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Why the ability to think on your feet is key to effectiveness at work

sitting on a mountain

Why Is It Important To Be Able To Think On Your Feet?

Let’s start with an assumption; you know your stuff. Perhaps you’ve spent years studying or qualifying in your chosen profession. Or maybe you’ve immersed yourself in a particular area and have absorbed enormous amounts of information and knowledge along the way. And while you may not see yourself akin to a fabled mystic sitting cross-legged on the mountain top, what you say counts. You are certainly respected for your knowledge, understanding and insights. But can you think on your feet?

The Consequence of Having Expertise And An Excellent Reputation

Naturally, as your knowledge and expertise has grown, more and more people want to learn from you. They want your views, opinions and perspectives. When they ask you questions – even unexpected questions, they expect you to be able to think on your feet and provide them with great answers. They don’t want a lowdown of everything you know; they want relevant, specific answers.

What happens when you are asked a question?

Some people are brilliant when they are asked an unexpected question, and they need to think on their feet. But most aren’t. Do you ever fall into any of these traps?

  • You go into ‘download’ mode – telling the questioner everything you know about the topic they are interested in – however loosely related to their actual question.
  • You start off with a couple of key (hopefully relevant) points and then expand with “And another thing…” until you’ve completely lost your audience.
  • You freeze. Unable to retrieve the information you need from your vast bank of knowledge – or craft an answer quickly – you panic and just say anything to fill the silence.

Your Credibility Is At Stake

There’s no point in trying to sugar coat it – nothing less than your credibility is at stake. If you can’t think on your feet and provide relevant, insightful and timely responses, your reputation is going to suffer. When you are asked a question – particularly one that you really should be able to answer well, you need to decide what to say and how to say it, quickly and confidently.

If you can think on your feet and share your knowledge and insights with confidence, your status and standing will rise.

So Why and How Does It Go Wrong?

We are all different. We all communicate in different ways – thank goodness! But there are three common mistakes that we see time and time again:

  1. Not asking questions.
    We are so keen to give an answer immediately that we start talking straight away. We take the question at face value without asking for any clarification or even context. Asking a question about the subject can buy yourself some valuable time but still be seen to think on your feet.
  2. We don’t provide a structure for our questioner.
    When we fail to provide some structure to our response, we provide a mass of information. We are expecting our questioner to do all the hard work of sorting the wheat from the chaff.
  3. The answer isn’t logical.
    I mean that we don’t ensure that the answer has been constructed in a logical and repeatable way. There are a vast number of patterns of logic – structures – that we can use. Failure to use one of them is a missed opportunity to provide an information-rich and relevant answer.

Help Is At Hand – Think Before You Speakโ„ข

At Illumine Training, we have over 20 yearsโ€™ experience of running training courses based on the conviction that superior thinking leads to superior performance. Of course, this applies in many different areas of our work, but none more so than in impromptu verbal communication. The whole process of thinking on your feet involves thinking first and then speaking. Rather than the other way around!

The Think Before You Speakโ„ข course has been designed around the thinking process and the need to be able to think on your feet:

  • Start by being prepared to ask questions in order to understand the intent and context behind a question. In many situations, only by doing this can we hope to provide the specific answer that our question requires.
  • Think about what to say. Choose quickly from the vast number of potential logical structures in order to provide insights that hit the mark.
  • Think about how to say it. The key is to keep it simple, but presenting our answers in easy to follow – and easy to replicate – patterns, can make an enormous difference.

The Think Before You Speakโ„ข programme is a one day route to excellence in verbal communication. It transforms poor or average ‘performers’ into outstanding ones. And perhaps equally as relevant, it gives them confidence. Confidence to know that they will handle any and every question that is thrown at them. You will be able to ‘think on your feet’, because will learn how to think effectively before speaking.

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