When I was six years old, I was at my favorite ice cream shop in town when I saw a sign in the window for the town fair pageant. I begged my mom to let me sign up, and she reluctantly let me.
When most people think of pageants, they think of beauty pageants. The ones with the little girls in full makeup, hair, and spray tans, or they think of a bunch of pretty, skinny girls, strutting on stage in swimsuits.
This pageant was nothing like either of those. It was a scholarship pageant.
Scholarship pageants base your score around your ability to speak. You receive the majority of your score based on a preliminary interview with the judges, then you give a speech, and then you get the chance to wear your pretty dress. Some pageants and age categories will also include a pop question on stage.
The interview is by far the most important part of the pageant process. The questions vary by age level. "Littles" aged 6-8 are typically asked what they like about school and "Misses" aged 16-21 are asked about community involvement, life goals and aspirations, etc. The girls are then judged on their abilities to maintain eye contact, come up with answers on the spot, and hold themselves professionally. It translates directly to regular job interviews.
The speech section is done on stage in front of an audience at the town fair. The speech is prepared in advance, and while giving your speech, you're judged on your ability to speak in front of an audience, your ability to put together a speech, and your confidence while speaking. Doing this at the young age of six, has helped me now to be a better public speaker. When you're six you don't know to be afraid of public speaking. Getting comfortable with public speaking while I was so young has brought so many benefits to my life now as an adult.
When you walk on stage, it's not the typical pageant strut you would usually imagine. The walk serves the purpose of showing that you're confident. It's your time to have all eyes on you. It's a huge self esteem booster, because it forces you to stand in a confident pose with your shoulders back and your head high.
All of these skills I was exposed to at the age of six have become so important in my academic, professional, and personal life. Since I was exposed to public speaking at a young age, I've never had a reason to fear it. Since I have experienced an interview setting many times before, going to job interviews don't have to be a point of stress. Since I had to get used to speaking to adults so early on, I have the skills needed to hold a conversation, which many young people don't.
Pageants tend to get a bad reputation, but I truly believe that signing up for a pageant 13 weeks ago is one of the best things I have ever done for myself.