Thinking that it was going to be a mundane meeting when out of the blue, someone wants to know your perspective on the topic at hand, but your mind goes completely blank. The thought of speaking up when you weren’t expecting to contribute to the conversation is terrifying. Even if you’re someone who thrives on advance preparation, the truth is, there’ll be plenty of times in your career when you don’t have a thought-out, pre-planned answer, when the situation doesn’t lend itself to your giving a rehearsed speech.
Thinking on your feet and communicating eloquently during spur-of-the-moment interactions is a skill anyone can master and is an essential career-building skill. Not only does it reveal how confident, credible and composed you are, it ensures your ideas are heard and acted upon.
Whether you’re answering Q&A after a presentation, responding to your boss in a meeting, or interviewing with the press, you don’t have to ‘sweat it’ when you’re in the hot seat. Watch the following 1-hour webinar where Maxine will be sharing with you how to buy time to think under pressure and the simple tips to respond if you do not have the answer:
In this article, we will share with you the 3 power tips to help you think on your feet:
You want your voice to sound confident and your brain to think clearly, so you have to be as relaxed as possible. This is often the opposite of how you are feeling when you’re under pressure, so you must intentionally take steps to ‘manufacture’ relaxing affects.
Take a few slow deep breaths – this relaxes the body and the mind. Be sure to avoid a pensive scowl or furrowed brow by consciously keeping your facial expressions neutral to positive. Silently affirm yourself by thinking, “I can do this.” “I’m confident and in control.” “I’m the expert on this subject.” Remember, your audience can only see how you look and act on the outside; they never see how you feel on the inside.
We are conditioned to believe that silence is uncomfortable. However, silence can be golden, so don’t be afraid to use it. If you use it sparingly, it communicates that you are in control of your thoughts and are confident in your ability to answer expertly. When you’re unsure of how to answer a question, or are searching for the right words, it’s OK to pause for a bit before speaking. You can say, ‘Let me think,’ or ‘That’s a great question,’ while you piece your thoughts together in your mind. These phrases help buy you time until you’re ready to present the ideas swimming in your brain.
On the contrary, when you rush to answer you also typically rush your words. Avoid the temptation to answer too quickly – even though you may have the perfect reply. This often results in speaking too fast and saying too much. Pausing to collect your thoughts tells your brain to slow everything down. Silence, used appropriately, communicates you are in charge of the situation and comfortable in the setting. When you pause, you look and sound poised and confident. A well-timed pause to collect your thoughts tells your brain to slow down. It also helps you organize and prioritize the content of your answer.
3. Repeat the Question
One of the hardest parts of contributing to a conversation or answering questions in meetings is feeling as though you are under pressure to produce an expected response. One way to overcome this feeling is to not jump into your feedback too quickly. If your response isn’t clear, it can come off as an incomplete thought, or it may fail to address the question. To calm your nerves and come up with a thoughtful answer, simply repeat the question that was asked. This will ensure that you completely understand what’s going on before you attempt to contribute to the conversation.
Especially in a large meeting or public setting, restate the question loudly enough for everyone to hear. This gives the questioner the opportunity to clarify the question, or more clearly articulate it the second time. In the process, you gain more time to think and formulate your answer. Also, restating allows you to take control of the question and re-phrase or neutralize it if needed.
If you’re feeling particularly under pressure, ask for the question to be repeated. This gives you a bit more time to think about your response.
At first glance people think this will only make them look unsure. It doesn’t. It makes you look concerned that you give an appropriate response. It also gives the questioner an opportunity to rephrase and ask a question that is more on point. Remember, the questioner may well have just “thought on her feet” when coming up with a question, so when you give her a second chance, the question may well be better articulated and clearer to all.
No one enjoys being putting on the spot or answering questions that they aren’t fully expecting. The uncertainty can be stressful. But that stress doesn’t need to get the better of you. You can overcome it by thinking on your feet. This will help you to stay cool and confident when you’re under pressure, and to deliver assured and confident answers even when you’re faced with unexpected questions.
Thinking on your feet means staying in control of the situation. Remember to relax your body and breathe deeply. Listen actively to the questioner. Repeat their question if necessary, and ask them a question if necessary to narrow the focus. Use the reflective pause to aid clear calm thinking. Then, when you’re ready to speak on the spot, be sure to apply a solid structure – limit your answer to three key points with brief supporting evidence under each. Summarize your points and stop. By practicing these simple steps, you will come across as a confident, credible, and trustworthy expert who knows how to think on her feet and speak on the spot.
If you crave for more tips, join us in this 1-day fun and enriching workshop to practice and apply what you have learned for immediate results!