‘Brain fog’ – that’s what happens when you get asked a question you know the answer to, where your response is unclear, often a little confused and long! There can be many reasons for this:
- An intimidating audience (your team, your boss, the board).
- The topic is sensitive or emotional (you may be delivering critical feedback).
- You are caught off-guard (last minute business update, meeting or briefing; a technical question you need to convey to a non-technical audience).
We often stammer or ramble. Causing misunderstanding, confusion and the wrong impression. And after the damage is done you remember what you should have said.
Unlike a ‘silver-tongued’ colleague who communicates with clarity, brevity and impact – getting their message across and remembered. We often believe they are one of the select few, born with the ability to skilfully handle these informal or impromptu situations. This is not a skill you are born with, the ability to Think on Your Feet® and respond effectively when on-the-spot.
Here are three top tips from Think on Your Feet® international. Practicing these will make ‘brain fog’ disappear, whether dealing with off the cuff questions on your feet or on your seat:
1. Listen – understand ‘your’ listener(s) before you react.
In today’s fast-paced world, we feel the need to think and speak quickly. When we hear a question, we often begin to reply before the other person stops talking.
There are times when you can quickly make your point and move on and everybody is happy.
And there are also times when listening carefully and asking for clarity is essential to finding the right answer.
For example, you are talking to your team about implementing a new process and you hear “Why is this company always making things more complicated”.
A good listener will acknowledge that change can be challenging. If spoken with sincerity it will help move the conversation in the right direction. Then, ask them for an example of what they mean. Chances are this will help defuse the situation and lead you to their real concern.
Let’s say the reaction to your query above is “I am already busy enough, I don’t have time to deal with this”.
You could launch into a defensive and emotional brain dump. Or, you could identify the triggers in their language and react effectively.
The trigger in this situation is “I”; they are only focused on how the change is impacting them. Their perspective is narrow, so to get them on board you start broadening their perspective.
Shift the focus from their individual problem to the broader solutions being offered to support the initiative, and the big picture impact the new process will provide for everyone.
If your argument is credible you will find your audience slowly but surely moving to a new and more productive perspective.
3. Stay on track – remember the rule of threes.
One of the biggest challenges most of us face is knowing when to stop talking, especially when put on the spot.
When we are subject matter experts we get wrapped up in too much detail. If we are passionate, our emotions override our logic and we ramble.
If you need to say more than a couple of words to make your point, try focusing on the ‘Rule of Threes’ to keep you on track. Give the quick answer and support it with no more than three points.
For example, an executive stops you in the hall and asks what’s new and exciting in your department. You could say “we’re keeping busy” and hope they don’t ask more questions.
Or you could launch into a detailed description about all your great ideas and risk boring your audience.
Your best option is to say that you are working on some exciting ideas and then briefly share the top three. Move from one key point to the next and you will sound organised and confident.
It’s not the only way to communicate but experts know it is one of the most memorable ways to deliver a message. Remember Goldilocks and those Three Bears?
Find out more about Think on Your Feet®, available as public workshops and in-house courses.