Have you ever sat in a meeting, been asked a question and had a complete blank?

You were listening, you really were. But somehow when you were asked to come up with a solution to the problem or voice your opinion, your words evaporated.

Don’t you hate that feeling?

Later, without the pressure of the spot light you can come up with a plethora of ideas or pithy comments you could have contributed, which makes it even worse.

So, what can you do when you’re forced to show your grace under fire?

If you’re the type of person who likes to think before they speak, which you don’t often get the chance to do when you’re put on the spot, you still have a few options. Four to be exact.

#1 Prepare

One way to prepare is to find out the agenda topics for a meeting in advance, which will give you the time to consider the possible questions, compose your thoughts and be prepared to share your perspective. Realistically, this is best for a high stakes meeting where it makes sense to do your homework.

This isn’t always possible and often difficult given the pace of the day or the lack of meeting agendas (another whole discussion…).

So, if you feel pressured to give an immediate response you can simply say you need more time. Just make sure you say it in a way that makes you look good: “I want to give you a suggestion that is viable so let me come back to you when I have had more time to consider the options”.

#2 Buy Time

If you feel pressure to respond in the moment but words are failing you, you can buy yourself some time. Ask a question to refine the problem or discussion: “Are we looking for a short term or a longer term solution?”. Their response may spark an idea or at least give you a few moments to gather your thoughts.

#3 Breathe

Remember that a large part of how people see you is in the way you respond rather than in the words you say.

You know the old adage that actions speak louder than words?

Your body language, tone and inflection speak more than the words. Avoid responding from a place of stress, which is what happens to most of us when we are put on the spot.

Take a few deep breaths to calm your nerves before responding. The silence that fills the room for those few breaths may feel like an eternity to you but not to anyone else.

#4 Be Brief

The other blunder people make when they feel the pressure to deliver the right answer on the spot is to over-talk. .They talk because they think they’re supposed to but they don’t say anything of consequence. You’ve probably sat in a meeting listening to someone blather on and like everyone else in the room, you cringe and wish they would just stop talking. I know it sounds counter intuitive that someone with nothing to say would run off at the mouth but even the most reticent have fallen into this trap.

Focus your response on one aspect of the problem that you do know about or one simple suggestion and end it there.

It’s also okay to not know the answer or the solution right in the moment. It’s actually more empowering to own that then pretend like you do.

In order to be a leader who is heard, is of influence and has an impact the key is to develop the ability to be graceful under fire and buy time so you can contribute your brilliant ideas once those elusive words have returned.