How to Say “I Don’t Know” (and still sound smart!)

How to Say “I Don’t Know” (and still sound smart!)

We all really want to sound smart… but we also all know the feeling of being asked a question that we don’t know the answer to. No one likes to have to say “I don’t know” when their boss asks them a question in a meeting or during a presentation. 

Watch this video and use the practice exercises below to help you give a confident answer to questions you don’t know the answer to!

Practice Exercises

Directions: Based on the complete phrases in the video, type the correct words in the boxes below to complete each phrase. The correct answer for each question will appear once you click “submit.”

1. That’s a great question. I’d love to ___________ and get back to you by the end of the day.
2. Let me __________ an answer for you.
3. I’m not _________. I want to make sure I give you the right answer.
4. Do you mind if I ________ and get back to you?

5. Picture yourself in a situation where you’re faced with not knowing the answer – in a meeting, doing a presentation, etc. – and practice using one of these phrases.

6. Read the following scenario:

Mehmet has been working on a presentation for the CEO of his company for 6 months. His presentation is intended to inform the CEO and the board as to how to allocate funding for his team’s project. At the end of his presentation, the CEO asks Mehmet what a specific competitor spends on employee health care. Mehmet stumbles through his papers for a few seconds, looking quite frazzled, as the CEO and board exchange worried glances. Eventually Mehmet says, “Uhhh. Um, well, sir, it looks like the uh. Well. Okay, here it is. No. Hmmmm let me see. Okay…” Mehmet then gives an answer with a fragile voice that even he is not confident in.

Now read an alternate scenario:

Mehmet has been working on a presentation for the CEO of his company for 6 months. His presentation is intended to inform the CEO and the board as to how to allocate funding for his team’s project. At the end of his presentation, the CEO asks Mehmet what a specific competitor spends on employee health care. Without pausing, Mehmet smiles confidently and looks the CEO in the eyes and says, “That’s a great question. I’d love to look into it and get back to you by the end of the day.” The CEO smiles and says that would be just fine.

Obviously it goes without saying, but the second scenario is the preferable scenario. Being prepared to say “I don’t know” without actually saying “I don’t know” and still appearing confident and smart is a very important skill, and one you might not have thought about outside of your native language.

     7. For extra practice, make a sentence using one or more of the vocabulary words below and share in the comments section. We will respond to let you know if you did it correctly or offer corrections:

Vocab Words: 

1. Frazzled - worn out, fatigued, shaky under pressure
“We could tell he didn’t prepare very well for that presentation. He looked a bit frazzled during the question and answer portion.”
2. Dumbfounded - to make speechless with amazement or surprise
“The CEO’s random and difficult question left the poor man giving the presentation standing dumbfounded for several seconds before he regained his composure.”
3. Anticipate - to expect beforehand, foresee
“Good presenters always anticipate the questions their audience will ask."
4. Envision - to picture mentally, especially future events
“The best presenters envision the impact their words will have on the audience and choose accordingly.”
5. Inquisitive - curious, given to asking questions
“The inquisitive chairman of the board always asks the most questions during presentations.”
6. Decisive - characterized by displaying little or no hesitation
“Even if you’re unsure of the answer, appearing decisive is usually best when answering questions during a presentation.”
7. Self-aware - having knowledge of one’s self that is helpful for relating to other people
“The self-aware man knew that he had a tendency to get angry when people questioned his knowledge in front of others. So he prepared a good response that would help him to stay calm when people asked questions during his presentation.”
8. Interpersonal skills - having a skill-set that allows for easy and effective communication (verbal and non-verbal) with others
“ I don’t think we should hire someone who has poor interpersonal skills.”
9. Self-assured - having a confidence in oneself, usually a healthy level
“The guy who gave the second presentation seemed more calm and self-assured than the first guy.”
10. Unflappable - not easily upset or shaken under pressure
“Despite all their difficult questions in the interview, the applicant remained unflappable.”

 

Ready to start using these words and phrases in your everyday English? Click here to download the flashcard deck and start speaking like a native English speaker today!

Shadowing Exercise:

Shadowing Exercise Transcript:

Let me try to get an answer for you.

That’s a great question. I’d love to look into it for you.

I’m not totally sure. I want to make sure I give you the right answer.

Do you mind if I do some research and get back to you?

Response / Challenge Question: 

Tell us about a time when you didn’t have the answer a superior needed and what you did. Write your answer in the comments below.