is it okay for my employees to say they’re “just not cut out for public speaking”?

A reader writes:

I am a director level mid-manager at a large nonprofit. A large part of my role involves public speaking and training, which I enjoy and am good at. My team consists of my manager, also an excellent public speaker, and two people who I supervise, an associate director and an administrative assistant.

The two people who I supervise are not public speakers. They, each to varying degrees, hate it to the point that they will avoid it at all costs. It gives them a tremendous amount of anxiety, and if asked to present to a crowd larger than a small meeting, they react with refusal, anger, and sometimes tears. I was asked to present the strategy for our team at an all-staff meeting next week (about 100 people), and when I asked my employees to present with me, they both declined. One of them sent me an email yesterday suggesting other ways that staff members can share information, for “those among us who just aren’t cut out for public speaking.”

I believe that not being able to present is a career limiting move, and I have encouraged both of these staff members to work on their fear. But that comment made me wonder — does everyone in an office environment need to be able to speak in public? Does my employees’ inability to do this specific thing reflect badly on them, or on me as a manager as well? Certainly, it is not ideal for me to be the sole member of my team who can present (nobody to fill in if I’m out sick, etc.) but in addition to asking about strategies to help them through this, is it possible that some people just aren’t cut out for it, and is that acceptable for two people early in their careers?

Yes, some people aren’t cut out for it, and that is totally fine for many, many jobs.

Certainly there are a lot of jobs where you do need to be reasonably comfortable presenting to a group — or, even if not comfortable, at least willing to do it. And that’s true even of jobs where it’s not a major focus, but where you’re going to have to do it a couple of times a year.

But there are lots of other jobs where it really isn’t necessary, and where it would be inappropriate for a manager to push someone to do it just on principle.

You’re right that avoiding public speaking may be career limiting, and you can point that out to your staff members. But lots of things can be career limiting, and people make those trade-offs all the time. For example, it can also be career limiting not to want to do extensive travel, or not to learn a second language, or not to want to manage people, and those are still acceptable choices for people to make. Lots of people are okay with accepting a particular career limitation if they don’t like the price it comes at. That’s especially true when the “limitation” is something that is only likely to have a small impact rather than a large one.

I suspect you’re thinking that this is different from something like “I don’t want to do a lot of travel” because this is fear-based, and we like to think that fears are things that should be overcome. But that’s really up to the individual person to decide. Plenty of people are just fine with disliking public speaking and decide that it doesn’t have a big enough impact on their life to justify the investment (of time, energy, and discomfort) they’d need to make in changing that.

The question for you is really how much this matters for your employees’ jobs. How much of this is about the principle of feeling like they should conquer their fears and learn how to do it, and how much of it is related to what you need from them? If it’s mainly the principle, I’d urge you to put that aside; you’ll lose trust and credibility if you hassle them about something that really doesn’t relate to their jobs.

But maybe it does tie to things they need to do in their jobs. If you need your associate director to be able to fill in for you at meetings, it’s reasonable to explain that and expect her to do it. If you need your admin to be able to train a class of new hires on something, it’s reasonable to explain that’s part of the job too. (That said, if that’s a once-a-year kind of thing and she’s otherwise an excellent admin, the smarter move might be to see finding someone else to do it once a year as the price of keeping an excellent employee.) But you’ve got to look at what the work really requires and then base it on that.

All that said … the fact that they’re both early in their careers does give me a little bit of pause. They’re going to encounter lots of things that are new to them as they get more work experience, and it’s to their advantage to push themselves out of their comfort zones at least some of the time. Because of that, I could see you pushing them a little more on this than I’d recommend if they were, say, 45. That still doesn’t mean you should approach it as “you must do this” if it’s truly not part of their jobs — but it does give you more leeway for a mentoring-type approach where you encourage them to experiment and not to fall back on “I’m just not cut out for it.”

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 484 comments… read them below }

  1. BeenThere*

    It can be difficult, especially if you have no experience… and that may drive some fear. Perhaps pay for a year of ToastMasters for these employees so they can start developing a comfort level? I think it’s a very good skill to have in many positions.

