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Introduction

Introduction

Once a word has been allowed to escape, it cannot be recalled. —Horace

Open mouth. Insert feet.

If these four words describe your typical speaking style, you are reading the right book! Every single second of every single day, someone somewhere is saying something that will come back to haunt him. At this very moment, words are flying out of someone’s mouth and landing awkwardly or embarrassingly on the ears of some listener. If the speaker is just an “average Joe,” his careless speech will probably be soon forgotten.

But if the speaker is a nationally recognized figure, the words will be recorded forever in the oral and written records of our history. How long will it take before Americans can forget the “Read My Lips” declaration? How long will it be before our collective memory forgets a presidential candidate’s challenge to reporters: “I have nothing to hide. My life is pretty boring—I invite you to follow me around for a day.”

In Thinking on Your Feet, you will learn to apply proven techniques for expressing yourself—admirably—in any situation. Whether you’re being interviewed or conversing with a colleague, whether you’re participating in a meeting or speaking before an audience or attending a social function, your new speaking skills will enable you to say what you mean without causing pain to yourself or others.

Real-life situations will be examined so you can have a chance to formulate your own responses. With sufficient practice, you will be able to think rapidly on your feet and speak off the cuff—persuasively and intelligently.

Situation: Your boss has called you into his office. You don’t know why, so you are a little nervous. (You feel the way you used to feel in school when you were called into the principal’s office without an apparent reason.)

He asks you to have a seat and then asks, “Are you intelligent?” You, of course, say yes. His next question, though, really throws you. “How do you know you are intelligent?”

Write your response to the boss’s question. Write as quickly as you can. Do not stop to revise or edit; do not worry about correct spelling. Remember, in the real world you have very little time to pull your thoughts together in situations like this.

What would you say? _____________________________________

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Ask co-workers to respond to the same situation. Then compare their answers to your own. (Do this with all the exercises in the book.) If you think someone has a better answer than yours, examine it to see why it sounds more articulate or more convincing.

By the way, the young woman who had been asked this question by her boss responded in the following way: “To me, ‘intelligence’ means ‘knowledge.’ And I know more today than I did yesterday.” Do you think that was a good answer? Why or why not?

Here is another opportunity to see how well you would respond in a highly charged situation.

Situation: Imagine that you are a secretary who has just disclosed that she has had a romantic relationship with a world-famous figure. The news media has gone wild with their coverage of this scandal and you are constantly being sought for interviews, which you are happy to give, since you’ve decided to leave the secretarial world anyway and enter show business.

During one of the interviews, a reporter comments that a number of people who know you have stated that you are not a very intelligent person. Then the reporter asks, “How do you respond to that charge?”

What would you say? _____________________________________

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There is no guarantee that you will always come up with an answer as good as the first example or that you will never say something you may later regret. (In the second situation, the young woman replied, “I am not a bimbo!” Unfortunately, the very use of the word “bimbo” somehow suggests “bimbo-ism.”)

We can, however, assure you that the likelihood of foot-in-mouth-insertion will be greatly diminished if you follow the recommendations at the end of every section, and if you practice the exercises designed to make cogent thoughts roll trippingly off your tongue—even if you haven’t had a great deal of preparation time.

In this book, you will explore ways that will help you speak with confidence— whether you have an audience of one or one thousand. And, you will study techniques to enable you to handle virtually any public situation involving interpersonal communications. Thinking on your feet is not a mysterious talent possessed by golden-tongued orators. Rather, it is an acquired skill that almost anyone can learn.

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