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Think Better on Your Feet – Part 2
November 2nd, 2012 by Robert Moskowitz  Posted in Career Advice, In the Workplace

Think Better on Your Feet - Part 2When you’re put on the spot and under pressure to answer an unanticipated tough question or respond to a pointed remark, it’s useful and important to be able to “think on your feet.”

Once you master this skill set, you’ll find it far easier not only to come up with something worthwhile to say, but to say it quite effectively. As a result, others will feel more confidence in you, and respect you as smarter and more trustworthy than someone who seems to babble and bumble under pressure.

Last time we talked about speaking from a place of confidence, and mentally preparing in advance. Here are four other, equally valuable techniques to help you think better and faster on your feet:

Relax First, Speak Second

When you’re put on the spot, your first reaction might be to take action. Since you probably can’t run away, you’ll often feel the urge to start babbling. Resist it. Whenever a spotlight hits you, adrenalin immediately tenses your muscles, which in turn tends to impair your performance. The better response is to take a few slow breaths and consciously relax before you open your mouth.

It’s easy to develop a few facial expressions and hints of body language that convey: “Fascinating question. Give me a second to think about it before I answer.” Get in the habit of using them while you prepare to dazzle the crowd.

You can even use silence to improve how others perceive you. A brief pause before you speak, or between a few of your key sentences, can convey the idea that you are in control of the situation, and can also add impact and layers of meaning to relatively simple ideas.

Observe in Depth

It’s a big mistake to shoot from the hip in unanticipated situations. You might respond to a less important part of the whole situation, or overlook the largest opportunity. Instead, get in the habit of observing the people around you in depth: not just their words, but their tone of voice, the expression in their eyes, their behavior, body language, and the words they don’t say as well as those they do.

By processing all this information you’ll come to a deeper understanding of the unanticipated situation that confronts you, and you’ll automatically have a basis to formulate a smarter response.

Include Preliminaries

The best orators know that launching too quickly into the meat of their remarks usually undercuts their impact on the audience. In the same way, you’ll earn a better reputation for thinking on your feet if you don’t just snap out an answer, but instead take a few moments to set the stage for what you’re going to say.

Few who are listening to you will realize that while you are setting the stage, recapping the overall situation, listing a few basic facts or ideas that everybody knows, even repeating the question or statement to which you are now expected to respond, you are giving yourself extra time to think.

Hit One Nail on One Head

Perhaps the biggest error people make when put on the spot is to cover the waterfront, to lay out a whole plan or a whole opportunity in a long-winded oration. In most situations, particularly in unanticipated situations, it’s far more effective and impressive to make a single point, and make it well.

This approach also has the advantage of allowing you to use the most relevant of the solutions and opportunities you’ve previously prepared without trying to recast all of your thinking to precisely fit the actual situation in which you’re suddenly on the spot.

By driving home - hard! - a single idea that makes sense within the unanticipated situation, you can more easily appear knowledgeable and confident.
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Tags: tips, professionalism, advice, career-advice, career-growth, in-the-workplace
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