    1. A tester, not a developer*

      I was going to recommend the same thing! Our company is large enough that we actually have an in house branch of Toastmasters. It’s been really interesting to have some members of my team do presentations during team meetings as part of their Toastmasters ‘homework’.

      But participation in Toastmasters is totally optional, of course. Our leader has talked about how being able to speak to a group (and speak out when you don’t agree with something) is an important part of our role – and how if you can’t do that, you can’t move up in the ranks. I know we have people who choose to remain as ‘juniors’ instead of ‘seniors’ so that they don’t have to do that sort of speaking out.

      1. Yet another username*

        I also recommend Toastmasters. I was an active Toastmaster for several years, until I left because of illness. It helped me develop my public speaking skills and other interpersonal skills. Meeting other Toastmasters also strengthened my network and gave me new friends. Not to mention listening to all the great speeches given by fellow Toastmasters.

    2. Letter Writer*

      Thanks, all- I have suggested Toastmasters to them in annual reviews over the years, and it’s free here.

      1. Jadelyn*

        If their anxiety over presenting is anything like mine, Toastmasters is not as great a solution as it sounds – in some ways, it’s almost worse, because you’re having to go into an environment with a bunch of people you’ve never met where you *know* you’ll have to speak. It’s an entire environment dedicated to something that scares the hell out of you, in the worst possible way. So while in theory it’s a good suggestion, it may or may not be something they’re ever going to be interested in pursuing.

        1. Kelsi*

          Yes, this. If it’s a fear, saying “here’s a free thing to do where you can speak all the time!” is akin to saying “here’s a place you can go to let spiders crawl all over your body!” Obviously they’re not going to take you up on it, especially if they’re not particularly interested in overcoming that fear.

        2. LurkieLoo*

          Have you tried Toastmasters or just the thought of it gives you hives? Because that’s not really how it works at all. You don’t have to speak at all. They also have different meeting roles to fill (minimal speaking) and there are things like table topics (1-2 minute off the cuff answers to questions) that are much less speaking committed. They are also very easy going and friendly with feedback. With new members especially, they will give really low key feedback like “great topic, volume was a little low, but I learned a lot about llamas.”

          In an active club, it can be difficult to even schedule a speech project a month out. My partner is highly active in Toastmasters and I would say that the speaking portion of it is actual almost secondary to the running a meeting portion of it.

          You are definitely not required to speak when you haven’t even met anyone. I think they ask visitors to make a brief introduction, but it can be as brief as “Hi, my name is Loo, just checking it out.” Most people don’t make their first speech for a month or more. One member has been a member for years (like 5 or 6) and she just completed her 10th speech. I do think you have to find a club with the right fit. My partner is part of 2 and one is mostly techy and the other is mostly social/fluffy.

          I would not equate it with “here’s a place where you can let spiders crawl all over your body,” but more like “we have spiders in the back when you’re ready for some. In the meantime, let’s learn about the shapes of webs.”

          1. Jadelyn*

            Honestly, I’m very much in the “just the thought of it gives me hives” camp here. Even if it is relatively low-key, you still couldn’t pay me enough to go to something like that. And it sounds to me like these two employees may be more on that end of the spectrum, if they’re anxious enough to end up in tears over public speaking.

            1. LurkieLoo*

              Fair enough. :) It’s definitely not a “just drop in and do this and you’re cured” kind of thing for sure. You do have to want it. And it is somewhat social. I personally don’t want waste my limited social energy on going regularly and I’ve met most of them. I get it. I’m not speaking phobic so I might go if someone paid me, but I’m not likely to volunteer. ;)

        3. The Plaid Cow*

          It is an environment that works as a laboratory for people who want to improve and have freedom to fail, with a supportive group that will help them get better. There is almost no career you can have that would not improve your prospects and advancement if you can not only do the job, but also speak about it.

          1. Jadelyn*

            Okay? I’m glad you’ve found it to be a supportive environment and whatnot. That still doesn’t mean it’s something that these two employees will have any interest, at all, in ever trying. And for the record, there are other ways to improve your prospects and advancement by being able to speak about your job. I’ve never done Toastmasters, wouldn’t do it if you paid me, but I’ve also presented to the C-suite at my org and done trainings for other staff for groups of anywhere from 4-50+, and I do just fine with those – without ever having touched a Toastmasters meeting.

