Whether you’re attending a meeting, pitching an idea, presenting a proposal, speaking at an event or answering an unanticipated client question, being able to think on your feet and speak clearly and intelligently at a moment’s notice is a vital skill in business.

But it’s not the easiest to do when you’re under pressure and feeling nervous and intimidated. So how do you keep your composure when put on the spot? Here are five tips to help you think on your feet.

1. Listen carefully

The key to responding to a comment well, answering a question effectively or understanding a statement is to listen carefully. Look directly at the person speaking and ask them to repeat their statement or question if necessary.

Asking them to repeat the question will also give you a chance to think about what was said and respond better, often people will rephrase and clarify what they mean the second time around.

2. Breathe

While the person is talking and before you respond take slow deep breaths. This will give you more oxygen to your brain and help you think more clearly and calmly.

Being able to control your breathing can really help you to master your nerves and quieten the inner voice that goes into overdrive with negative and limiting thoughts when someone asks an unexpected question or gives an alternate view.

3. Pause if you need to

Provided you don’t look terrified, pausing can actually help you to look as though you are carefully considering your answer in order to give the right response.

Don’t feel pressured to fill the silence immediately. This can lead to rambling or giving a response that isn’t well thought out. A thoughtful pause will give you time to compose yourself, think about your answer and deliver it confidently.

4. Don’t be afraid to delay your answer

For those questions that are a little more intricate or you don’t know the answer to, don’t be afraid to delay your answer.

If in a presentation (and it’s applicable) say you will talk to them after to go into more detail with their specific circumstances. If one-on-one with someone say you will investigate it further, think about it in more detail or find out the answer for them.

When handled right delaying your answer won’t be seen as a sign of weakness, inexperience or lack of knowledge like we all worry it will. It can actually be seen as a sign of professionalism, that you want to make sure you give the right answer and information to help your audience.

5. Be an expert in your area

The best way to be prepared for the unexpected is to become an expert in your product or service, topic and industry.

Knowing your subject will give you greater confidence, help you to give better answers and equip you to handle tricky questions by having a strong knowledge base to draw on.

Do you have any tips for thinking on your feet?