Thinking On Your Feet

Staying Cool Under Pressure

Whether you are put on the spot while attending a meeting, stuff presenting a proposal, selling an idea, or answering questions after a presentation, articulating your thoughts in unanticipated situations is a skill. Thinking on your feet is highly coveted skill and when you master it, your clever and astute responses will instil immediate confidence in what you are saying.

When you can translate your thoughts and ideas into coherent speech quickly, you ensure your ideas are heard. You also come across as being confident, persuasive, and trustworthy.

Confidence is key when learning to think on your feet.

1. Relax

In order your brain to “think,” you have to be as relaxed as possible. So breath deeply and slowly.

2. Listen

Make sure you have understood the question properly and that the person asking expects you to reply there and then. Are they genuinely interested or trying to trick you? Sometimes a ‘Can I get back to you on that?’ will be like a magic wand!

3. Have the Question Repeated

If you’re feeling particularly under pressure, ask for the question to be repeated. This gives you a bit more time to think about your response.

At first glance people think this will only make them look unsure. It doesn’t. It makes you look concerned that you give an appropriate response. It also gives the questioner an opportunity to rephrase and ask a question that is more on point.

4. Use Stall Tactics

Sometimes you need more time to get your thoughts straight and calm yourself down enough to make a clear reply. Ask for clarification. This will force the questioner to be more specific and hopefully get more to a specific point.

5. Use Silence to Your Advantage

We are conditioned to believe that silence is uncomfortable. However, if you use it sparingly, it communicates that you are in control of your thoughts and confident in your ability to answer expertly. When you rush to answer you also typically rush your words. Pausing to collect your thoughts tells your brain to slow everything down.

6. Stick to One Point and One Supporting Piece of Information

There’s a high risk that, under pressure, you’ll answer a question with either too much or too little information. So pick one main point and one supporting fact, you allow yourself to answer accurately and assuredly.

7. Be Honest
If you don’t know the answer, say so. There is no point trying to make something up. You will end up looking foolish and this will lower your confidence when you need to think on your feet in the future. There is (usually) nothing wrong with not knowing something. Simply make sure you follow up as soon as possible afterwards with a researched answer.

8. Prepare Some “What Ifs”

With a bit of forethought, it’s often possible to predict the types of questions you might be asked, so you can prepare and rehearse some answers to questions that might come your way.     Spend some time brainstorming the most difficult questions that people might ask, and preparing and rehearsing good answers to them.

8. Practice Clear Delivery

How you say something is almost as important as what you say.  There are key techniques for sounding confident, practice your breathing and keeping your chin up.


No one enjoys being putting on the spot or answering questions that you aren’t fully expecting. The uncertainty can be stressful. That stress doesn’t need to be unmanageable and you can think on your feet if you stay relaxed.

Essentially, thinking on your feet means staying in control of the situation. Ask questions, buy time for yourself, and remember to stick to one point and make that one point count. When you are able to zoom in on the key areas of concern, you’ll answer like an expert and you impress your audience, and yourself, with your confidence and poise.

Thanks to Mind Tools for additional information.