Could you handle the political hot seat?

Navigate tricky on-the-spot moments with these acting tips.

Who do you think is a good political speaker these days?

This is a difficult question because politicians are no longer simply seen and heard giving impassioned speeches, having been coached for weeks. Particularly in the lead-up to a national election, today’s tech savvy society and hungry media cycle puts pressure on politicians to deliver more than an inspired laundry list of policies. Politicians are expected to be ‘on’ all the time – whether they are stepping outside their house for a morning run or responding to hard-hitting questions on ABC’s 7:30 Report. We want to get to know them up close and personal, and we demand that they present with authority, authenticity and presence, whatever the context.

The media may not be following your every move, but it is just as important to be ‘on’, and communicate effectively in the workplace, especially when you are caught off-guard.

Learn to navigate these tricky situations well, and it can have a lasting effect on your career – clarity of thought, confidence, and an ability to respond in the moment with gravitas.

Take a look at a great example here of Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau owning a press conference about quantum computing, by expertly responding to a journalist’s sneaky question. His on-the-spot response not only garnered a round of applause, but has no doubt improved his approval ratings, and made journalists wary of future interactions.

What happens when we are put on the spot – whether it be in a room full of strangers, like Mr Trudeau, or face-to-face with a colleague? Many of us have been that person singled out in the meeting room full of people: placed in the hot seat, asked a question you don’t have the answer to… And you feel your throat close up a little bit.

At NIDA Corporate, we practise techniques to enhance your ability to be ‘on’ and in the moment with the use of improvisation techniques. For actors, that means working without the script and finding ways to maintain flow in a conversation. Observe the work of the actors on Whose Line Is It Anyway?, and take note of their ability to create characters, scenes and songs on the spot, in the style of short-form improvisation games.

Improvisation skills are integral to an actor’s training, but are also extremely useful when navigating everyday interactions.

To get you started, here are a few ideas to practise:

  1. Breathe, keep calm, and remain open-minded
  • Try not to get flustered when you are put on the spot, and don’t assume how the interaction will play out – you may be surprised by the outcome!
  • Concentrate on taking deep breaths to manage nerves and support your voice during the conversation.
  1. Actively watch and listen
  • Are you really listening to the person you are talking to, or are you worried about what you are going to say next?
  • Try to silence that voice in your head and listen to the words being said and watch the body language being used – how can you respond appropriately?
  • Pause and take a breath before you respond.
  1. Say ‘yes and..’ to continue expanding the conversation further
  • One word answers can shut down a conversation. Try saying “yes and…” to keep the conversation open and flowing. We refer to this improvisation technique as ‘accepting’. This form of collaboration is essential in moving the conversation forward and propelling it towards ideas and positive outcomes.

As with most skills, improvisation techniques like these can be learnt but do require consistent practice to truly master – so give them a go in your next meeting or conversation in the lift. Or, take a look at our Networking Skills: Working the Room or Persuasive Negotiation courses and learn other ways to improve your ability to engage in spontaneous conversation and improvise with confidence.

 Vanessa White
About this author:
 Vanessa White, Head of NIDA Corporate. 
Want to know more? Give her a call today on 1300 650 357 or connect with her on LinkedIn