How to Think on Your Feet: Strategies
We’ve explored impromptu speaking skills and how to respond to unexpected comments or questions.
Key tactics include: keeping your comments concise, listening closely to the conversation and to others’ comments, developing a strong worldview, and other strategies.
Now let’s look at how to develop a mindset that enables you to think on your feet quickly.
Combine these mental hacks with the impromptu speaking tactics, and your performance will improve dramatically.
1. Focus on One Aspect of the Problem
If you are faced with a large and complex topic, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and shut down.
In order to process it quickly, fixate on just one part of it. And then attack that part immediately.
If you receive a question or challenge from a coworker in a meeting, there may be many different directions you can take your response.
Instead of getting overwhelmed with all of those options, choose whichever seems the most attainable at that moment. And then enthusiastically and confidently discuss it.
At first, you may find your comments are not as impactful as they could be. Or maybe the area you choose to focus on is not very significant or important.
But with practice and repetition, you will hone in on the most important item, make productive insights and contributions, and learn how to think on your feet.
2. Use Heuristics and Mental Shortcuts
We’ve explored the tactic of developing a strong worldview for impromptu speaking. This is very similar.
When you hear a new question, challenge or contribution, what is the first association that pops in your mind?
Chances are, there is a “mental shortcut” that comes up as you hear the other person speaking.
You want to leverage that shortcut and use it to come to a statement quickly.
Consider questions like:
- What does the other person’s comment remind you of?
- What is the image that comes up in your mind while they are speaking?
- Have you heard someone else express a similar concern recently?
- Have you read a news article or other information recently that is relevant to this topic?
The shortcut could be an analogy, a metaphor, a specific case study or story from a customer.
It could also be a recent quotation from a senior leader or from a well-known person in your field.
In your mind, take a step back and think about the shortcut or association that is occurring, and you will be able to think on your feet.
From there, it’s just a question of verbally making the connection for the group.
Remember: you are NOT looking for a “perfect connection,” merely a heuristic, shortcut or quick association.
If you’re like many people, one reason you don’t know how to think on your feet effectively is because you’re trying to find the “perfect” thing to say.
Perfectionism slows you down and makes it harder for you to express yourself with confidence and elegance.
3. Don’t be Afraid to Ask Clarification Questions
In my work with clients on assertiveness and presentation skills, I’ve noticed that many people assume they need to answer every question exactly as it is asked.
This assumption slows you down and makes it harder to learn how to think your feet.
Keep in mind two things.
First, people don’t necessarily have all the information to create a productive question. Part of your role as a presenter or communicator is to educate them and provide the context and insight that they are lacking.
Second, even if they do have all the relevant information, they may not know how to ask the question.
Just as you might struggle with articulation or communication skills, other people may struggle as well.
Don’t assume that you need to answer the question exactly as the person framed it.
By clarifying exactly what they mean or where they are coming from, you will understand their point of view better, and you will be able to provide a more effective and accurate answer.
If your first thought is “what that person is saying doesn’t make sense,” then clarify it with them and discuss the issue.
This requires a certain level of confidence and a willingness to pushback on erroneous assumptions or unclear statements.
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- How to Think on Your Feet in Meetings and Presentations: 3 Mental Hacks - February 13, 2021