How to Think on Your Feet

Once in a while, you might find yourself put on a spot when pitching an idea, presenting a proposal or attending an interview. Thinking on your feet refers to being able to articulate your thoughts in such unexpected situations. When you can translate your thoughts into coherent words fast, people will perceive you as a trustworthy, persuasive and confident individual.

Being prepared is the key to thinking on your feet. Here are some techniques and skills that will come in handy when you are under pressure:

1. Listen

When it comes to thinking on your feet, listening is very crucial. Before giving an answer, make sure you to have a complete understanding of the request or question. If you speak too soon, you might find yourself saying something inappropriate. To listen effectively, be sure to look directly at the other person. Don’t forget to observe the body language. This way, you will be able to respond appropriately.

2. Relax

When unanticipated situations arise, it is very important to remain calm. Being relaxed allows you to think more clearly and thus give an appropriate response. The first thing you need to do is take deep breaths. Clenching some muscles briefly and then releasing can also help you eliminate some tension. If possible, walk away from the stressful environment for a few minutes. Keep your mind on affirming and positive thoughts. When responding, talk slowly in a calm voice.      

3. Take advantage of silence

Silence is a tactic that can come in very handy when under pressure. When used properly, it shows that you are confident and in control. Therefore, don’t make the mistake of rushing through your answers. Pause when appropriate and gather your thoughts before speaking.

4. Get the question repeated

When the pressure is overwhelming, you could ask for the question to be repeated. This is beneficial in several ways. First, it gives you more time to think of an appropriate answer. Secondly, it gives the other person a chance to ask the question in a better way. Finally, it gives you the chance to evaluate the intentions of the questioner. At times, the aim of the other person is only to make you squirm.

5. Apply stall tactics

Quite often, you might require some time out to calm down and think clearly before giving an answer. This will prevent you from saying something which will make you look anxious and insecure. Here are some stall tactics you could use:

  • Seek clarification – Ask the questioner to explain their point more clearly. This will give you more time to think of an appropriate response.
  • Ask for a definition – When unfamiliar jargon is used, ask for a definition of the terminology. This way, you will be sure that you are referring to the same thing.
  • Narrow the focus – When a general question is asked, you could ask another question to narrow the focus..

6. Practice clear delivery

The delivery of your words is as important as your content. If your speech is filled with ‘aahs’ and ‘umms’, you will appear unsure of yourself. Here are some tips for an effective delivery:

  • Make eye contact
  • Use proper grammar
  • Avoid slang words in formal situations
  • Vary your tone to emphasize your points
  • Speak in a strong, clear voice
  • Smile when appropriate

Being put on the spot can be very uncomfortable and even embarrassing. Applying the above tips will help you stay in control in such situations.

Image: iStock