What if they ask me a question I don’t know how to answer?

How to respond to a question to which you don't know the answer - http://www.michellebarryfranco.comYou are in the home stretch of delivering a presentation you have spent the last many weeks preparing. The thrill of “game day” is in full play and you are soaking up the glory of a no-hitch, engaging experience for your audience (and you!).

Then you remember: the Q & A is coming up.

Your heart beats faster again and the anxiety rises. “What if they ask me a question I don’t know how to answer?,” and you lose yourself in your anxious thoughts.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

In fact, you can make your Q & A one of the highlight experiences of your presentation – no matter what they ask you.

Your Q & A session in your presentation is a beautiful opportunity to increase trust, deepen your connection and show just how confident you are in your expertise.

Yes – even if you do not know the answer to a question you are asked.

In fact, I have come to find that these questions to which I don’t know the answer spark some of the coolest, most audience-engaging conversations of all.

Here’s why:

  • People love authenticity, honesty and respect. When a speaker takes off her “I’m the expert” hat and easily moves into “hmmm… I wonder what we could learn here together” mode, the audience is often endeared and intrigued. Your confidence in your ability to explore the topic real-time is better than any “guessing” answer you might dig up in the moment. You also show respect for the importance of high-quality, accurate information and a desire to make sure that is what they get in your presentation.
  • People love to share what they know. When you draw on the experience in the crowd to explore the question and search for an answer, you give others the opportunity to shine. Being willing to let others share their expertise shows your commitment to the best learning for everyone. It is also indicative of your own confidence.
  • Trust is the essential element of every presentation. Your audience is looking for evidence that they can trust you all the time. This is about both expertise credibility and character credibility. When you answer each question honestly, including saying “I don’t know the answer”, you deepen that trust. They now know that you won’t try to “B.S.” your way through answers to save your ego. This allows your audience to set aside any uncertainties about the accuracy of your information, leaving them open to even more learning and growth.

Being willing to say, “I don’t know” in appropriate ways shows that you care about your audience and the information you share with them. It shows that you put them and their needs before your ego’s desire to be “perfect.”

All of that said, there are ways to frame your response to make the most of the situation.

As a baseline, here’s my advice about all questions you are asked during a presentation: Be completely honest, stay connected and be as helpful as possible.

This means you really never just say, “I don’t know.” That would be honest, but it’s not that helpful and it doesn’t do much to keep the connection.

Instead, depending on what is true, start with something like:

“Great question… ”

“Hmmm, interesting question…”

“Well – that’s the first time I’ve heard that question… I love it!”

All of these phrases affirm the person asking the question. This is important because, if you think about it, they just took a significant risk themselves. Asking a question is a sort of “public speaking” of its own. As the presenter, you are the steward of the experience for that room full of people. This kind of affirmation helps everyone feel safe joining in on the discussion.

What you say next depends on a couple of things, such as:

Is the question within the scope of the presentation?

It’s not uncommon to get questions that are outside the scope of your topic. If the question falls outside of the agreed upon goals for your current presentation, it is not only appropriate but really your responsibility to keep the conversation focused. You’ve got a whole room full of people who are counting on you to do that. In this case, you might say: “Well, that’s an interesting question. I’m not the expert in that – it falls outside of our topic area – but I know that someone in here can help you find out who can answer that for you.” Then you ask the audience for suggestions.

Of course, this only works if your audience is likely able to help. If that is not the case, you might say something more like, “Interesting question. It falls outside of our topic today, but I know I’ve run across information about that [state where you saw that information]. I bet if you went there you would have no trouble finding it.”

If the question does fall within your area of expertise but you just don’t have the answer, you might choose to say something like, “What a great question! I’ve never had that one come up. I don’t know the answer off-hand, but I do know where I can find the the answer. Will you send me a quick email when you leave here today so I have a way to get back to you with the answer by early next week?”

Are there other experts in the room who might know the answer to the question?

