How to not look dumb when you get called on in a meeting you weren’t paying attention in

When your manager calls on you out of nowhere in a meeting— but you don’t know what’s going on— you probably want to sink into the floor. Here’s how to handle a moment like this.

When your manager calls on you out of nowhere in a meeting— but you don’t know what’s going on— you probably want to sink into the floor. Here’s how to handle a moment like this.

Do your homework

Bill McGowan, an author, journalist and founder and CEO of Clarity Media Group, tells Inc. about why this is important.

“You should never go into a meeting without planning what your response would be if the boss wheeled around, pointed at you and said ‘What’s your point of view on this?'” he says. “There’s no excuse for being at a loss. You should always be prepared to articulate what your point of view is.”

Don’t get tricked into saying something worthless

Paul Axtell, a speaker, author and corporate trainer, writes in the Harvard Business Review that when you get called on out of the blue in a meeting you should “decline if you have nothing to add of value,” after writing about his cinematic inspiration behind the general topic and more.

“If you’re called on and you truly feel you don’t have something helpful to contribute, it’s ok to pass, as long as you say it meaningfully. Skip the simple ‘I’m fine,’ which can easily be misinterpreted as lack of interest or preparation. Instead give some context and say something like ‘Thanks for asking. My thinking has already been expressed by others.’ or ‘Thanks for checking in with me. My group can live with what we’ve agreed upon,'” he writes.

Just be sure to say the right thing.

Talk about what you know

Adrean Turner, a Master Coach with The Muse, who is also a certified career coach, professional development trainer, speaker and business consultant and owner of Turner Coaching Training and Consulting, Llc, tells The Muse about how to do this when you have to verbally respond to something out of the blue at work.

“People usually talk about the things that are of interest to them (professionally or personally), or information most relevant to the organization. Use your knowledge to generate questions that demonstrate your involvement in the conversation. Engaging others by asking questions puts them in a position to share more information, and it takes the stress and pressure off of you,” she says. “For example, if one of your managers or leaders discusses the company mentoring program, ask her about her best or worst mentoring experiences. You can relay your enthusiasm or interest by restating highlights of what she shared.”

Twitter has spoken

Last month, a tweet from comedian Adam Hess about what to say in meetings went viral on Twitter.

It garnered a bunch of different responses from the Twittersphere.

Jane Burnett|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at jburnett@theladders.com.