How to think on your feet when speaking in public

thinking on your feetIt’s your worst nightmare. You are delivering your important presentation. It’s all going to plan. You are on a roll. And then a member of the audience asks you a question left of field. Or you are asked to deliver your twenty minute speech in fifteen because there’s been an over run. Or there is a heckle. Or someone walks in late and interrupts the group. Or the catering staff drop the tray of cups on the floor with a clatter! ( * all these things have happened to me at some point!)

Of courses, I am saying it’s your worst nightmare. Some of you reading this post might be rubbing your hands with glee. A break from the formal, a release from the pressure, a chance to improvise and be playful. Maybe even an excuse for not sticking to the plan?

For lots of people though, many of my clients included, these instances add another layer of pressure to the presentation. Not only do you need to speak in public but you also need to think on your feet.

Certainly, the ability to be flexible and adaptable in a presentation is essential – at least if you want to build rapport and deliver something that is both meaningful for and resonates with the audience. But to go out there and simply hope for the best might not be the best strategy especially if you know this is not your key quality, there’s a lot riding on the presentation or you won’t sleep the night before!

Here are some top tips to help you think on the spot:

Prepare for the unexpected so you don’t have to problem solve in the heat of the moment. This includes:

  • Questions/heckle – Anticipate objections and questions in advance …and working out responses.
  • Changing flow – Build in pauses and links between sections of your presentations so you can pause and readjust if need be without a disruption to your flow
  • PowerPoint – Keep your slides simple so you are not tied to them (get rid of the bullet lists!)
  • Timing – Review your notes or script. Mark in red those bits which have to be delivered come what may, in blue mark the things that can be contracted or shortened if need be and mark in green anything which can be missed out if time has run out. (btw, if you have lots of green, then you have padded out your presentation and you need to be ruthless and edit!

Keep calm. There is often an urge to respond and decide immediately. Be kind to yourself. Pause and then take action:

  • Pause…and breathe
  • Acknowledge what’s happened/or what has been said…before dealing with it/answering
  • Pause, recap and then restart

Remain present with the group and remember you are there for them. So check in with them to make sure any action you take              is relevant for them:

  • When things go wrong or not to plan the temptation is to go within ourselves and mentally panic! Instead, breathe, look out and focus on what is here and now.
  • If you think you are on the wrong track, reflect back to the group what you are seeing, hearing and feeling and check what they need.
  • Just pause – give them a chance to get back in the zone too!

Things will go wrong in presentations – it’s the nature of the beast. The trick is to be both well prepared and well set up so that when it does go wrong, you can handle it like a pro!

If you think I can help at all with your presentations, then give me a call or drop me a line. The number is 07946 604859 and the address is  And sign up for Speech Bubbles, weekly-ish inspiration for your presentations.








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