I can’t say this enough: your willingness to do whatever it takes to get the very best information to your audience is the most valuable approach you can take as a speaker. Sometimes this will mean turning the spotlight onto another person in the room with similar expertise to yours and inviting them to share their wisdom with the audience. Assuming you have given the audience a high-quality, content rich presentation experience full of your expertise so far, this choice to point them to the best source for the answer to their question serves to actually increase your credibility.

I had this happen with me at a recent meeting. One of my colleagues who is an executive coach – an experienced speaker in her own right – was facilitating a presentation on Executive Presence for a group of professionals. I was in the audience. When the Q & A conversation turned to presentation skills, she shared her initial thoughts with the group then turned to me and asked me to add my thoughts to the conversation. Afterward, one of my clients who was in the room remarked to me how nice it was to have two experts share their ideas in that section of the presentation.

Does the answer to their question really matter in the whole scheme of things?

This one could be misunderstood so let me be clear: this isn’t about deciding whether a person’s question is a dumb question. It’s about helping your audience walk away with what they really need to be more successful around whatever they came to you to learn.

If you get a question to which you don’t know the answer and it is clear to you that knowing the answer to that question really won’t help make life better for your audience anyway, it is best to gracefully shift the conversation. This could be a sign that something from earlier in your presentation caused confusion, so it’s a good time to reiterate some important points.

You might say, “Oh I see where you’re coming from with that question. I think I may have moved through that section too quickly. Let me reiterate the parts you really need to know… “ Or whatever is true for how you can make the important elements clear to the audience.

It’s all about trust.

Your confident, clear response to a question you don’t know the answer to can make or break the trust and connection that you’ve created with the audience. If you stumble around with a half-answer or give an answer that you aren’t sure is accurate, your audience will feel this shift in energy. Things like our micro-expressions (very quick facial expressions that give away what we really think before we even have a chance to mask them) and voice fluctuation and pitch shift when we are uncertain. That last thing you want, after delivering such a great presentation full of excellent content, is for your audience to think: “Uh-oh. What just happened there?” or “Huh… I know that’s not quite true. I wonder why she’s saying that.” This can leave them lacking trust in everything you’ve shared. This is the last thing you want.

So, embrace the Q & A as the extraordinary opportunity that it is to build connection and trust – and to offer the most customized experience possible for your audience. Release any fear of losing credibility by not knowing the answer to a question and instead, invite the gift of being able to help your audience get exactly the information they need to resolve whatever drew them to your presentation, wherever that accurate information can be found. This makes you not just an expert on your topic, but a trusted adviser overall, which goes much further than one successful presentation.


How to Feel More Confident in Two Minutes Flat

Woman with arms upPeople often ask me if I still get nervous before I speak, even after over twenty years as a speaker and college teacher.

The answer: Heck yea, I do!

I have always had speaking anxiety. In fact, I get anxious in most new social situations period. I’m an introvert, after all, and many of us feel this way. (By the way, I know extroverts who feel this way, too.) And this hasn’t in any way hampered my success as a speaker, trainer or teacher. In fact, I would argue that it has enhanced my presentation skills. But only because I learned how to manage and harness the energy behind that anxiety.

The anxiety has evolved over the years. I have developed a sort of ritual that helps me shift that extra energy in my body into fuel for a high-energy, engaging presentation. After hundreds of progressively more successful presentations, I have a great deal of confidence in my speaking. The cool thing about this (aside from easing the discomfort of too much anxiety), is that this kind of confidence leads to even better presentations.

I’d love to offer you more confidence, too – even if you don’t have twenty years of standing in front of audiences behind you. Good news – I can! (hooray!)

I’m going to keep these tips simple because I want you to use them. I don’t want you to get overwhelmed by too much detail or explanation because they really are this simple. (I’ll give you references at the end of this article so you can learn more about why they work.)

Just do these few things in your next talk (or really any social situation) and you will feel what I mean. Your body will relax and your energy will shift into peaceful power mode. You will be clearer and more ready for action. You will feel more confident. (There is research to back this up, by the way. But your body will show you real time most powerfully of all.)

