Thinking on Your Feet

Secrets for thinking and speaking effectively when you’re under pressure.

Lisa B. Marshall
5-minute read
Episode #53


It also lets you choose the best organization structure. I’ve noticed stress seems to make people answer either too briefly or ramble on. When responding to an impromptu question, the idea is to structure your response for clarity, brevity, and impact.   By learning a few impromptu response structures, your answers will always sound organized and confident. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to review all the possibilities, so I’ll very quickly cover three common structures.

Impromptu Response Structures

  • The first one is called PREP: Position, reason, example, position (PREP). In this model, first you state your position on the topic, and then you state your reason for taking that position. Next, you provide an example or story that supports your reason. Finally, you summarize by restating your position

  • The second structure is called PEP: Point, Example, Point (PEP). It’s easier than the first one and can be used to answer a wider variety of questions. In this one you start by briefly making a point or stating a key idea or objective. Then you give an example or story that proves your point. Then you wrap up by restating the main idea, or your main point. When you are short on time, this is the way to go. 

  • The final structure calls for you to quickly think of a way to divide up your response. I call this one divide and conquer. There are a few classic two and three part divisions that you’ll want to memorize such as: past, present, future; problem, solution; cost, benefit; us, them; ideal, real; low, medium, high. Of course, there are many of these, so try to practice the ones that are common to your field. These are easy, you just pick an appropriate division and then include a little bit for each section.    


I think the best way to learn how to organize on the fly and respond with confidence is to practice. I always tell my clients to start with easy questions such as, “Where do you like to vacation?”

So if I were to use the PEP structure, I might say something like this.

I like to relax and enjoy warm, sunny, tropical beaches for my vacations. For example, I’ll be heading to an all-inclusive resort in Panama this year. We’ll be able to scuba dive, swim, kayak and just chill on the beach and my mother-in-law, who happens to live only 25 minutes from the resort, will takes care of my girls.

However, if I were to use the divide and conquer structure, I might say something like this.

Before I had my twin daughters I spent vacations in warm, tropical beaches like Belize and Grand Caymen. However, for the past five years my only vacation was a few short hours of quiet when someone else was watching my girls. However, in a few short weeks, we’ll be vacationing in Panama relaxing by the ocean and the second largest man-made pool in the world. I can’t wait!

If you practice the all of these techniques when the questions are easy and you’re not under pressure, you can learn the structures quickly. Then, when you are put on the spot, you can easily relax, listen, organize, and respond.

Whether you are attending a meeting, interviewing for a job, presenting a proposal, selling an idea, or handling a question and answer session, being able to talk clearly and concisely talk about your work -- at a moment’s notice -- is a critical professional skill.

This is Lisa B. Marshall. Passionate about communication; your success is my business.

There’s bonus material this week. I created an audio clip of me answering the question, using the organizing structures I talked about in this episode. Find the link in the resources section below.

For this additional material, please join the The Public Speaker Facebook Page. If you’d like to connect with me, feel free to join my networks on (LinkedIn and Twitter) or join my newsletter.

If you have a question, send email to publicspeaker@quickanddirtytips.com. For information about keynote speeches or workshops, visit lisabmarshall.com.


Short video for learning slow deep breathing

Article on The Heath on Benefits of Yoga

Lisa delivering a live presentation on Impromptu Communication

Sticky Q&A Situations: Ramblers, Stage hogs, and Curmugeons (Lisa Live in NYC)

Do You Dread the Q&A (Lisa Live in NYC)

People Talking image courtesy of Shutterstock


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.