Regardless of what part of the business machine you spend most of your time--sales, marketing, accounting, IT, etc.--you're going to have to collaborate and defend your ideas at least a few times during the year. For many this means giving presentations in front of other employees, clients, or your boss, but for others it's simply answering a question that comes to you from someone you work with during the day. Regardless of your situation, thinking on your feet will always come in handy, and in many cases it will save you from embarrassment and help you appear confident.
Unfortunately, tactics to improve your quick thinking skills are not often discussed. Many people tend to think you've either got it or you don't, but this actually isn't true. There are ways to improve your quick thinking skills, and although it can be a slow process, the benefits will be well worth it in the end.
Below are a few of the top ways that you can improve your quick thinking skills and impress your peers in (and out) of the office:
- Work on focus by turning off electronics.
You have to be focused when it comes to thinking on your feet. There are so many distractions when working in an office, so the sooner you can eliminate those distractions the better. A great way to do this is to immediately shut off your phone (or turn it over) and X out of any social media tabs on your computer. Put everything you can on silent as a way to prepare for a meeting.
Even if you're just sitting at your desk and someone comes to you with a big question, take a few seconds to do all of these things so you can give your full attention. Electronics are becoming some of the biggest distractors, and distraction is the enemy to thinking on your feet. If you know you're going to be giving a presentation, make sure that you're in a quiet conference room and all phones are shut off to help give you that extra edge.
- Have the question repeated.
If at first thought you feel flustered, always have the question repeated. This puts off the vibe that you just need a minute to think about something so that you can give the right answer, not the vibe that you have no idea what to say in general. It also helps keep the awkward silence out of the room and gives you a chance to compose your thoughts, relax, and come up with something that sounds confident. It's the oldest trick in the book, but that's because it's effective.
- Keep reading and researching.
Part of thinking on your feet is being able to think back to the information stored in your head and then pulling something out to create a thought. In other words, if someone asks you something that you didn't prepare for, that doesn't necessarily mean that you need to make something up and just sound confident. While this is part of thinking on your feet, another aspect is actually knowing the answer because, well, you actually know the answer. The more you research and read about your industry, the better chance you have of feeling confident because you read something somewhere that is relevant to the question.
- Play brain games.
It sounds silly, but your mind has to be sharp if you're going to think on your feet (which is also the reason that distractions are such a huge part of the puzzle). Try playing brain games such as Lumosity each day or each night before you go to bed. This helps you stay focused, helps your mind stay sharp, and actually trains you to think on your feet. Just like you have to exercise your body to stay in shape, you have to also exercise your mind. This practice comes naturally to some professions that require a lot of practices talking to larger groups, but if your profession doesn't allow you to get that practice, brain games can fill the gap.
- Relax and prepare for common questions.
It's much more difficult to think on your feet if you're tense and nervous, so focusing on relaxing before a presentation is a great way to keep your mind open. It's easier said than done of course, but do whatever works for you to get relaxed--take a walk outside, take a few deep breaths at your desk, call a loved one to take your mind away from work for 5 minutes, etc. Even if you aren't giving a presentation and something takes you off-guard, consider all of the tips above and then take a deep breath to relax your muscles and your mind, and then start giving your answer.
- Extra: Be prepared so it looks like you're thinking on your feet.
As for preparation, the more you can prepare for questions that someone may ask you the better chance you have that when someone does catch you off-guard, you'll already be prepared. If you have an answer ready to go this makes it look like you're thinking on your feet even though you actually had something planned. This will also help give you confidence so that when a question you didn't prepare for comes along you're already relaxed and feeling ready to think quickly.