Here are your simple immediate confidence-building tips:

  1. Prep with a Power Pose. Before your next talk (or potential client meeting or interview), take yourself somewhere where you will have privacy for two minutes. Then, stand with your legs at least 8 inches apart and put your arms above your head in the biggest “V” you can create. Basically, make yourself as large as possible with your body. Back straight, head and neck long and chin forward just a bit. Add a smile to your face. Stand like that for two minutes. Then, drop your hands and head out the door. Congratulations, you just literally changed the chemistry in your body closer to that of a high-powered, confident leader.
  2. Stop, Look & Smile. As you walk to the front of the room for your next talk, stop for a full 10-15 seconds and make eye contact with people in every section of the room. You don’t have to be intense about it – just eye contact for a 2-3 seconds each person with a small smile. After this confident, highly engaged connection, say a simple “Hello” to your audience. Then launch into your talk. Research shows that eye contact increases others’ perception of your confidence. My own experience has shown me that this small, simple ritual results in warm smiles and stronger attention from my audience, which always increases my confidence as I begin speaking.
  3. Take Belly Breaths. I know – if you read my blog at all, you’ve heard me talk about this over and over again. But that’s only because this is the most magical immediate strategy ever for dealing with all kinds of anxiety and stuckness. And the thing is, when we minimize our anxiety, we increase our confidence. So, take a deep belly breath before you stand to walk to the front of the room and one along the way. You don’t have to be dramatic about it. Just breath in through your nose, take that breath past your chest (this takes training for many of us who are chest breathers) and lead it all the way into your belly. Make your belly distend a bit as you take that breath in. Then, let it all out slowly through your nose. Toss a tiny smile onto the edges of your mouth as you exhale. (Smiling has its own stress-reducing magic – which is why I add it on to each of these items. More on that in a future article.)

I use every single one of these strategies to some degree every single time I speak. I walk all of my speaking clients through them as well. Now you have them! I know they will serve you beautifully as you get out there and share your brilliance in front of audiences wherever you are. Let me know how it goes!

(If you’d like to see the very cool research on power poses, go here to see Amy Cuddy’s excellent TED talk and here to read her research study.)

Interview with Andrea Owen: 52 Ways to Live a Kick Ass Life

52ways_bookcoverOnce upon a time, my life was decidedly not kick-ass. (In fact, does yesterday count? Tee hee – I (mostly) jest.)

I had no idea how much what Andrea Owen said to me when she was my coach two years ago would actually lead to my own imperfect but really cool version of a kick-ass life.

Things like, “What if you are absolutely perfect exactly as you are?” (Which at the time I thought was ridiculous.)

And other things like, “What if there is not one single thing you need to change about yourself?” (Clearly she didn’t know just how wrong these things about me were.)

It took me a bit to actually getting it that the straightest path to kick-ass life was actually radical acceptance of exactly who I am. That process began directly from my work with Andrea. I love that I got to share that story with her in our intervew.

You’re going to really enjoy this recording of our call. We do spend some time talking about what it takes to live a kick-ass life (quite a bit about taming the gremlins here) AND we get into some nitty gritty goodness about writing and publishing a book.

She gives some cool insider tips as well about what publishers are looking for when they seek out new authors. (Here’s where you can order yourself a copy of the book – click here.)

Also, you can see what happens when I try to get fancy with technology and fail – twice. (It’s not too painful. And I resolve the whole thing below.)

Here’s the recording below, to play straight from your computer or mobile. If you’d like to download it for your next driving, running, walking or house-cleaning adventure, click here then enter conference code 343322. (The service assures me that they do not use your access information for anything other than reporting to me the login.) Enjoy!

Loading the player …


And in case you are wondering what the %$&& I kept trying to play during our call, here it is:

Did you dance? C’mon – tell the truth.

Since our call, I’ve been thinking a lot about the real ways to live a kick ass life. The ones that actually work for me. Things like radical self-acceptance and commitment to things, even when they get hard. Those are things that make my life more kick ass. I’d love to know – what practices make your life kick ass? Please share so we can all learn from each other.


