Being able to think on your feet comes from being prepared for any situation and then relaxing so you can recognize the situation and recall the information. For the random conversation with the VP, take a few minutes and think about what he could ask about. Then come up with your answers and practice them. Same goes for a presentation. For the topic at hand, ask yourself what can the attendees possibly ask me? Be ready with answers. The more prepared you are, the more relaxed you’ll be. This will allow you to keep an open mind, hear the questions and respond with an answer that you most likely came up with already.
While you are thinking about your responses make them personal to the audience. If you are talking with your CIO and she asks about the projects you are working on. You may want to think about addressing your CIO’s goals. Does she need to know the specifics of your project or maybe more about the goal the project is addressing? It also does not hurt to ask, “How much time do you have and how much detail do you want?”
How do you really make things personal? The way you make things personal is by building relationships with the people you work with. The better you know the people you work with, what interests them, and what drives them, the more personal you can make the response. I realize it is not realistic to build relationships with everyone. If building a good relationship with the director or VP is not doable, find out who does have a good relationship with them. Ask them to help give you the background you need.
It can seem a bit more difficult to ensure you are “making it personal” when it comes to a meeting or presentation with multiple attendees. When you schedule a group meeting you probably think about and know why you are inviting all the attendees. That’s only a piece of the puzzle. Don’t assume the attendee knows why they should be there. You have to make sure they know why they are invited. For some meetings it may be as easy as sending an email to each invitee explaining why they were personally invited to the meeting. Sometimes it takes a conversation. This is a necessary extra step you must take to make sure the meeting or presentation is personal to them. This step also gives the invitee the option of starting a conversation around why they may not need to be there.
Regardless of the situation don’t shy away from these moments even if you are not prepared. Don’t duck in a room if you see a VP coming. You learn through practice. You’ll gain information on what questions people ask and what makes it personal to them.
All the best,