· 2 min read · Features

Thinking on your feet

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The key to feeling calm in a meeting situation essentially comes down to confidence. And if you dont have the answers, dont be tempted to make them up. Laura Wilks reports

You are in a meeting. The boss is firing questions at you. Do you go to pieces and forget everything you know, or do you stay calm and confident?


According to Tom Bufton, of Action Based Leadership, The crucial thing is to have a clear structure in your head, which helps you to remain focused. Keep your objective clear. EMCs Doug Morris agrees: How you communicate is important in helping you to focus. Make suggestions, draw conclusions sense the particular needs of whoever asked the question, look for what they particularly need to know. Above all, Present things with confidence, and appreciate that this is your chance to shine, but be willing to show humility if there is a question that needs further research. Suggest that you write to the questioner as a follow-up after you have looked into it.


Jeremy Orbell, HR adviser with 3i Group, says, You must pick up on the non-verbal communication as well as the words, and dont jump in with an answer before a person has finished asking a question, give yourself time to think. He advises advance planning wherever possible. It helps to anticipate what is going to come up, so brainstorm possible scenarios beforehand.


If you need to buy yourself time, Orbell suggests writing the questions down. It also means that you can choose the order in which to answer them, he adds. Another of his rules of thumb is to ask yourself, what is the motive behind the question? If you spot a cynic, you can respond to them as robustly as they are attacking you.


Janet Rawson, a director of the theatre-based consultancy, Steps Role Play, says many clients enlist their help when they have been promoted to a new role in their organisations and have to make more high-powered presentations and generally raise their influencing skills. Asked if there are specific tips she would suggest when faced with an intimidating meeting or presentation Rawson says, First make sure you are breathing deeply, try to smile which helps you to relax and break the ice and take time. On the latter point, she stresses, you should try to stand back from the situation, no matter how tense you feel, and give yourself thinking time.


Jo Rising, employee development manager at YH Training Services, stresses the importance of flexibility. Dont bluff, she says. Say, Thank you for that point, I will come back to that. And you must also never underestimate the importance of body language. A gesture can gain you vital seconds.


If you dont have the answer, should you make it up? At Virgin Atlantic, HR operations manager Andre Roux, says, No, you get more respect in the long term if you are honest. Do remember that you can question your questioner, in order to clarify. If you are well prepared then you shouldnt have to bluff, and in dangerous situations, such as union negotiations, it is vital that you know what you are talking about.


The good news, according to Roux, is that over time people get better at thinking on their feet, because you gain experience, and become more confident in your own decisions its all about confidence.