Caught off guard by a question at work, do you blurt out the first thing that comes to mind? Or do you take a moment to marshal your thoughts?
Most of us are not too adept at thinking on our feet. Extroverts tend to respond with far more information than the situation warrants, while an introvert, at worst, might say nothing.
Most communication is one-on-one, informal, and impromptu. You don’t generally have time to prepare speaking notes before bumping into your boss in the hallway — and, even in the age of e-mail, hallway encounters are still important. Here are some pointers on how to answer questions on the spot, how to explain complicated ideas more clearly and how to be persuasive.
Be aware that your audience values you getting to the point. They value complex ideas being explained simply. Everyone suffers from information overload. If you don’t get to the point, you’re adding to the overload.
Place some kind of framework into your communication so that your audience can see you are organized and have thought about your answer. You have focused your answer into something digestible, something an audience can absorb. It forces you into brevity and clarity.
Strong verbal messages require focus. They also require substance. One item is not enough. Seventeen items is too many. Three items is enough for you, and your audience, to retain. Three items forces you to focus on what is really important. It also focuses your audience on only having to listen to three. Remember your audience’s attention span.
Demonstrate your mental ability to be logical, and to move your audience through that logic. What if someone asks a question to which you do not know the answer? If you really don’t know the answer, say so. People expect and value honesty and directness. They don’t like waffling … Just acknowledge that you don’t know, but promise to get back to them — and then get back to them.
How do you buy time if you just need a moment or two to gather your thoughts?
Usually, people know the answer but get flummoxed, pressured and have a hard time recalling what they know. One strategy that will buy you time involves instantly taking your questioner back in time, to review what happened.
For example, you are cornered by your boss to discuss your group’s sales performance. You can quickly frame a response by grouping all the details into what affected past sales, your targets for present sales and your strategies for increasing future sales.
Anticipating questions that might be asked helps you respond to the tough ones when they do arise.
For more information on how to Think on Your Feet® click here