          2. Toasted Marshmallow*

            It works for SOME of those people. I’m happy for you thst you are one of them. I, on the other hand, tried it and found it completely useless. I got nothing out of it except a bill.

            1. TardyTardis*

              The only Toastmasters in our area meets at 6:30 am, and I could not be coherent at that time even if I mainlined meth. I much preferred Jaycees, when it still existed and we had lots of opportunities to speak in different ways, in an environment where you rarely got pointed and laughed at. (well, unless you wanted to be, we had those who enjoyed that sort of thing).

      2. Close Bracket*

        This solution just goes back to overcoming their fear as a matter of principle. You’ve already suggested it, so just let it go. Not everybody has to be a public speaker. Your employees aren’t you, and that’s ok. Look for what their strengths are and encourage them in those directions instead of pushing them into something you think should be their strength.

    3. Ex-Academic, Future Accountant*

      That would be an additional time commitment, though, right? If it were me, I’d be reluctant to give up or cut down on the hobbies I already had bringing me joy in my life outside of work in order to make time for it.

      1. Letter Writer*

        It’s held during the work day, and I’d be happy to build time into their schedules for it.

        1. EPLawyer*

          Tell them it might limit their careers. Discuss options like toastmasters. Let them know you will work with them on scheduling. Then lwt them decide.

    4. wrewreph*

      It can be difficult if you have experience too! My fear of public speaking has gotten much worse as I’ve gotten older. In HS, I was on the debate team. In my 20s & 30s, I was able to force myself to do it. Now, I avoid it at all costs. If it suddenly became a job requirement, I would immediately start looking for another job & if told I had to do it tomorrow, I would seriously consider quitting over it.

    5. Lavender Menace*

      I love public speaking, but I hated ToastMasters. I preferred developing my skills in context-relevant spaces – in classrooms to begin with, and in small assignments at work. Offering ToastMasters is a good idea – I know a lot of people love it and think it’s a great way to develop skills – but you could also offer an alternative of giving them small assignments in front of just a few people so they can build confidence.

    6. Amethystmoon*

      Toastmasters worked wonders for me. I was the proverbial nerd in school with my nose in a book. Fast forward to size years after joining Toastmasters, and I became an Area Director. 7 years later and I have my DTM. Granted, I am still not an extrovert. Introversion may be genetic, for all we know. But yet, I am a Logistics Manager and have been able to get up in front of over 80 people and read a script. So, it helps.

  2. Bend & Snap*

    I think it also makes sense to define “public speaking.” Presenting internally is normal and will be required in most jobs, to a degree. That’s really different than hopping on the conference circuit and keynoting events.

    1. Roja*

      I tend to agree. Personally, I think if you’re an associate director you should be able to talk to your employees about something or talk in general about how the company is doing to shareholders, etc. But that’s very different than large-scale keynoting events or public face of the company type things, like you say. Admin assistant… yeah, presentations aren’t usually part of the job description, are they?

    2. BRR*

      I was thinking the same. Speaking to 100 people at an all staff meeting is different than speaking to a small group which is different than presenting a keynote. I can see a lot of positions that would more or less require it for smaller groups while not so much for larger groups. But that it would be a good opportunity for an employee to speak to a larger group if they wanted to.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        At internal meetings? In that case, I’d probably side with the OP. Presenting at an internal meeting is pretty par for the course, even for jobs that are primarily administrative focused. That said, I still think she or he should make that clear up front that that’s an important requirement of the job.

        1. Liet-Kinda (nee Snark)*

          OP describes their role as being intensive in training and public speaking, which sure doesn’t denote simple internal meetings to me. It sounds like workshops, keynotes, classes, that kind of thing.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Oh, you may be right. I was going off of the second paragraph, where she talks about “presenting to a crowd larger than a small meeting,” but yeah, I might be wrong.

