Pageants, like job interviews, are high-pressure situations. Your palms are sweaty and you’re trying to focus on your facial expressions, tone, posture, and voice — and that’s all before you even begin to work through what the interviewer is asking you. It can be daunting, and being unprepared and nervous only makes things worse.

But you don’t have to be shell-shocked at interviews. Through my years of competing in pageants, speaking at public events, and training other competitors, I’ve picked up a few tips for making the best impression.

Be Prepared

Interviews are similar to normal day-to-day conversations, but there’s also an element of public speaking, which inspires fear and anxiety that don’t exist in casual settings. The best way to deal with nerves is to be prepared, because the more prepared you are, the less nervous you will be. These steps will help you prepare for an easy and impressive interview:

1. Form strong opinions.

Sometimes, we’re tempted to shy away from strong opinions because we don’t want to offend anyone who might disagree. However, being wishy-washy makes you seem less credible. You want to appear confident, competent, and capable of making decisions.

2. Do your research.

In order to have solid opinions, you have to base your stance on valid information. Whatever your field or topic, do thorough research. The more knowledgeable you are, the easier it is to state your opinions clearly and stand by them in a humble, non-threatening way. This helps you appear intelligent, strong, and independent, rather than arrogant or indifferent to others’ opinions.

3. Gather your information.

Print out and gather all the articles, quotes, reviews, books, etc., you’ve found. Then, organize them. For me, that means putting them all in a binder so they’re easy to access and review. You don’t want to be put on the spot and have to rifle through a pile of papers to find a source.

4. Review.

Study your information like you’re preparing for a big test, and don’t cram at the last minute! You can’t speak about something intelligently if you truly don’t know or comprehend what you’re talking about. Reread, highlight, circle, or say things out loud — whatever you have to do to understand it well.

5. Practice makes perfect!

The best way to practice is to set up a mock interview with teachers, mentors, employers, or family members who can fill in as interviewers. Brief them on the subject so they can ask you relevant questions, then get feedback from your helpers and work on any areas of concern. You can even record a video of these sessions to review.

6. Seek advice.

Competing for a pageant without being fully prepared, much like going into a job interview without prep, is a complete waste of time, money, and effort. So rather than going into it blindly, consult people who have succeeded in ways in which you want to succeed.

Look Your Best

Scientific studies indicate that people receive information first by appearance (55 percent), then simply by the sound of your voice (38 percent), and finally by the content of what you’re saying (7 percent). So 93 percent of your effectiveness rests on how you appear and sound! The bottom line is that perception is reality. There are several things you can do to make sure your nerves don’t get all the attention.

Stay Positive

Your attitude can make or break your interview. If you have a pleasant demeanor, a smile on your face, and good posture, you will be perceived as a confident, capable candidate. Contrastingly, if you look scared, nervous, or walk out with your head hanging, you are basically telling the interviewer that you shouldn’t be hired.

Eat Right

Certain foods can help you naturally prepare for the big day and calm your nerves from the inside out. Fresh fruits, green tea, nuts, herbs, and even dark chocolate help you stay calm. Avoid things that can make you jittery, like caffeine.

Focus Your Thoughts

Before the interview, breathe deeply, close your eyes, and reflect on your materials. Relax your muscles. Don’t focus on negatives or unknowns.

Don’t Fidget

During the interview, keep your feet still while sitting. Only use your hands for useful gestures, and try not to tense up. Keep your voice steady, and if nothing else, remember that it’s better to pause thoughtfully than to say “um,” “uh,” or “like.”

Be Honest

It may sound cliché, but be yourself! Say what you think and what you mean; don’t try to come up with what you think people want to hear. The interviewers are simply trying to get to know you. If you get stuck, it’s better to say “I don’t know” than to make up an answer.

Interviews can be intimidating, so it’s best to do all you can to prepare and show them that you are the perfect candidate by being confident and convincing. Interviews, like pageants, can seem like a big show — with the spotlight on you. But, if you think of it as a conversation between interesting people, you’ll be a lot more likely to come in first place.