Whenever you admit to your audience you “Do Not Know” the answer to a question, you diminish trust, credibility and ultimately your integrity as a trainer.
In this blog you will learn how to avoid saying, “I don’t know” in the first place…even if you really don’t know the answer!
About 5 years ago, I witnessed a conversation between two trainers I simply have to share with you. This story will benefit you as you consider how to keep your credibility intact by avoiding the phrase, “I don’t know” when speaking to or instructing a group of people.
A young instructor named Clark was in a classroom (this time as a student) learning from an old pro. He watched the older instructor (I’ll name him Joe), and marveled at how much content and information Joe seemed to know.
What’s more, he wondered how Joe did it… How had he retained so much knowledge he never flinched when a question was asked?
One day, after class, Clark decided to ask him. “Joe,” he said, “How do you always seem to know the answer to every question? It’s almost as if you know what question will be asked before it has even been asked!”
“I do,” Joe replied. The young instructor was stunned. How could he possibly know?
Joe continued, “I get the audience to ask me only the questions I want them to ask.” Still not getting it, the young teacher continued, “But how? Are you psychic?”
Joe laughed and said, “Not at all… What I do is tell them what I want them to ask me.”
The young instructor listened with fascination as Joe proceeded to explain how he did it. “You see,” he continued, “the most difficult part is getting your students to ask a question to begin with.
Most instructors will ask, ‘Does anyone have any questions?’ That simply doesn’t work.”
“Why not?” Clark quickly inquired. “What are the two possible answers to a question asked that way?” Joe asked.
Clark shrugged his shoulders and said, “I guess…Yes and No.”
“Precisely,” Joe replied. “And, it implies a person needing to ask a question must be foolish.”
Joe could tell Clark was starting to understand, so he continued. “Since most students don’t want to appear foolish, they simply won’t ask at all or worse, they’ll WAIT… until a time when everyone in the room LEAST EXPECTS it…including the INSTRUCTOR!”
“Ah!” Clark started to realize what direction Joe was heading, and let him continue. “When the student asks a question at this unexpected time, they almost always ask a question that is out of scope.”
“Out of scope?” Clark questioned. “Yes, out of scope…you know – a question which isn’t really part of the present topic and you haven’t prepared an answer for; one you really shouldn’t even be expected to know.”
“YES!” Clark exclaimed, “That’s EXACTLY what happens to me…I get people asking me out of scope questions all the time and I never know how to answer them. I mean, should I LIE and say I know the answer by making something up? Sometimes I find myself doing that. Other times, I find myself saying ‘I don’t know,’ and then looking like an idiot.”
“Exactly” Joe replied, “and as soon as you do that, you lose some of your credibility with your audience. It’s awfully tough to get them back.”
“So, what do you do?” Clark asked.
“You ask them to ask you about the topic at hand…the topic you prepared…the topic you intended to teach.” Joe replied.
“Here’s how… Instead of saying, ‘Do you have any questions?’ say, ‘What questions do you have?’ When you do this it assumes there must be questions and it does not imply the asker isn’t smart.”
“That’s it?” asked Clark.
“Almost,” replied Joe. “When you do this, you WILL get more questions, but many of them may still be out of scope. What you need to do is lead them to ask about the topic YOU WANT THEM TO ASK ABOUT – the thing you just taught and have prepared for. For example, if you just taught your class about balloons, then you would ask ‘What questions do you have about balloons?'”
“That works?” Clark asked. “Almost every time,” Joe replied.
This conversation just scratches the surface of the art of asking and answering questions. There are many more techniques that can allow you to use questions to benefit your audience or class as well as improve your image as an instructor or trainer.
To get them all, you can start by taking a free tour of my Rule the Room Boomerang program. It will model for you some of the most elite training, teaching, and presenting techniques in the world…