      2. Turquoisecow*

        But of how many people? If it’s an all-company meeting (assuming the company is a decent size), that’s a bit more intimidating than a department meeting of a dozen or two where you know most of the people present.

        1. Silicon Valley Girl*

          From the letter “an all-staff meeting next week (about 100 people)” — that’s a large group, & even though it’s internal, the size of the group can be intimidating to those who don’t like public speaking.

        2. SarahKay*

          Seconded hard!
          Even presenting to a dozen or so people you know well is daunting the first time. Then you get used to that, and suddenly you’re being asked to address an all-company meeting of 100+ people and that’s a whole different ball-game.
          I can still recall the first time I had to present to an all-employee, which was about 100 heads, and even though I wasn’t too nervous beforehand the reality of standing up in front of everyone was pretty mouth-dryingly scary to start with. And I’d been at the company for years and knew and liked (almost) everyone sitting in front of me.

          1. Jadelyn*

            Same! My first mid-scale presentation (to about 50 people) was over web, and I wasn’t even visible – I was sharing my presentation, not my camera – but it was still nerve-wracking enough that I had peeled all my nail polish off of both hands by the time the hour was over. (I pick at my nail polish when I’m nervous.)

        3. blackcat*

          I’m a super comfortable public speaker. Did theater in school/college, can give an impromptu lecture, etc.

          The few times I have presented to 400+ were still nerve racking!

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            I had the reverse–after a couple of years in the Peace Corps in a French speaking country I returned to the US, and so long as I could do any public speaking in English it no longer threw me. It’s not a part of my job or a significant part of my volunteering–I wouldn’t consider the opportunity to do it a selling point of a job–but it moved into “if this needs to be conveyed and needs to be me, whatevs.”

    3. pomme de terre*

      Seconded. Even if they don’t love it, an associate director should be prepared to address an all-hands meeting.

    4. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Agreed. I used to work for a department that had a weekly meeting of about 65 people, and my team had to present a report. We rotated presenting responsibilities. I had people on my team who were scared and nervous, but luckily they wanted more opportunities in the future and realized this would be good practice. I coached, helped them prepare, and did what I could to serve as an example when it was my turn. If they had a real phobia of it, I’m pretty sure I would have let them off the hook… but I also know it would have limited their career progressions.

    5. Turquoisecow*

      Yeah, there’s a difference between speaking up in a meeting of a dozen people at which some VIPs will be present and giving a speech before a few hundred, or the whole (large) company.

      The first situation is one that I’d argue you maybe really ought to be able to do at least occasionally- you should be able to advocate for yourself and speak in a group. The second isn’t one that I’ve ever encountered in any of my jobs, so most career tracks probably would let you avoid that.

    6. Letter Writer*

      LW here- I was talking about presenting internally, at meetings ranging from 10-100 people.

      1. Free Meerkats*

        In that case, my view is they need to suck it up and do it. Offer assistance, such as Toastmasters. An Associate Director is a position that needs to be able to do this sort of speaking; not so much the Administrative Assistant, but in many places they do training.

        1. Chinookwind*

          I am still trying to figure out what would be career limiting about an Administrative Assistant who doesn’t do public speaking? I have done that job in different industries and have never been asked to speak to a group of any size in that role. Our job is to assist the presenter, not be the presenter.

          LW, be careful as your risk losing an administrative assistant who may be elsewise good at her job simply because you ask her to do something that is not a normal part of it.

          1. Julia*

            I’ve been an assistant and had to present events because I was the only one with the language skills. (Granted, my office may have mistitled me with that “assistant” thing as I also translated and interpreted, who knows?) I probably could have said no, and think I should have because I only got stress and no thanks out of it and they later hired someone else for the event role instead of giving me a chance, but I did have to do presentations etc. as an admin.

          2. AMPG*

            I was once hiring for an assistant role who would need to give logistics briefings to groups of client – here’s how to fill out your paperwork, etc. – and the deciding factor between two very strong candidates was that one was very comfortable with public speaking and the other wasn’t.

