Answering Off the Cuff

#1 Thinking on your feet 

When I meet potential clients, their needs span many areas, but I want to talk about one I find almost everywhere I go.  “How can I be better at speaking off the cuff?”  Easy!  Well, honestly, it is easy, but to explain how it’s easy, let’s talk about what you are asking for.

Speaking off the cuff, thinking on your feet, or any other way you describe it, comes from the idea of speaking with limited notes in a time crunch.  You don’t get to take a lot of time to fully plan a response. You must deliver at that moment!  So, the way you can be ready for anything is to prepare ahead of time. 

Now, I know most of you are busy, so no, this doesn’t take a ton of time. But, maybe 5 minutes before you go into a meeting, have a conversation, or walk the floor at a conference (hopefully, at some point in the future), you need to prepare! 

How? Recognize that any time you are asked a business question or offer an opinion, you are relying on the business knowledge you already have.  So, answering the question isn’t difficult.  The difficult part comes in knowing what to answer and then preparing the context.  So, let’s look at that. 

 

#2 Answering the right question 

You may be asked general questions, hyper-specific questions, or just strange questions. In those situations, use one of these answering techniques: 

A question of clarification: Ask them a question in which you offer them two options for your response 

“So when you are talking about (the topic), are you asking me about (A) or (B)?” 

Paraphrase: Ask them if you are hearing them correctly  by paraphrasing the question they are asking in a way that makes more sense to you.

“If I understand the question, you are essentially asking me about (your paraphrased understanding)?” 

Admit and redirect: Sometimes, you don’t know the answer or it’s not topical, or requires a long answer. So admit that, and then redirect your response to something that might be pertinent to everyone. 

“You know, I don’t know (or that’s a great question I would like to talk to you about after, etc.), but what I do know is….” 

In each of these situations, you are using a simple technique to make sure your answer is spot on and valuable. In addition, using these techniques will give you more time to think and organize your response. 

 

#3 Including the context

As you give someone the answer to their question or offer an opinion, you want to include some context for the answer, or the listener is likely to interpret it however they want. 

You want to control the context!  I recommend starting an example notebook or a notebook with thoughts about context or setting in which questions may be asked. Then, think of concrete examples that show how your response works in context. This gives your listeners a clear understanding of what you mean and how it applies to the topic or question. 

The reason to prepare ahead of time is that you are re-orienting your knowledge into something more useful. It takes 5 minutes, and in that time, you are now more prepared for many of the questions you might be asked. 

So, today I shared with you a little about how to prepare for the “unpreparable.” You can do it! Please take five minutes, think about the questions or opinions you might have to respond to, how do you clarify what they want, and how do you make sure they understand it the way you mean it? If you do that, you will be in a great place. 

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