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Five Secrets to "Thinking on Your Feet"

Many times we are put into situations where we are asked a question and need to give an answer on the spot, or "think on your feet." It could be a sales or customer service situation, your manager a...

Many times we are put into situations where we are asked a question and need to give an answer on the spot, or "think on your feet." It could be a sales or customer service situation, your manager asking you for a progress report, a request for your ideas on a new community project, or a job interview.

During these times we can feel the pressure. Our heart begins to race, we start to sweat, we feel our knees knocking, or we want to hide under a rock. This is because sometimes the answer we give could mean that big sale, the customer being satisfied, a promotion or raise, or that dream job.

The following are five secrets to help you master your "thinking on your feet" skills:

  1. Listen
    Many times when we are in a high pressure situation where we are so nervous we really don't hear the actual question. Been there, done that. To make sure we understand the question and give the right answer do the following:

    • Breathe slower (Benefit: Relaxes body and mind).
    • Look directly at the questioner. (Benefit: Increases comprehension.)
    • Ask questions (Benefit: increases clarity and shows you are listening).
  1. Pause to Organize
    It is okay to pause. Pause to gather your thoughts. When you pause you look and sound poised and in control. Remember, there is power in silence.
  1. Repeat the Question
    This has several benefits:
    • Buys you time to think.
    • Communicates a complete piece of information.
    • Allows you to take control of the question by rephrasing the question to a more positive light if needed.
    • Enables everyone, if in a public setting, to hear the question.
  1. Focus on One Main Point and Support It
    The number one reason why we sometimes freeze up when asked to think on our feet is because we have so many ideas running around in our minds. We don't know which idea to mention.

    Here's the solution: Go with the first idea that comes to mind and say it. By sticking with that one point you can focus on two or three supporting points. You sound more direct and confident when giving your answer.
  1. Summarize and Stop (SAS)
    End your answer with some SAS (Summarize and Stop). Give your answer, summarize, and stop. Don't apologize and don't ramble on beyond the finish. Try this trick: repeat the essence of the question. For example, you may be asked, "Why did you stop the project?" In your summary you might say, "And that's why we decided to start another project." Then stop.

    Give your answer, let them know the end is near by saying:

    "In summary..."
    "In conclusion..."

    Then simply stop. Remember SAS.

Apply these techniques so that you can become a master at "thinking on your feet" and give great answers. You can practice these skills by joining Toastmasters. In their meetings they have an exercise called "table topicsComputer Technology Articles," in which you can practice this skill in a supportive environment

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Ed Sykes is a professional speaker, author, and success coach in the areas of leadership, motivation, stress management, customer service, and team building. You can e-mail him at, or call him at (757) 427-7032. Goto his web site,, and signup for the newsletter, OnPoint, and receive either free ebook, "Empowerment and Stress Secrets for the Busy Professional," or "Secrets of Outstanding Customer Service."

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