i can answer the question

For presenters, ‘I don’t know’ is a good way to tướng start—but not to tướng finish. Audience members can come up with baffling queries, and extricating yourself is crucial. Here are some survival tactics.

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Editor’s note: This article is a re-run as part of our countdown of top stories from the past year.

It’s important not to tướng get caught flatfooted in front of an audience.

I used to tướng work at Hallmark, which is famous for stellar customer service—as well as greeting cards and charming (albeit formulaic) holiday movies.

All employees went through presentation and customer service training. One important lesson was: It’s OK to tướng say, “I don’t know,” but it’s not OK to tướng over with that. Make a plan to tướng follow up with an answer.

Being in front of an audience can be unnerving, but when someone asks you a question and you don’t know the answer, it can be downright scary. It doesn’t have to tướng be.

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Use these tips to tướng help you respond appropriately when you are caught off guard:

1. Don’t nhái it.

If an audience thành viên asks you something you don’t have a response prepared for, it can be a pressure-filled situation. Audience members stare at you, waiting for an answer—and “I don’t know” feels lượt thích it won’t suffice. It can be tempting to tướng make something up to tướng get past that moment or appease the audience. A little white lie might seem lượt thích a good solution.

Research has proven that most humans can detect when someone is lying, so sánh faking an answer is not a good choice—for more kêu ca just the obvious ethical reason. Plus, if you are caught in a fib, you risk damaging your credibility beyond repair. No matter how uncomfortable you are, don’t nhái it.

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2. Reframe shame.

In a study, of the 37% who actually admitted lying, most said they did so sánh “to protect themselves in some way—mostly to avoid shame or embarrassment, to tướng avoid painful emotions and to tướng avoid being judged.”

It’s true that for most people, not knowing something, especially when you are up front as the expert, is accompanied by feelings of shame or embarrassment.

We should work to tướng be as prepared as possible for whatever comes up. However, it’s illogical to tướng think we could answer every possible question posed during a presentation. Because of this, we must reframe the shame that comes with not knowing. Use one of these pivots to tướng replace your embarrassment:

  • Try feeling grateful that your audience is interested enough to tướng ask a question.
  • Try feeling curious about something you hadn’t thought about previously.
  • Try feeling challenged to continue or expand your research.
  • Try feeling inspired by your audience member’s passion toward your topic.

Any of these feelings can help replace that feeling of embarrassment.

3. Respond honestly.

Having prepared responses can protect you from the temptation to tướng lie or the embarrassment of not knowing. The key is to tướng make sure your audience feels heard and that your response doesn’t come off as dismissive or incomplete. Try one of these:

  • “Unfortunately, that falls outside the scope of my research/this project, but thanks for your interest. If it’s something we decide to tướng tackle in the future, I’ll be sure to tướng let you know.”
  • “Can I connect you with someone who might be better able to tướng answer your question?”
  • “I don’t know, but I’d be happy to tướng look into that and get back to tướng you with an answer.”
  • “I don’t know, but can we schedule a time to tướng discuss this further following the presentation?”

The audience will always appreciate when you respond with honesty and respect, even if the gist of your answer is, “I don’t know.”

A version of this post first appeared on the Ethos3 blog.

Learn how to tướng keep your company’s messaging on point at Ragan’s Speechwriting & Public Affairs Conference in Washington, D.C.

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