Harvey Mackay Academy's Blog

During Navy maneuvers, the captain was pushing his destroyer to the limit when a sailor came to the bridge with a message from the admiral.

“Read it aloud,” beamed the captain.

He read: “Of all the blundering idiots. You nearly rammed the flagship.”

The captain pursed his lips and snapped, “Very well sailor, go below and have it decoded.”

The presence of mind is absolutely crucial, not just in business, but in all aspects of life. It is that quick-wittedness, the ability to think on your feet, that can make all the difference in how you handle unexpected situations, respond to questions or make decisions under pressure.

Having a clear and present mind allows you to weigh options more effectively and make informed decisions quickly. Whether you are networking, selling or simply engaging in casual talk, being mentally present helps you to listen actively and respond thoughtfully.

When the unexpected happens, the presence of mind can help you stay calm and take actions that could be crucial to the outcome. Sometimes opportunities come disguised as sudden challenges. If you are mentally present, you are more likely to recognize and seize these opportunities.

Here are some tips on how to develop presence of mind:

• Stay prepared. Like the Boy Scouts say, “Be prepared.” Anticipate what might come your way and have a working knowledge of the subject at hand.

• Be confident. I’ve learned that confidence is key. You can’t be overly concerned with what others might think of you. Trust in your knowledge and experience.

• Practice active listening. Pay attention to what is being said. This helps you respond appropriately and shows respect for the speaker.

• Seek clarification. If you don’t understand something, ask questions. This not only buys you time to think but ensures you are responding to what is actually being asked.

• Tell a story. I often use stories, sometimes with a touch of humor, to illustrate my points. This not only helps in engaging with the audience but also in making the message more memorable.

• Use pauses wisely. Don’t be afraid of silence. Use it to collect your thoughts and deliver a well-considered response. A brief pause can help in formulating a more coherent and impactful response.

• Stay calm. Take deep breaths and relax. A calm mind is more agile and able to think clearly.

Remember, presence of mind is not an innate talent but a skill that can be honed with practice and intention. It is about being in the moment, fully engaged and ready to handle whatever comes your way with grace and composure.

Perhaps the greatest stumbling block to being present is the impulsive need to get your two cent’s worth in, your desire to comment on the situation without all the relevant information. Resist the urge! You rarely win an argument or a negotiation if you speak too soon. You may consider yourself an expert on a given subject, but it is critical that you offer an opinion that reflects your respect for information that is being offered.

It is not about quick responses. It is about the right responses. It is about staying calm under pressure, being resourceful and using the knowledge and experience to navigate through the unexpected. You don’t ever want to have to backtrack on words spoken in haste when you can move forward with thoughts offered with respect to the other side of the conversation.

President Abraham Lincoln was a very sharp thinker as he proved when a persistent party member once approached him and demanded appointment to a judgeship as reward for some campaigning he had done in Illinois. The President, aware of the man’s lack of judicial attributes, told him it was impossible. “There simply are no vacancies at the present time.”

Early the next morning, the man was walking along the Potomac River when he saw a drowned man pulled from the river and immediately recognized him as a federal judge. Without a moment of hesitation, he went to President Lincoln and demanded an immediate appointment to the vacancy.

Lincoln shook his head and said, “I’m sorry but you are too late. I have already appointed the lawyer who saw him fall in.”

Mackay’s Moral: The ability to think on your feet can prevent you from falling on your face.

About the Author

Seven-time, New York Times best-selling author of "Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," with two books among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time, according to the New York Times. He is one of America’s most popular and entertaining business speakers, and currently serves as Chairman at the MackayMitchell Envelope Company, one of the nation’s major envelope manufacturers, producing 25 million envelopes a day.