How PR pros can get better at thinking on their feet

Dec 23, 2013
How PR pros can get better at thinking on their feet

Public relations professionals exhibit a unique set of skills that makes them great at their job. They have to be excellent communicators, level-headed, strategists and most of all, they have to be able to think on their feet. But not all of those things come naturally to PR pros. 

Whether it’s a question from the media, presenting a campaign to senior-level executives or simply a routine chat with a client, thinking on the spot can help you and your company escape a crushing wave of chaos and brand-damaging outcomes.

Here are five ways to get better at thinking on the spot when the pressure's on, your palms get sweaty and the spotlight is on you.

1. Think Ahead. This doesn’t mean drive yourself crazy trying to think of everything that could go wrong. Instead, this is an exercise to help you get prepared for thinking on your feet.

Growing up, before every recital or interview, my father would tell me to take some time to close my eyes and imagine the event with every detail: What do you feel? What do you say? What could go wrong? How do you deal with the mishap?

Thinking through these questions will help you prepare emotionally for thinking on the spot. Don’t stress yourself out about what could go wrong. Just keep an open mind about thinking on the spot.

2. Join Toastmasters. The best way to get better at thinking on your feet is to do it more often. Sometimes that includes public speaking, something that frightens many people.

Toastmasters is a great organization that is well worth the investment to join. You’ll learn how to get better at public speaking and thinking on your feet. It’s also a great opportunity to network with other local professionals. 

3. Learn From Others. Every opportunity you get, listen and learn from others’ impromptu situations. Pay attention to their body language and how they transition the conversation. Did they use humor? Did they try to spin the question or were they honest that they didn’t know the answer? How did they handle the situation of the unhappy customer? 

Constantly analyze what they did and how they could have done it better. This helps you sharpen your own critical thinking skills and prep for stressful situations.

4. Follow Your Instincts. Some people get a thrill from thinking on their feet. The adrenaline rushes and it forces you to go with your gut feeling. For sports lovers, it’s like the last eight seconds of a tied football game where we all hold our breath as the quarterback has to make the decision to throw or run into the end zone. The result can be rewarding…or very disappointing.

Ironically, good instincts don’t come naturally. Similarly to the quarterback, our instincts should come from training and years of experience. 

The more you place yourself in situations where you have to think on your feet, the better you will become. Keep mental notes of things you experience and observe from others thinking on the spot. This will help hone your instincts so when the time comes, you have a reservoir of experience to guide your gut.

5. Have Confidence. The adage “Fake it till you make it” holds a lot of sway when it comes to thinking on your feet. Confidence is the overwhelming ‘X Factor’ when it comes to thinking on your feet. Whatever path you choose, walk it with assurance and poise. Of course, there are situations where the best thing you can do is admit that you don’t know. It depends on your good judgment to make that decision.

Do you have other tips for thinking on your feet? Share them in the comments below.

Alicia Lawrence is a content coordinator for WebpageFX and blogs in her free time atMarCom Land. Her work has been published by the Association for Business Communication, Business Insider, and Spin Sucks.

Photo: Press conference microphones via Shutterstock

About the author

Alicia Lawrence is a content coordinator for and blogs in her free time at MarCom Land.

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