Think fast, speak smoothly 💬
I still remember standing in front of a sea of fresh-faced college students, giving one of my first talks at a university.
I was proud of myself for making it through the talk, despite my nerves. But during the Q&A, a memorable young man in a plaid shirt posed a compelling follow-up question. Suddenly, my mind blanked, and as I wracked my brain for an answer, I... wait for it… forgot the question entirely. After stammering with "Uh...um....well..." for what seemed like eons, I finally had to ask him to repeat the question. Oy! Talk about a cringey moment.
Can you relate to the "deer in the headlights" when you’re suddenly center stage? Or feel a surge of panic when you're unexpectedly called on in a meeting? Well, you’re in good company!
The great news is, that answering questions off the cuff like a pro is a learnable skill. With a little know-how and practice, you can tackle even the trickiest questions with grace and confidence. Yes, even when you're winging it!
Here are three techniques to speak with self-assurance the next time you’re put on the spot.
Quick Confidence Tips for Confidently Thinking on Your Feet
Embodied: Pause and breathe. The next time you get hit with a curveball question, don't panic. Instead take a deep, grounding inhale. Not only does this momentary break allow you to gather your thoughts, but it also oxygenates your brain, promoting a sense of calm. And here's a pro tip: the less familiar you are with the nature of the question, the slower you should go in answering. A frantic person rushes in to answer at all costs, regardless of the quality of response, while a thoughtful person has the courage to take a moment, knowing they will share an impactful answer.
Mindset: Organize your thoughts. One of the simplest ways to deliver a coherent answer to a hard question is to use a simple framework like “What — So What — Now What” or even “Past — Present — Future”. That means that rather than deliver a stream-of-consciousness or jumbled answer, you give a reliable, articulate one. a. With What — So What — Now What, you start with explaining the “What.” What matters? What essential facts, observations, or patterns stand out? Then ask yourself, “So What?” Or why is that important? What are the implications and consequences? Finally, frame your response in terms of the future by asking yourself, “Now What?” What actions make sense going forward? Based on what I know, what do I recommend as next steps? b. With Past — Present — Future, you can answer on the spot by starting to share a relevant piece of context from the past. As in, what was the lead-up to the situation today? Then, address the present by answering the question “What’s most relevant right now?” Lastly, address the future with 1-2 sentences. You can do that by answering the question “What can we expect as a next step or immediate development?”
Interpersonal: If you must, buy more time from your audience. When you're wading through unfamiliar waters, it's okay to ask for a little more time before diving into an answer. But here's the catch — this isn't a card you can play every time. Aim to use the "I'll get back to you on that" tactic no more than 15% of the time. The rest of the time, lean into your confidence and trust what you do know to provide strong insights and answers.
If you put these practices to work and still find you’ve rambled off course, don't worry. Just sum up your main point in one strong, firm sentence at the end.
By using these tools, your confidence and ideas will shine through, showcasing you as someone in control, with a thoughtful approach and sharp reflexes.
Your turn: What strategies do you rely on to ensure your response is both confident and insightful when you're in the hot seat? Share your techniques in the comments so we can all learn from each other!
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