How to answer a question if you can’t answer it

The introductory speakers think “I don’t know” is a good way to begin, but not to finish. Publicans will ask great questions and it is important to get rid of yourself.


It is critical that the audience is not caught flatfooted.

I used to work in Hallmark, renowned for excellent customer service— as well as greeting cards and cute holiday films (even if formulaic).

All workers have been introduced and qualified in customer service. An important lesson was that it’s all right to say, “I know not,” but it’s not all right. That’s all right. Schedule a response to follow-up.

You may be unnerving before an audience, but if someone asks you a question and you don’t know the answer, it might be very scary. There’s no need to be.

Use these tips when you are caught off guard to answer correctly:

1. Don’t make it fake.

If you are asked by an audience member something for which you don’t have an answer prepared, the situation can be full of pressure. Members of the audience look at you, expect the reply — and “I don’t know,” it seems like it won’t be enough. It can be tempting to make up for that moment or to please the public. A little white lie might appear to be a good answer.

Evidence has shown that most people can tell if someone lies, so faking an answer is not a good choice— for something more than the obvious moral reason. Plus, you risk damaging your reputation beyond repair if you are caught in a fib. Don’t falsify it irrespective of how nervous you are.

2. Shame on reframing.

For 37 percent who acknowledged that they were lying, most said in a survey that they did “to shield themselves in some way— most of them to avoid shame or embarrassment, to prevent painful emotions and to avoid being judged.” Most people, who don’t know something, particularly when you are an expert on the front line, have feelings of shame or embarrassment with them.

We will work in order to be as ready for anything that happens. But it is unlogical to assume that during a presentation we will answer all the possible questions asked. We have to reframe the embarrassment that comes with not understanding because of this.

  • Find thankful that the audience is curious enough to ask a question, use one of these pivots to change the way you are humiliating.
  • Try curious about something you haven’t previously been talking about.
  • Try the complexity of continuing or extending your work.
  • Try to be inspired by the enthusiasm for your subject of your audience member.

Some of these words will help to alleviate this humiliation.

3. Honestly answer. Answer.

Prepared answers will shield you from lying or the uncertainty of not knowing. The important thing is to ensure that your audience feels listened to and your reaction is not reject or incomplete. Try one:

“Sadly, this project goes beyond my research, but thank you for your interest.”

“I’ll definitely let you know, if we’ll have to do something with it in the future.”

 “Can I connect you to someone who can better answer your question?

“I don’t know, but I’d be glad to take another look and react.”

“I don’t know, but after the presentation we should plan for a further discussion?

If you respond honestly and respectfully, the audience will always appreciate it, while “I don’t know” is the essence of your answers.

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