February   2017

Have you ever been 'put on the spot' in a meeting or presentation? Perhaps your boss, a customer, or an audience member asked you an unexpected question or stated an unforeseen objection. Few people enjoy being in the hot seat; however, the ability to speak with clarity and confidence under pressure pays big dividends. Speaking successfully on the spot conveys your composure and credibility as a leader; it garners the respect of others, exudes executive presence, shows your command of the situation, and communicates your ideas more persuasively. Here are seven steps to think fast on your feet and speak successfully on the spot.
Thank you for your continued readership and quest for communication excellence! 

Kind regards,

How To Speak Successfully On The Spot:

Seven Steps For Thinking Fast On Your Feet

By Darlene Price, Well Said, Inc. 

"Intelligence is not only the ability to reason; 

it is also the ability to find relevant material in memory
and to deploy attention when needed."
--Daniel Kahneman

"So, Karen, are you recommending that we migrate our current systems to a brand new platform? How do you plan on avoiding the disaster that happened with our Detroit division who tried this two years ago?"

If you're Karen, you've just been put on the spot. You have to answer the question clearly, confidently and concisely so that you dispel the CEO's concerns and gain approval on your proposal. What do you say and how do you say it?

Whether you're answering Q&A after a presentation, responding to your boss in a meeting, or handling an objection, you can learn to think fast on your feet and speak with finesse, regardless of the situation. Consider using these seven tips the next time you're placed on the spot:

1. Relax.
You want your voice to sound confident and your brain to think clearly, so you have to be as relaxed as possible. This is of course the opposite of how you are feeling so you must intentionally take steps to manufacture relaxing affects. As you're being questioned, take a few slow deep breaths - this relaxes the body and the mind. Be sure to avoid a pensive scowl or furrowed brow; keep your facial expressions neutral to positive.  Silently affirm yourself by thinking, "I can do this." "I'm confident and in control." "I'm the expert on this subject." Remember, your audience can only see how you look and act on the outside; they never see how you feel on the inside.

2. Listen.
Often when we are in a high-pressure situation and the adrenalin is pumping, we don't stop to hear the actual question or concern of the speaker due to the static in our own minds. To make sure we understand the question and give the appropriate answer, focus intently on the other person.  Look at him or her directly in the eyes. Hear exactly what is being spoken. 

3. Repeat or paraphrase the question.
Especially in a large meeting or public setting, restate the question loudly enough for everyone to hear. This gives the questioner the opportunity to either confirm or clarify the question. In the process, you gain more time to think and formulate your answer. Also, restating allows you to take control of the question and re-phrase or neutralize it if needed.

4. Ask a clarifying question.
If the question is too broad or vague and you want to narrow the focus before you can effectively answer, ask them a question first before you respond. This ensures you reply with a more meaningful helpful answer, plus it shows you care and are listening. For example, in the above scenario, Karen could have asked, "Which aspects of the Detroit migration concern you most?"  If asking a clarifying question is not appropriate, simply offer a preface statement such as, "Thanks Bob. I'll be glad to address your question."

5. Pause and Think.
Silence, used appropriately, communicates you are in charge of the situation and comfortable in the setting. When you pause, you look and sound poised and confident. Avoid the temptation to answer too quickly, which often results in speaking too fast and saying too much. A well timed pause signals your brain to slow down and think before you speak.

6. Use an organized structure.
In addition to anxiety, another key reason we freeze or go blank when placed on the spot is because so many ideas begin to stream through our minds at once. Avoid verbalizing that stream of consciousness. Remember, the questioner does not want or expect you to give a speech on the subject. What they do want is a clear concise answer with just enough information to satisfy their concern. This requires structure.  Limit yourself to one or two, but no more than three key points. Under each point, add one or two brief supporting statements. For example, here's how Karen responded to her CEO: "Yes, I do recommend we migrate our current systems to the new platform. There are three main reasons this transition will succeed: First, the new platform features 99.9% defect free software...  Second, the new platform integrates seamlessly with all our systems. . . And third, our migration strategy ensures no downtime for our customers..."

7. Summarize and Stop.
Ideally the length of your answer is under one minute. Conclude your response with a quick summary statement and stop. As the listener absorbs your answer, resist the common error to fill the silence with more information. If you ramble on with more details, you may end up causing confusion, belaboring the point, and inviting even more objections. Here's how Karen summarized and stopped:
"So Bob, in summary, I do hear and appreciate your concerns. Rest assured, my team and I have thoroughly reviewed the challenges of the Detroit migration, and we're confident the plan for our division will succeed because of the bug-free software, seamless integration, and customer uptime."

By following these seven steps, you craft an on-the-spot reply that is clear and concise. By doing so, you transform the 'hot seat' into a golden opportunity to shine; to convey executive presence, communicate your ideas persuasively, and display your composure and credibility as a leader.


Discover the essential skills for becoming a more effective communicator and presenter in my book Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results (available in Hardcover, Kindle, and Audio). 


Feel free to contact me directly to schedule an in-house corporate training event for your team. I would be honored to support your speaking success.

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Read Darlene's new book, 
Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results.
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"Top 30 Business Books for 2013"
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Well Said! Presentations and Conversations That Get Results is now available in Chinese!