Lack of Clarity Is an Excuse

The essence of this video message (without giving away the punchline – that would be no fun!):

I’m telling it to you straight today:

Lack of clarity is an excuse.

Please note: I get paid to help you get clarity! I’m not kidding around here by telling you this.

And YET, you don’t need me and these processes to start doing big things today.

Because you are already way clearer than you realize.

So, if lack of clarity isn’t the issue… then, what is?

Well, it would ruin it if I gave it all away here in the text. Click play on the video, watch at least the second half.

Heed its wisdom!

And get out there and do awesome things right now, will you?

Start today, with one thing that you’ve been holding back on because you “aren’t clear enough.”

Proclaim the action you will take from exactly the clarity you have right this minute (especially after the big insight in the video) in the comments below.

This will be an act of courage for you today.

Can’t wait to hear what you are ready to no longer be “not clear enough” about!

How to Feel Deep Confidence – Session One

IMG_07741I spent a good part of last week in a room full of brilliant, heart-full business owners. These women (and a few soulful men) would do their beautiful work for free and still end the day beaming with happiness. They don’t, of course, because we all know that working for free is no way to make a sustainable difference in the world. But the point is, their hearts are in it that much.

Here’s what struck me over and over again at this meeting, which is what I see so much of in my work everywhere. In spite of incredible, undeniable:

  • brilliance
  • passion
  • experience
  • skills
  • talent
  • courage…

The confidence required to step fully and powerfully into our great work often eludes us.

In quiet moments – or in moments of deep connection with our clients – we know so powerfully in our souls that the work we are doing changes lives and is wildly important.

But out there in the big, wide world, we forget this meaningful difference we make. We get caught in comparing our insides to other people’s outsides (a concept I’ve heard multiple places and absolutely love), thinking that our internal questions and our completely human uncertainties translate into some kind of important lacking and as a result, we question our powerful work.

This is dangerous for our great work in the world.

Our steady and grounded confidence is essential to calling forth those who need us – and making our biggest impact in their lives.

I already know that you are tremendously important in the lives of your current and future clients. They need you to show up in your grandest strength.

You need the confidence to do that, no matter what.

So, I’m starting this confidence series. In it, I will cover the many different tools and strategies (mindset and active workshop exercises) that I use myself and with clients to build unwavering and powerful confidence.

Today is Session One of the How to Feel Deep Confidence Series, and here is your exercise (it’s one of my favorites):

  • Get a big sheet of paper, some bold markers, colorful post-it notes and tape. (I’m going to be saying this to you often – get a good supply of these)
  • Slap that paper on the wall and write out this heading, all fancy-like (or just big, if you prefer) – Super Happy Clients (or pick your own fun heading).
  • Spend a moment thinking of the clients you have most loved working with, who were absolutely thrilled with your work together.
  • One per sticky note, write each clients name and underneath their name, write a couple of words that represent what delighted them about your work together. Just jot anything that will help jog your own memory. Use black sharpie so you can see this easily from across the room.
  • Place those sticky notes on that large sheet of paper on the wall, lined up so you can see each one clearly.


Now hang that paper with all of those super happy clients somewhere you can see it while you work.

Next time you start to lose sight of the importance of your beautiful work, glance up at that Super Happy Clients sheet.

Those are real lives right there, happy and more peaceful (or inspired or healthy or whatever they feel) because of YOU.

Then get to work doing more of that for more people! They are waiting for you.

(Let’s recognize that lasting confidence comes not just from what others say about your work but also from your own internal connection with your soul’s calling and your great work. Don’t worry – we’ll talk plenty about those, too, in future sessions here.)

Really – go do this, okay? I’m glancing joyfully at my own Happy Clients poster right now – and feeling gigantic confidence in my ability to make a huge difference in real lives, so I can testify in this moment that this exercise works! Will you let me know how it goes? If you have questions or ideas to make this even better, post them in the comments. Let’s make this confidence-building work a gorgeous collaborative project!