You’ve prepped and you know your stuff when you walk into the meeting room… You’ve called up confidence and spoke up. Phew! You feel good about what you’ve said. But then the senior leader or the prospect responds with a question, and you don’t know all the answers. You freeze. These are the moments you fear.
(You feel blindsided and the inner panic begins. You should have prepared for that question! Will they think I’m an imposter? Is there even data on that?) How can you communicate with confidence, and sound like an authority? How can you showcase your leadership, and be that ‘trusted advisor’?
Here are 3 things you can do to communicate like a pro even when you don’t have all the answers…
1. Speak powerfully about what you DO know
You might be tempted to react ‘unpowerfully’ by saying “I don’t know” (and by criticizing yourself inside for not knowing). Instead, sort out what you DO know in the situation and what you DON”T know. Say with a sense of conviction and authority: “this is what I know” and “this is what I don’t know”. Share confidently what you know. Or state confidently why that information is not ‘know-able now’ and what actions you will do to fill in the blanks over time.
2. Describe the uncertainty with certainty
Say “Here are the 3 risks in the situation. Here are the 3 things we are uncertain about.” Or you could say, “here’s my educated guess and it’s based on this reasoning”. Then share your reasoning with the group. You could showcase your experience: “I think that there’s a 50/50 chance that X is going to happen/not happen, or that Y is that answer we’re looking for. I’m basing that conclusion on the following pieces of data: 1, 2, 3.”
3. Give an authentic response
If you don’t know the answer it’s better to be straightforward than to try to fake it and come across as nervous. Say “I don’t know, but I’ll find out for you” in a way that emphasizes the specific plan. It’s the plan they will remember, not your lack of knowledge. “I know the range but not the precise number, let me double check and email you after our lunchbreak.”
BONUS: What you can do before you ever walk into the room: Make it a practice to use language that is concrete and evidence-based. Develop a reputation as someone who always has concise information to support assertions. When you do this you train other people to trust you, even when you don’t have all the answers!