There are many situations when being able to think on your feet and speak clearly at a moment’s notice is a vital skill in business. These include when you’re attending a meeting, pitching an idea, presenting a proposal, speaking at an event or answering an unanticipated client question.
But thinking on your feet is not the easiest thing to do when you’re under pressure, especially when you’re feeling nervous or intimidated. So how do you keep your composure when you’re put on the spot?
Here are five tips to help you think on your feet:
1. Listen carefully
The key to responding to a comment properly, answering a question effectively or understanding a statement is to listen carefully. Look directly at the person speaking and ask them to repeat their statement if necessary.
Asking them to repeat the question will also give you a chance to think about what was said and respond better. Often, people will also rephrase and clarify what they mean the second time around.
While the person is talking and before you respond, take a few slow deep breaths. This will give you more oxygen to your brain in order to help you think more clearly and calmly.
Being able to control your breathing can really help you to master your nerves. It also quietens the inner voice that goes into overdrive with negative and limiting thoughts when someone asks you an unexpected question.
3. Pause if you need to
Provided you don’t look terrified, pausing can actually help you to look as though you are carefully considering your answer in order to give the right response.
Don’t feel pressured to fill a silence immediately, as that can lead to rambling or giving a response that isn’t well thought out. A thoughtful pause will give you time to compose yourself, think about your answer and deliver it confidently.
4. Don’t be afraid to delay your answer
For those questions that are a little more intricate or you don’t know the answer to, don’t be afraid to delay your answer.
If you’re in a presentation, say you will talk about a questioner’s specific circumstances in more detail afterwards. If speaking to someone one-on-one, say you will investigate it further, think about it in more detail or find out the answer for them.
When handled right, delaying your answer won’t be seen as a sign of weakness, inexperience or lack of knowledge like we all worry it will. It can actually be seen as a sign of professionalism, that you want to make sure you give the right answer and information to help your audience.
5. Be an expert in your area
The best way to be prepared for the unexpected is to become an expert in your product or service, topic and industry.
Knowing your subject will give you greater confidence, help you to give better answers and equip you to handle tricky questions by having a strong knowledge base to draw on.
Do you have any tips for thinking on your feet?