As someone who’s always 10 seconds late with a witty comeback, I’ve always envied people who could think quickly on their feet. Appearing confident in conversations is a key business skill. So, while I’ll likely never win any improv contests, I’ve learned a few tricks to fake it!
- Prepare canned responses. Depending on the situation, having a few regular phrases at the ready, such as “Interesting, tell me more,” or “Why do you ask?” can buy time, while leading to a better conversation.
- Ask for more time. Unless you’re on the witness stand, you’re not obligated to give an answer on the spot. Responding with “I’d like to give it more thought,” or “When do you need an answer?” is perfectly acceptable, while appearing decisive and confident.
- Get additional information. We communicate based on our own biases, experiences and values, which is why misunderstandings occur frequently. Asking “Can you rephrase that?” or “Please help me understand what you mean by…” will ensure you’re on the same page with the other person, while also maintaining control of the conversation.
- Start with what you know. If your brain begins to cloud over, pick the one part of the discussion where you have the most expertise and begin there (politicians love this trick!). Something like, “Well, you mentioned networking, so let me start there…” will quickly get you back into the conversation with conviction!
- Break it down. In complex situations or multi-part questions, break them into bite-sized sections that can be addressed individually. Summarize key points to gain agreement as a place to begin. For example, “Based on what you’ve shared, I heard three main points: A, B, and C. Is this correct? What should we tackle first?”
- Embrace silence. Anxiety pushes us to fill moments of silence, however, a contemplative pause during an in-person discussion can actually demonstrate interest. Being thoughtful and deliberate in your response shows you’re invested.
- Deflect. In some cases, it may be best to defer to another colleague or expert in the room. Try, “I have a few thoughts, but I’m curious what Bob’s opinion is,” may allow you to gather your thoughts and also give someone else the floor. But, be careful not to put others on the spot- when in doubt use one of the other strategies above!