9 Secrets To Thinking On Your Feet
Silence … People staring at you … Cold sweat … Panic setting in.
“Please floor, swallow me up” … is all you can think. But it won’t.
You’re in an important meeting. Someone senior has asked you a tricky question. You’re stumped. You don’t know where to turn.
You’re not unusual. Most people have experienced this at some point. Meetings, Presentations, Interviews, Networking Events … these are just some of the places when quick thinking skills can get you out of a difficult spot.
Thinking on your feet is a skill you can actually learn. When you’ve cracked it, you’ll notice people respecting you more and treating you like a person who has real self-confidence.
There’s an art to being able to think on your feet.
If you have the calmness and self-control to translate your thoughts into credible speech quickly, it’s much more likely that people will listen to you. This is all the more impressive if people can see you’ve been challenged with a hard question.
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Learning how to think on your feet
One of the keys to thinking quickly on your feet is being prepared. Do your very best to pre-empt the kind of questions you might get asked. You might think this tip is obvious but it’s often the reason people get caught out. They just didn’t prepare properly. One simple thing to do is to put yourself in the position of those you’ll be talking to.
If you were them …. What would you ask?
Let’s imagine you did prepare well but still, you’re really struggling to answer a question. Your mind’s gone completely blank. You have no choice but to answer. You just can’t avoid it.
Here’s 9 tips to get you thinking on your feet
1. Give yourself time – Don’t be afraid to pause before you answer. If you lack self-confidence you’ll probably feel very conscious of the silence. Your natural defence is to fill it – normally without thinking about how you’re filling it. Then, before you know it, you’ve said something you wished you hadn’t.
It’s totally understandable that you should think about your answer before you give it. So a short silence shouldn’t be unusual. No one will expect you to blurt out an answer immediately, particularly when you’ve been asked a tricky question. People expect you to think about it.
If you look comfortable with silence and use it confidently, you’ll send the message that you’re in control of your thoughts and confident in your ability to answer. And, you also create more time to think. Just a second or two is sometimes all you need to gather your thoughts and come up with the answer.
Try watching really confident speakers. They don’t rush with their answer. They consider, then they react – they give themselves time.
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2. Knowledge – If you’re going to give a reply, make sure you know what you’re talking about! That doesn’t mean you have to be an expert, you just have to know enough to give a qualified answer. If you’re reasonably confident in your knowledge of the subject, that feeling of self-confidence will help you to stay calm and in control, even if you unexpectedly find yourself being put on the spot.
3. Never guess the answer – If you don’t know the answer, be honest and say so. Even experts in their field are stumped by a question sometimes. Don’t try to make an answer up. There’s a good chance you’ll get caught out and this could seriously impact on your self-confidence later. Confidently explain that you don’t know the answer and make sure you agree a time when you can contact the person afterwards to provide the answer.
4. Try to relax – it’s easy to say but perhaps not so easy to do. At least if you try to relax, you’ve got a chance. If you don’t, you’ll look and feel more stressed. Relaxing means you’ll have more control of your voice, you’ll sound more confident, you’ll feel calmer and you’ll be able to think more clearly. Taking deep breaths while the person is asking you the question can also really help.
5. Listen carefully – listening properly and attentively requires an effort. Some people forget this. You should be trying as hard when you’re listening as you are when you’re talking. It’s obvious that you’ll struggle to think on your feet if you aren’t listening properly to the question.
6. Don’t interrupt the person – firstly because it’s rude and secondly because, if you reply too soon, you may well give a wrong or inappropriate answer.
7. Ask the person to repeat the question – This gives you those vital few seconds to think about your response. Try to be confident when you do this. Don’t let your body language give away the fact that you’re unsure of the answer. If your body language is positive and confident, the person will ‘read’ your request positively. They’ll have the perception that you want to help because you’re making sure you understand the question properly.
8. Repeat the question yourself (out loud) – This gives you time to think and to clarify exactly what’s being asked. Sometimes the person will reply and clarify their question after you’ve repeated it – that creates even more time for you. If you don’t feel that the question is clear, have the confidence to ask for clarification. Again, if you do this confidently, it will be received positively because the person sees that you genuinely want to give a qualified answer.
9. Don’t waffle – Once you understand the question clearly, make sure you stick to the point. Your answer should be specific and focused. If you’re perceived as a waffler, the person may well start to lose interest – once you see this happening, your self-confidence is going to suffer.
When you’ve finished giving your answer, resist the temptation to add more information. There may well be a silence after you’ve finished. Don’t make the common mistake of feeling the onus is on you to fill it with more information! You’ll lose control of the conversation if your answer starts to drift.
So, in summary; thinking on your feet requires self-control and self-discipline. Don’t jump in and give a knee-jerk reaction when someone puts you on the spot. Act calmly and take your time before you answer. There’s nothing wrong with saying you don’t know, as long as you go back to them with an answer later.
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