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 asking you for a progress report, a
request for your ideas on a new community project, or a job

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

• Ask questions (Benefit: increases clarity and shows you
are listening).

2. 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.

3. 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

4. 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

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.

5. 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 topics,” in
which you can practice this skill in a supportive