Whether you’re put on the spot while attending a meeting, presenting a proposal, selling an idea, or answering questions after a presentation – articulating your thoughts in unanticipated situations is a skill.
Being able to ‘think on your feet’ is highly-valued and when you master it, your sharp and shrewd responses will instil immediate confidence, and you’ll come across as being persuasive and trustworthy.
Here are 5 Tips to stay calm and poised when you find yourself in the hot seat:
This is often the opposite of how you’re feeling when under pressure, however in order for your voice to remain calm and for your brain to "think," you’ll need to be as relaxed as possible.
Take a few deep breaths.
Take a second and give yourself a positive and affirming message.
Clench invisible muscles (thighs, biceps, feet) for a few seconds and release.
It should come as no surprise that listening is critical to thinking on your feet!
Why? To make sure you fully understand the question or request before you reply.
Answer too soon and you risk going into a line of thinking that is unnecessary or inappropriate.
To help you with your listening remember to:
Look directly at the questioner.
Note their body language as well as the words being spoken.
Try to interpret what is being suggested by the question.
Is it an attack, a genuine request for more information, or maybe a test?
Why are they asking this and what’s their intention?
3. Repeat the question
Ask for the question to be repeated – or maybe repeat it aloud yourself.
Some people think this will only make them appear unsure. It won't – it will make you look concerned that you give an appropriate response.
It also gives the questioner a chance to rephrase and ask a question that’s more on point – they may well have just "thought on their feet" to ask a question – so when you give them a second go, their question may be better articulated and clearer to all.
By asking for the question again you’ll also get another chance to assess the intentions of the questioner.
If it’s more specific or better worded – chances are they really want to learn more.
If it’s more aggressive than the first one – you know they’re more interested in making you uncomfortable than anything else!
4. Stall tactics
Sometimes you may need more time to get your thoughts straight and calm yourself down enough to make a clear reply.
Never simply blurt out the first thing that comes to your mind – often this is a defensive comment that only makes you look insecure and anxious rather than confident and composed!
Repeat the question yourself. This gives you time to think and clarify exactly what’s being asked. It also allows you to rephrase if necessary and put a positive spin on the request.
("How have I considered the impact on customers to make sure they continue to get excellent service during the store refit?")
Narrow the focus. Here, you ask a question of your own – not only to clarify – but to bring the question down to a manageable scope.
("You're interested in hearing how I've considered customer impact. What impact are you most interested in: product availability or in-store service?")
Ask for clarification. Again, this will force the questioner to be more specific and hopefully get more to a specific point.
("When you say you want to know how I've analysed customer impact, do you mean you want a detailed analysis or a list of the tools and methods I used?")
We’re all conditioned to believe that silence is uncomfortable.
However, used sparingly, it communicates that you’re in control of your thoughts and confident in your ability to answer expertly.
When you rush to answer you also typically rush your words.
Pausing to collect your thoughts tells your brain to slow everything down.
Use silence to your advantage.