Have you ever had the experience where the very thing you should have said sprung to mind right as you got to your car? If only you could have had that snappy comeback in the moment! Or perhaps you’ve experienced that bone-chilling scenario when the plans have changed and… you need to cut your one hour sales presentation to ten minutes or your in-laws have asked you to make a toast – now!
During the Renaissance, the art of wit was prized as highly as slaying the dragon. The ability to turn a phrase could spare a fool from death and win the heart of a fair damsel. But these days, all the wit we practice is on our text messages and when the pressure’s on, there are no words for = ). So it’s no wonder that the art of turning a conversation your way has gone astray. But it’s never too late to learn something new.
So if your tongue goes dry just when you need it most, here are some tips for thinking on your feet without putting your foot in your mouth.
1. Pay attention
Listening will get you far, so start there! The first step to having something quick to say is to be in the conversation. And that means truly “hearing” the parts of the conversation that come not just with the words, but with the body language of the speaker, too. Is this a conversation full of anxiety? Is the speaker crossing their arms, guarding themselves? Start your leadership right there. If the speaker has their arms crossed, deliberately uncross yours. By making your own statement with your body you are asserting that you are present and that you are ready to jump in at any minute. Being alert and present is the key to thinking on your feet.
2. Be intuitive
Next, don’t think too much. Your gut can tell you everything you need to know if you trust it. That presentation that went from an hour to ten minutes – you can do it! You know your material and your mind instantly knows what the best ten minutes are. You just have to trust yourself. Your first thought or impulse is your most honest intuitive leap. So take it. Every thought after that censors your first one. And that’s how you end up not saying anything at all. So risk embarrassment, risk rejection, risk it all and trust your gut!
3. Exercise your wit
Yes, and….is the first game in every improv class. The exercise is simple. Whatever someone says, you add, “Yes, and…” For instance, you’ve got a chance to talk to the person at that party that everyone’s been checking out. They say something that you don’t even hear because your heart is pounding. So, just start with, “Yes, and…isn’t this a great event.” See how that was your first thought, your gut and the word “and” keeps the conversation going? No matter what someone says, by saying “Yes” you take control and affirm what they have said. By saying “and” you assert that you are going to steer the conversation to the next point and you are at the helm.
Lastly, brush off any misfires. Even if you do listen, trust your gut and use Yes, and… you are going to say something weird at some point. And if you do end up saying something that sinks like a rock at a social gathering, or flubbing your sales presentation, shrug it off and take a moment to center yourself. If you can confidently say something witty like, “Okay what else have we got?” you’ll prove to be a team player. Add a smile and you’ll prove you have a great sense of humor – and that you can think well on your feet!
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