THINKING ON YOUR FEET: AND WHY YOU MUST DO SO TO SUCCEED
I recently read a post by Michael Cooley – Workforce Development Executive for AL, Pensacola & Gulf Coast of Florida. The post was called “4 essential body language tips from a world champion public speaker” Great advice in general for public speaking of any kind.
It reminded me of one of the times I got sandbagged as a Seminary student. The Education director of my Church asked me to meet with him. Turns out, he had a Sunday School class of some “spunky older men” who needed someone with my spiritual knowledge and experience to take over teaching their Sunday school class. I have learned since then what it usually means when you are being buttered up like that. But it is my nature to meet challenges head on. I knew this would be a great opportunity for me to hone my skills for a future pastoral position.
So, I went in on my first day and got everything ready. I thought I was ready to meet the challenge. Then they all walked in at the same time as if carefully choreographed. In the lead, The seminary President, Vice President, and about 12 seminary professors! As they took their seats, I would swear they all had evil smiles on their faces. I guess because of my vast undercover experience, I was a very fast, think on my feet, kind of person. So, I thanked them all for being there and said we had an exciting lesson for the day. Then, I had a brilliant flash of insight to use for an icebreaker. I said I would do the best I could, but if I had any questions, I would just ask them!
This YouTube video is excellent. Think Fast. Talk Smart | Matt Abrahams | TEDxMontaVistaHighSchool. I was quite frankly amazed at how closely it mirrors what you need to know to be a great undercover agent. He notes things that are critical to effective communication. They also represent the recipe for success in business presentations.
But what if you are in a situation where you must answer unexpected questions. Salespeople often find themselves in this situation. So do PR professionals and anyone required to do project presentations followed by a question and answer session. We have all no doubt experienced the Q&A session from hell.
Imagine that you have just made the most effective presentation of your life. You planned for every conceivable “logical” response. You were ready for any of the typical questions that the customer could ask. Then the person who is the actual decision maker asks you a question that comes from way out of left field. A totally off the wall question, that for him or her, amounts to a deal breaker if you get it wrong. That is where being able to think on your feet, and doing it effectively, comes into this make or break situation. How do you handle such a situation? This is basically a fight or flight situation. Handling it is simply a matter of being prepared.
Some people can naturally think on their feet. For those of us who can, it is a gift. But for most people, it is a learned ability. I have another article in the works that gives a more detailed response on these points. But here is how you can be confident in answering those unexpected, off the wall questions. When I was training for undercover operations I learned the 7 Ps. These served me well. But I will change one. Here are the seven principles that kept me alive time and time again. Let’s briefly discuss each one.
- Proper – Always correct in how you think, act, and respond in a way that is suitable and relevant to your task.
- Prior – Knowing what you need to know in advance. I once read a sales book that said you never get a second chance to make a good first impression? The original version “you never get a second chance to make a first impression” has been attributed to Oscar Wilde and Will Rogers but there isn’t any actual evidence of that. Yet the phrase is no less true.
- Planning – It is absolutely necessary to use as much foresight and foreknowledge as possible to prepare for what you must say and how you must say it. Practice makes perfect as the saying goes.
- Prevents – Doing these things: Proper, Prior, Planning ensures you are prepared, knowing what you need to say and do in advance, and using proper foresight and foreknowledge to make the best possible impression.
- Poor – Failing to do these things results in failure.
- Performance – Presentations, including sales presentations, are simply a performance. You are like an actor on the stage. If you act and say your lines correctly, you perform well and you have a good performance
- Pressure (Under Pressure) Doing all these things under pressure takes practice. Yet no one ever won an academy award for practicing their lines in their living room in front of a mirror. You must be able to do so in the pressure of a live performance. Using these principles helps you to become confident, and confidence combined with the knowledge gained through Proper, Prior, Planning makes for success.
By understanding and applying these seven principles you stand ready for any eventuality and able to answer those unexpected off the wall questions. It is about three critical issues.
- Knowing yourself – Your Positives, Your Negatives, Your Limitations, and Your Weaknesses.
- Knowing your product or service – Every Aspect, Every Positive, Every Negative, Every Benefit, Every Pitfall.
- Knowing your customer inside and out – knowing them better than they know themselves.
Of course, that is very simplistic. But this is an article, not a book. Many of you will probably remember an effective antiperspirant commercial that used the phrase: Never let them see you sweat. How does that apply? Knowledge is power, confidence comes from knowledge, and knowledge is the beginning of wisdom.
Lastly, Confidence is the key to victory. It does not matter if you know all you need to know if you lack the confidence to communicate. Lack of confidence stems from a very simple and basic psychological concept. Fear of Failure. Using the tactics outlined above will help you have that confidence you need to never get taken by surprise and to always be prepared to give a response.
As a retired minister, I would be remiss if I did not note how the Bible prepares us for these everyday life situations. So, let me leave you with this: 1 Peter 3:15
“always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;”
Good advice for any leader. Always be prepared and you will have all you need to meet any challenge. Now you know how to go about your business with confidence and with the means to successfully think on your feet. Never letting anyone stump you, but always being prepared to give the appropriate answer in the most appropriate and respectful way will help you to be both personally and professionally successful.
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Rick Stoneking Sr, is a retired, disabled, veteran, minister and formal federal agent. He is now the Founder/Owner of International Travel Reviews (ITR) and a #DisabilityAdvocate for #AccessibleTravel.
Rick has been writing in one form or another for over forty years. He is published in multiple genres in both Christian and secular circles. He has written everything from police reports to a Christian eBook, to a year-long daily devotional series. He has published articles and columns in well-recognized state and international magazines.