I recently sat in a meeting at a mega church preparing with the leadership team for the service. Instead of simply introducing me as the speaker and providing a quick bio or short story, they wanted to interview me so the church members could get to know me better.
Most of the questions were easy-peasy. Where are you from? What’s your favorite pastime? Tell us about Hershey.
Then the interviewer asked, “If you could swim in a huge pool of anything, what would it be?”
Most of you probably already know your answer to that question.
I was completely stumped. “What do you mean?” I asked.
“Like a pool of jellybeans,” she explained.
Oh. I’d like to swim in a pool of water.
Can you hear the thunderous gong? How about the loud buzzer? Can you see the crane pulling me off stage?
For those of us who aren’t good on our feet, someone will say something snappy, and we’ll have a witty comeback . . . three days later. Sometimes the simplest questions, comments, and interactions throw us for a loop.
Ask me to “wing it” and I splat on the ground. Guts everywhere.
Here are six tips for those who struggle with being put on the spot:
1. Ask for the questions and topic ahead of time. Whether you’re meeting with a school board, business client, community leader, or Sunday school class, if you know you’re going to be asked questions publicly, ask for the questions and topics ahead of time. Sometimes you’re going to need to be firm.
Then carve out time to reflect on them while you’re driving or taking a walk. In a free moment, jot down notes on a piece of paper as talking or discussion points. There will always be things you can’t prepare for, but the least you can do is be ready for those you can!
2. Be honest with others. Because of your personality, job title, or role, people may assume you’re great on your feet. They may think you’re quick witted or naturally gifted at developing a fast but thoughtful response. Graciously explain that in order to best serve the person and all those involved you need time to think, reflect, and fashion your responses. Your honesty will help those involved get you what you need to set yourself—and everyone—up for success.
3. Study those who are quick witted. Take notes whenever you watch television shows with quick-witted characters. Watch how comedians interact and handle live audiences—including the heckler. Adapt some of their responses, when appropriate, as your own.
But don’t only watch from afar. Make a list of 3 to 5 people in your life who are naturally good on their feet. A lot of times you can easily identify these people, but have you ever studied what exactly makes them so good? While some people have a different response for every situation, most have a collection of well-crafted responses that cover a myriad of situations.
For example, how do you respond to someone that catches you off guard about a fiery, hot button issue in front of others? As I began watching those who seem so quick-witted, I began to notice a pattern. They all responded by affirming the person’s concern, thanking them for raising the issue, then asked a follow up question. This bought time not only to think but also to better understand the underlying issue. This is when I discovered one of the great secrets of the quick-witted: they find ways not to be put on the spot.
4. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know. Rather than try to steal the show with the snappy comeback you don’t have, choose to compliment the other person. A simple reply of “You’re the best!” can often diffuse a potentially awkward situation. Depending on the situation, you may be able to endear yourself by being honest. “You are so clever you’ve caught me completely off guard. Can I get back to you. . . in three days?”
5. Deflect by posing the comment or question to the other person. If you’re stumped by a comment or question, you may find yourself in a situation where deflecting is appropriate and ask, “What would you say if you were me?” or “I think I’m going to need your help getting out of this one!”
6. Practice. Practice. Practice. One of the best ways to get better at being put on the spot is to be put on the spot more often. I know. Brutal. Murderous. Terrible. But with time and practice, we start adding to our collection of quick responses and learn how to more gracefully survive those potentially awkward moments.
Oh, and if I could swim in a huge pool of anything today, I’d dive into a pool of thin mint cookies with a hot tub of hot chocolate nearby by to dip them in. Yum. Yum.
And you? What would you swim in? And more importantly, what tips do you have for those who aren’t good at being put on the spot?
*Photo courtesy of here