Miss Michigan and perfecting your key message

Beauty pageants aren’t normally known for powerful political statements, but the Miss America 2018 pageant gained attention for all the right reasons recently when one of the finalists used her platform to call attention to the Flint water crisis.  

The central Michigan town is one of America’s most disadvantaged communities, and a cost-cutting decision in 2014 to switch the town’s water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River saw poisonous levels of lead enter the water supply from ageing pipes, forcing residents to rely on bottled water to drink. 

Knowing that her 10-second intro may be her only opportunity to raise awareness of an issue critical to her community, Emily Sioma, better known as Miss Michigan 2018, used her moment wisely: “From the state with 84 per cent of the United States’ fresh water, but none for its residents to drink, I am Emily Sioma, Miss Michigan.” 

Leaving aside the hyperbole of her statement (which Sioma openly acknowledged in post-pageant interviews), those ten seconds made an impression that lasted long after Sioma had exited the stage. Although she didn’t make the top 15, her statement went viral, with the YouTube clip garnering millions of views, and generating thousands of articles, television news segments, and social media posts. 

Sioma reminds us that we don’t get a second chance to make a first impression – whether its bringing international attention to a humanitarian crisis or advocating a business position, you might only have one shot at getting your key message across. Sioma conveyed her message with impact by sticking to the three golden rules of effective communications:  

  1. Be clear on what you want to say. Having a clear purpose is at the core of effective messaging. Sioma says there were so many issues she could have raised in her intro, but that in wearing the Michigan banner, she represents “not only… the amazing things about [Michigan], but also the hardships we’re facing” – this helped her to identify her purpose and hone her message. 

  2. Keep it short and simple. The reason Sioma’s statement had such an impact is because it was clear and concise – using simple language, a proof point, and a powerful punchline, Sioma reignited the conversation about the water crisis and brought it to a new audience in a way that could be understood by everyone.  

  3. Remember – head, heart, gut. The most persuasive arguments encompass the three elements of Aristotle’s rhetorical triangle – the logos (logic), the pathos (emotion), and the ethos (credibility). Sioma’s statement captured all these elements, making for a compelling message that resonated with her audience. 

Despite not winning the pageant (that honour went to Nia Franklin of New York, who plans to use her platform to highlight equal opportunity and advocate for the arts), the effectiveness of Sioma’s powerful 10-second statement may have heralded a new era for beauty pageants and showed how a carefully-crafted message can leave a lasting impact.