A client was struggling with how to manage her stress level during the Q&A period after a presentation when she doesn't have an immediate answer. The simple solution might be to say, "I don't know." But it's not that simple.

Sometimes she does know the answer but can't come up with it, because the pressure of the situation limits her ability to think and speak.

When we have to perform on demand, we tend to judge our ability to measure up. We become tense and forget we have the option to stop, center ourselves, and wait for the answer to arise.

What Do You Want to Say?
My own struggle with this question occurs every day. Coaching, teaching, and presenting, how many times do I ask myself: What do I want to say? Finding the answer requires presence.

For me, the gift of presence comes from a memory of a teenage confrontation with my dad. My aunt was there, too, and seeing me nervous and tongue-tied, she said, "Go ahead, Judy, talk to your father. What do you want to say?"

With her support, I was able to center myself, and find my voice. Now, when I feel stuck, I hear her voice: "Go ahead, Judy, what do you want to say?" And I find a freedom not dependent on outer circumstances.

Sometimes I have the answer. Sometimes I don't. When I'm centered, I feel okay either way.

Ways to Say, "I Don't Know"
Nonetheless, I have developed a few phrases for when I feel stuck. Depending on the circumstances, you might add one or more of the following to your repertoire:

  • That's a great question, and I don't know the answer. However, I'd be happy to get back to you. Is later today a good time? (Then make and keep a commitment to obtain the answer).
  • I appreciate the question, and I have a partial answer (which you then give). I can do some research and call you later on the rest.
  • I'm not prepared for that question, because I thought the focus of the meeting was ____________. However, I did bring information regarding ______________, which I'd be happy to elaborate on.
  • (If you are part of a group that is working together) I don't know, but perhaps someone else in the group could speak to this question (then open it up to the rest of the group).

Be Prepared
There's no substitute for preparation. Due diligence and contingency planning for what might be asked of you will add poise, confidence and resilience to your presentation.

For the unplanned, remember inner self-defense: Breathe, center, and ask yourself: What do I want to say? Ask it in an attitude of self-confidence and curiosity. Give yourself the time to ask and the right to not know. It's funny, but often the perfect answer arises.

Author's Bio: 

Judy Ringer is the author of Unlikely Teachers: Finding the Hidden Gifts in Daily Conflict (www.unlikelyteachersbook.com) and the award-winning e-zine, Ki Moments, containing stories and practices on turning life's challenges into life teachers. Judy is a black belt in aikido and nationally known presenter, specializing in unique workshops on conflict, communication, and creating a positive work environment. She is the founder of Power & Presence Training and chief instructor of Portsmouth Aikido, Portsmouth, NH, USA. To sign up for more free tips and articles like these, visit www.JudyRinger.com