble), and dates that you need paperwork and who will be a “task” manager. You and I are a team, so let’s do what the best teams do and keep in constant contact. Besides, titleholders tend to be a chatty bunch anyway!
6. Look beyond the crown
The best directors I ever had focused my year way beyond the next phase of competition. They realized that my reign was about more than capturing that state or national crown, and focused on my personal development not as a titleholder, but as a young woman. Sure, learning to work a room and feel comfortable introducing myself will help at state. But it also helped prepare me for my career, and gave me the tools to stand out in professional networking events. Please help me to feel confident on the stage of life, not just the pageant stage. Teach me to love my body, not for how it looks in a swimsuit, but for how my arms embrace little ones who look up to me. Teach me to use my voice not for my own gain in interview and talent, but for advocating for the disenfranchised and forgotten. Teach me how to handle disappointment and loss, not to be a graceful looser on stage, but because the example I set when I am down will set a standard for how I deal with these things in my job, relationships, and family. Develop me to be a winner in life, not just in pageants.
7. Be my shield
Competing in any sport, field, or arena is tough. We could all use a knight in shining armor once in a while to guard us from that which can wound our hearts and minds. Please protect us from gossip, hurtful comments, message boards, and sometimes even parents. (They mean well, I know.) Shield us from ourselves, particularly when we want to diminish our performance with negative words or want to tear down others when we need to feel better about ourselves. If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all- usually a hug will suffice. Talk us up to other directors, wave our banner proudly in the audience even if we aren’t the best contestant on stage, and shout our progress to the skies. We could all use an armor of love.
8. Don’t be a queen
Let’s face it, the world of pageantry is competitive enough between contestants. Please don’t fight me for attention, or drag drama into my year. I will gladly crown you director, leader, and wise sage. In turn, I ask that you crown me with compassion, guidance, and low-anxiety motivation. There is enough cattiness on the message boards, between parents, and the rest of the world’s perceptions of pageantry, so let’s change that stereotype starting with our relationship. My reign only lasts a year- you hold the keys to the kingdom for as long as you are a director. How about we leave the drama at home, and focus on building each other up, promoting the system, and loving our sponsors instead?
9. Work hard, play hard
It takes a lot of work to be a director, and as a contestant I can only know the tip of the iceberg. You do so much more than we know. As a contestant I (should) know that this takes a lot for you, and I (should) be willing to give just as much back. So let’s work hard, and play hard too. Let’s have some fun, make some joyful memories, and focus on happiness throughout the process. Let’s have breakfast once in a while just to deepen our interpersonal bond. Let’s share some non-pageant stories and laugh about funny videos on the internet. Most of all, let’s not forget that directors can be more than a mentor- they can be a friend, confidant, and inspiration for life.
A great director knows the value of teamwork. Every “team” is different: some have a board of directors, some have sponsors, some have princesses, sister titleholders, and even little princesses. Most have volunteers and unsung heroes, and all of them have one thing in common: people. We are all real people, with outside lives and commitments on our time. We all have dreams, stressors, and pet peeves. As a director, contestants look to you as the leader of our team, so teach, remind, and call us out on our teamwork. Foster growth, respect, and love. Tough love, guidance, and every single one of these points mentioned above are critical to forming a successful team. Don’t let us forget that it takes a village to raise a child, and a team to raise a leader.
I feel the need to place a disclaimer at the end of this. The points I make above will not guarantee a you winning contestant, nor that you will always have a grateful, willing, or hardworking titleholder. (Contestants, that is on YOU.) What I hope it will guarantee is a reputation as an incredible director, one who exemplifies the real meaning behind pageantry and that which it seeks to offer. Whether your girls win a title, or come home with no awards at all, you can make a difference in someone’s life, and as a former contestant, mentor and lover of pageants to this very day, that is the greatest “crown” that anyone can ask for. Thank you for giving your all.