Get Better at Thinking On Your Feet - THINKERS Notebook

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Get Better at Thinking On Your Feet

On Wednesday night, my wife and I were watching the Democratic primary debate. She was impressed by a particular comment from one of the candidates and said, "It's so impressive how they can think on their feet like that. If I had enough time to prepare, do you think I could be that quick too?"

The answer seemed pretty obvious to me.

Of course you could, my love.

Which I say for two reasons:

One, because it's fun to brag about my wife -- who is really smart and, more importantly, will dive in head first to understand the most intricate details when she's motivated to learn something. 

Two, because any of us can get better at thinking on our feet through practice and preparation.

Now, could a week's worth of preparation have actually gotten my wife, or any of us, ready for the bright lights of a presidential debate stage? Surely not.

Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg are two of the most polished and articulate debaters you'll find anywhere. Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, and Amy Klobuchar have lifetimes of experience actually working on the policies they're being asked about. 

So those five had quite the head start on anyone who might have tried to swoop in and join the proceedings in the 11th hour. 

You're going to be well-prepared to think on your feet when you combine decades of relevant experience with tailored preparation for a specific moment, which all of these candidates surely did.

But while none of us are trying to prepare for a presidential debate stage, we all would like to be more confident in our ability to think on our feet. 

So this week's THINKERS Roundup includes three links that will help you get better at doing just that.

And here is key point to remember: it's about preparation, not innate skill.

It can be easy to look at someone who is quick in his or her feet and just assume it's something that comes naturally to them. And sure, it probably does come a little more naturally to some people than others. 

But being able to consistently think on one's feet is usually more a function of practice and preparation than just "being born with it."

So don't let that cop-out keep you from practicing and preparing to be better.

Links below, but first a quick update from inside the THINKERS Workshop.

This Week in the THINKERS Workshop

Here are a few recent conversations you should consider contributing to:

Also, we'd love your help with the next version of the notebook we're developing. Which of these headline ideas do you like best?

The THINKERS Workshop costs $99 per year to be a member. Remember that if you own a THINKERS Notebook, you get full access for free. (If you own a notebook but haven't activated your free access yet, reply to this email and let me know.)

Now on to this week's links ...

Yes, you can prepare for a spur of the moment

Whether it's an unexpected question for a decision that needs to be made quickly, it's easy to be caught off guard in the moment only to think of the perfect answer later. Thinking on your feet takes mental agility, and it's possible to prepare for those moments when you need to think fast.

Read: Five Ways to Get Better at Thinking On Your Feet (Fast Company)

The next uncomfortable is coming ... so be ready

You're minding your own business when you bump into someone important and he or she asks you a question. Suddenly, you're at a loss for words and find yourself stammering about awkwardly. Or maybe you're in what you thought was going to be a mundane meeting when out of the blue someone wants to know your perspective on the topic at hand, but your mind goes completely blank.

Don't kid yourself. This is not some quirk of personality or abnormal brain wiring to which you're simply a victim. Thinking on your feet and communicating eloquently during spur-of-the-moment interactions is a skill anyone can master.

Read: How to Think on Your Feet Under Pressure: 6 Tips (Inc)

Your values will help you make better decisions

Is there anything that brings more pressure than high-profile, high-stakes public speaking?

Let’s not count the many millions of people in the U.S. and worldwide who have fear of public speaking. Even for the rest of us, speaking in public is always an exercise in handling pressure. Add the prospects of an important audience, a resistant one, or tougher Q & A than you expected, and you may think the nearest barometer has suddenly gone haywire.

You might say that the way to handle such pressure is to prepare as much as possible concerning your content. And you’d be right. But there’s another layer you need in terms of preparedness, one that has to do with your ability to think on your feet.

Below are two exercises designed to help you survive and even thrive in the public speaking pressure cooker. Both are useful in giving you practice in thinking on your feet. Use one or the other (or both), based on the type of pressure you’ll be facing. 

Read: How to Think on Your Feet: Two Exercises for Speaking Under Pressure (Gary Genard)

Quote of the week

"When I get ready to talk to people, I spend two thirds of the time thinking what they want to hear and one third thinking about what I want to say.”

Abraham Lincoln


Jerod Morris
Chief Creative Thinker


Photo by Miguel Henriques on Unsplash