How to Get Better at Thinking on Your Feet

Thinking On Your Feet

In the world of public relations and online community building, your weapon of choice is strategy. You take time to think through your given strategy by setting out clear objectives, goals, and tactics. Time is your friend, and most of us in this profession revel in staying up late to perfect a campaign we’re about to present.

Unfortunately for me and others like me, I’m very decisive. When I like an idea or course of action, I tend to decide on it quickly without thoroughly examining alternative options or the consequences of that idea.

Sure, this comes in handy when I’m on a date and the girl can’t decide what movie we should see, but when you’re too decisive on formulating a campaign for a client or your supervisor, trouble can ensue. That is, when you take a narrow-minded approach to creating your lifeline, expect the boat to sink.

This is because even the “best” idea in the world to you can be shot down in the quickest moment. We can try to defend our decision and approach all we want, but all it takes is that one, seemingly insignificant variable to make your strategy completely dismissive. When that variable is thrown at you by the people you are trying to win over, you’re going to have to take a different, albeit scary approach.

You’re going to have to think on your feet.

In a lot of cases, this is your one chance. No time for do-overs. No time for re-convening. The spotlight is on you, and you’re going to have to deliver. Weirdly, I love these sink-or-swim moments.

To be honest, I’ve always had a knack for this. I was the student in school who made up speeches on the spot. When running for student body president of my high school, I took my pre-approved script, crumpled it up onstage and proceeded without any idea of what I should say (and I won).

This isn’t something I’ve always just known how to do, to be honest. It’s something I learned and practiced. Being put on the spot on tends to get your mind moving at double its speed, and when you’re used to it, you can actually have a fair time assembling what you need to say smoothly and coherently. Eventually, you get to the point where it’s actually a thrill.

One of the secrets to this being good at presenting in general. Specifically, you need to be able to sell an idea. Prove that you think it is the greatest idea in the world (by showing it in your confidence), present the evidence and reasoning behind why you think it is the greatest idea in the world, and get people excited about it.

That’s not to say, however, that you’re just pulling information out of thin air. Good listening skills and the ability to read an audience also plays a huge part in assembling an off-the-cuff response or presentation.

A year ago, I was at the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) National Assembly as a delegate for Liberty University. We had regular seminars covering various ethos in the profession, and I attended one that provided insights on ethics.

For this seminar, we were divided up into groups of 10-15 students each and were given the opportunity to prepare an ethical response on a fabricated crisis assigned to us.

Nonsense ensued. My group was in chaos and disagreement over how to address the problem at hand. Three of the students were bickering incessantly, and the rest of the group seemed to have give up on sharing their opinion.

Sitting on the sidelines, I had been taking notes on what everyone was saying and listened very carefully to everything discussed. Before we knew it, our time was up and we hadn’t even decided on who was going to present our response on behalf of the group.

When called upon, I volunteered and gave one of the most frightening speeches I’ve ever given. I’m in a room full of the country’s best PR students, as well industry professionals and opinion leaders. And I had nothing concrete prepared, just a list of points.

Of course, no one in the group even knew who I was and were probably embarrassed for me, but I went ahead anyway. Then something fantastic happened.

Glancing at my notes, I presented the issue by summarizing the opinions and thoughts shared by our group. I didn’t leave anyone out. Using this information, I came up with a solution on the spot that seemed to satisfy everyone.

Apparently the planets aligned because our response was the best in the seminar, and our group was highly praised. I made a lot of friends (and got a lot of business cards) from the group that day, and some of the older professionals in the room congratulated me personally.

The point isn’t that I’m something special. Honestly, I was pretty lucky, and I relied pretty heavily on the hard work of my group.

Really, my point here is that you need to be resourceful when thinking on your feet. Don’t be too proud to call upon the help of others, as long as you give them their due credit. While this isn’t something you can necessarily learn overnight, it is at least a very accessible option for over-decisive troublemakers like myself.

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2 thoughts on “How to Get Better at Thinking on Your Feet

  1. After your reading your trending article “the pixar theory”, i’ve been clicking around and reading quite a number of your blog posts and i think, this one is the most intriguing. Perhaps it’s because i always find myself in what you put as “the sink or swim” situation and always end up, sadly, sinking! I like the thrill and most of the time, survived the situation without fainting despite inevitably ending up embarassed more than anything else.

    I can talk, confidently only if im sure about the facts im talking about. But when in unprepared situations with points all over and no solutions beforehand as in the example you gave, i don’t think i can grasp yet the being resourceful concept. But oh well, we all know that “being resourceful” is not as simple as it sounds.

    ps: your articles are awesome! ♥. *Guess you know it already*

    • Glad you liked it 🙂 I wrote this one a while back, but I too have always found this topic pretty useful, even though it’s not something you can really teach. Thanks for your encouragement!

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