I gave a speech today for Toastmasters entitled "Quick Thinking". The speech completed another requirement in the "Humorously Speaking" manual, and asked that I started and ended the story with an amusing story. I was impressed on how it came out considering I realized I had to write and give a speech only an hour and half before the meeting.
The speech itself can be found after the break. Please forgive any spelling/grammar mistakes, being a speech (which are typically delivered orally), I decided not to fret over any of that with the time crunch.
An officer was being questioned by a defense attorney and the attorney wanted to press the officer when he said he trusted his fellow police officers with his life. The attorney asked the policeman on the stand “Is there a place where the police change into and out of uniform every day?”. To which, the policeman said that there was. The attorney then asked “And do you have a locker in that place?”. The policeman said he did. The attorney then asked “And do you have a lock on your locker to secure your stuff?”. The policeman said he did. Finally, the attorney then asked “Well, if you trust these men with your life, how come you need to lock your possessions during the day?”. Thinking quickly, the cop replied “because we share our building with the court complex and sometimes lawyers are known to walk through that room.”
Bobby Unser, a famous NASCAR racer, once said “Success is where preparation and opportunity meet.” While that is sage words to live by, you don’t always have an opportunity to prepare. Like when that officer was being grilled, things can come up that you didn’t originally expect. And when you can’t prepare, quick-thinking can help fill that gap in a pinch.
Quick thinking, as I define it, is any successful action taken towards a situation you could not or did not plan for. Are your sales clients irate about something that you couldn’t have forseen? A little quick thinking can help find a solution and smooth things over. Are you about to rear-end someone who slammed on their brakes in front of you? If you were alert and thinking quickly, you could have moved onto the shoulder instead of slamming on the brakes. A Toastmasters speech catch you off guard, and you’re scrambling to prepare one prior to the meeting? If you’re thinking quickly, you can come up with some relevant self-referential topic.
So how can you improve this skill? First, keep your mind sharp. This means make sure you get enough sleep and that you’re free of unrelated stress and distractions. It’s tough to think of anything at all when you’ve been up for 24 hours straight, and if you’re mind’s elsewhere it won’t be focusing on the situation that just arose. If you’re mind is sharp, then it will do its best thinking.
Additionally, practice, practice, practice. It’s kind of ironic that the answer to unpreparedness is preparation, but that’s exactly the idea: preparing for the unprepared. The more you think on your feet, the better you get in doing so. I recommend trying to do brain teasers, crossword puzzles, Sudoku as quickly as possible. Strategy games such as chess also require you to think quickly to adapt to the current situation. The more practice you get, the better you’ll be when you need to think quickly.
I do want to emphasize, while this skill is versatile and can help in a pinch in any number of situations, there is no substitute for being prepared. Therefore, I’m not recommending you live your life only getting by on your quick thinking, but I do recommend developing this skill and it can come in quite handy for those times where life gets in the way. I’ll close my speech with another anecdote that highlights the benefits of quick-thinking:
One time when I was much younger, my family took a trip to Maine. Like all families do a few times a day, we needed to eat because we were hungry. We stopped in at a local diner and were ordering food. Now, I have two sisters, Amy and Sarah, who were sitting at their own table. Sarah, being quite unladylike, broke wind rather loudly… to the point that everyone in the room heard it and stopped what they were doing to understand what it was that just happened. My family of course realized it immediately, and my Mom shouted “Sarah!”, followed shortly by my father shouting “Sarah!”. At which point, Sarah slapped Amy on the arm and shouted “Sarah!”. At this point, Amy nearly cried as everyone in the diner looked at her, believing SHE was the one who committed the faux pa. Sarah’s quick thinking had gotten her out of an embarrassing situation, much to the chagrin of my sister Amy.