Q&A: what is your best approach to overcoming questions that you can’t answer?

In a recent webinar James H. asked an astute question…

What is your best approach to overcoming questions that you can’t answer?

James, you didn’t indicate whether or not you have all audio lines open, so let me address this three ways.

If you have all audio lines open (such as in a smaller event), you’ll need to handle these much like you would in person.

1.  Confess you don’t know it.  Don’t bluff.  I generally think people can tell if you’re bluffing, and you’ll miss a real opportunity to…
2.  Earn trust and goodwill by offering to help them get the answer.

Nobody knows everything, but people respect honesty and helpfulness.  Get their contact information if you’re not sure if you have it already (private chat works nicely!), and outshine the competition by showing a little love.

If you do not have all audio lines open (and the question came through the question manager), you’ve got a couple options.

1.  Address the person by first name and let them know you saw their question.  Make the same commitment as above.
2.  Skip it.  Generally people understand if you don’t get to all questions during an event.  Imagine an in-person seminar when thirty hands go up and you’ve only got time for four questions…same kind of thing here.

A thought on this second point:  if you have a larger event, be sure to let the audience know you won’t be able to get to all questions and that you’ll do your best.  Remember they may not be able to “look around the virtual room” to realize they’re in a large crowd.

Best:  tell them that you’ll make sure to get to all questions in a follow up.  Worst:  telling them you’ll follow up if you don’t.

Finally, repeat yourself.  Don’t assume people hear your instructions when you say them.  Example of a happy ending:  I recently had someone email me saying they’d asked a question during an event and I didn’t answer it (I got the sense that she was a little perturbed by that).  Never mind that there were 700 people on that event, and I DID mention more than once that it was a big event and I wouldn’t be able to get to everyone.  The good news is that she respond to my invitation to follow up after the fact with an email, and all’s well that ends well.

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