Staying confident when you don’t have the answers

Let’s set the scene:

You’re in a client meeting, going over details for an upcoming campaign. You’ve run through all the pertinent information, answered a bunch of questions and you’re confident you’ve hit all the bases and are ready to get out of the meeting and move onto other things. But wait – your client has one more question to ask. You listen attentively and open your mouth to answer when the question is complete but – oh no! – you don’t actually know the answer! You begin to sweat and you’re at a loss. What do you do now?

Like those Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books I loved as a kid (and Neil Patrick Harris’ autobiography – genius approach btw!), there are a number of ways this could play out. Unfortunately, though, “I don’t know” and a quick escape is not an option and, regardless of how you proceed, confidence is key. Here are some tips and tricks on how to keep your confidence up on each adventure.

If you suddenly know the answer…
…Speak slowly to keep yourself calm.

It’s great that the answer just came to you, but remember to stay calm and steady. An answer is no good if no one can understand it. Take a breath, take a minute to think it through and then begin your answer.

If you think you know the answer, but need an extra minute…
…Ask to clarify or repeat the question.

Buy yourself an extra minute by asking your client to repeat their question. If they begin to clarify what exactly they’re looking to know, the explanation may trigger something in your memory to help you come to your answer.

If you don’t know the answer, but it’s something you should know…
…Say “I don’t have all of the information on hand to answer that, but I can get it for you by XX.”

This is my least favorite of the scenarios. It’s no fun to be caught even the least bit unprepared. But by admitting that you don’t have the information you should in front of you, you’re being honest, which is always appreciated. By offering a concrete deadline, you’re showing that you do take the question seriously and are already working on having the correct information ready for your client.

If the question is unrelated to the discussion…
…Say “I don’t know about that, but I can tell you…”

People go off-topic sometimes. That’s a given. The best way to steer the conversation or questions back to relevant items without being rude is to answer with information similar to what your client asked about, but related to the discussion.

If you don’t know, but you think someone on your team does…
…Say “I don’t have the answer to that, but I’m pretty sure XX does!”

It’s totally ok if you don’t have an answer, but someone else on your team does. That’s great actually! It means that you’re all working as a team, you’ve been able to appropriately delegate tasks to ensure that all tasks are completed and the best people for the job have been working on it. You may either put your client in touch with the right person or get the answer for them in a timely manner.

If you really don’t have the answer…
…Say “That’s a great question! I don’t have an answer at the moment, but I’ll find it!”

It’s unfortunate, but we can’t have all the answers all the time. Admit what you don’t know and Β reassure your client that you’re on it and will find an appropriate answer to satisfy them.

Remember, no matter what the situation is, remain calm, cool, collected and confident!


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