        1. Liet-Kinda (nee Snark)*

          I agree on being able to speak confidently and off the cuff in 10-20, maybe 30, person meetings. Totally reasonable to suck it up and get on with it. More than say 50 or so in front of you, and when giving a presentation rather than just talking, it’s a whole different kettle of fish. 100? That’s a lotta people, and demands a lot of internal confidence, the ability to read the audience, see when you’re losing them.

          1. ket*

            Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t. A persuasive speech demands the ability to read the audience & react accordingly, but some presentations are more along the lines of, “Here is the revenue chart. (click) Here is the expense chart. (click) Here’s the table that lays out our biggest expenditures. (click) Here’s the list of our biggest clients. Ok, done.”

        2. Jadelyn*

          Why? Genuinely asking. If the role doesn’t require it, like the admin assistant, why should they be “100% able and required” to do it? This is coming off as more of the “people should face their fears” than “it’s really necessary to the job” approach.

          1. Bend & Snap*

            It sounds like a report out, which IMO is necessary. But I work in a field where we present our work internally all the time, so maybe my point of view is skewed.

            1. SarahTheEntwife*

              Yeah, that varies a lot by office/position. I’ve had to present to groups that large a couple times, but not in a few years now as my responsibilities have shifted, and it’s something that I could easily have gotten out of if I didn’t want to. It’s really not a necessary part of my job duties.

          2. Eddiesherbert*

            I’m at a software company. For internal meetings on new features/products (60ish people), we typically have the person most familiar with the item on hand present and do a Q&A – this is usually a developer or the business analyst for the feature! It’s pretty informal and we don’t expect them to a “pro” at public speaking.

      2. Violet Fox*

        Was it clear to these people when they were hired for their respective roles that the job would involve public speaking infront of sometimes rather large groups of people?

        1. Nicelutherangirl*

          I had the same question. I wondered what was in the job description for each of these employees, because that would affect how I look at their responses to the OP. If the job descriptions provided when they applied for their positions made it clear they’d need to do presentations, to whom, and how often, and their current job descriptions also reflect that, then the associate director and admin. assistant come across as immature and their resistance to fulfilling job duties in the way the organization requires is inappropriate. If the public speaking requirement hasn’t been clear, then I can understand why they’re pushing back.

            1. Ego Chamber*

              I hate that line nearly as much as I hate “insubordination” in the workplace. (When I was written up multiple times for refusing to follow the directions of my supervisor, directions that would have been illegal due to banking regulations, you should know without asking that they called my refusal to break the law “insubordination.”)

          1. Elsajeni*

            On the other hand, I wouldn’t expect a job description to include something like the public speaking “requirement” in my job, which is “once per semester someone from your 2-person department will need to speak to the graduating seniors, some semesters it’ll be you, depends on the boss’s schedule.” Job descriptions just can’t capture everything.

        2. aebhel*

          Yeah, that’s a significant thing, IMO. I mean, if they’re not willing to talk to ANY number of people in a group, that’s going to be pretty limiting, but if I accepted a job that suddenly required me to give presentations to 100 people without being upfront about it, I’d be pretty steamed.

      3. Doug Judy*

        10 People – yeah they should learn to handle it.

        100 People – that is a lot, even if it is internal.

        Maybe find out where their comfort level is and maybe come up with some compromises. Such as, 20 people or less they will handle or maybe allow them to present more informally, sitting down going over the presentation.

        1. Just Employed Here*


          I know many very, very talented people who are excellent at their jobs, who would quit on the spot if required to present to a group of 100 people (internal/external/aliens from space, it doesn’t matter). Certainly if it had a whiff of “this is something you need to do just because”, and if the person saying it was good at it and enjoyed it!

          I think Alison’s comparison to speaking a different language is very apt: I use three languages in my job every day. Some of my colleagues can do the same things, but only in one or two languages. Sure, it limits their prospects, and sure, sometimes it’s annoying that they can’t do some of the things. But no amount of cajoling or encourament is going to get them to learn a whole language well enough to actually use it at work.

          I’m pretty worried that this is making people cry, and that OP still thinks it might be something they can force people to do (assuming they are not people who cry often and for any reason).

        2. Blue*

          Yeah, I agree that smaller meetings are totally reasonable to expect. If, over time, they get comfortable presenting in a setting of 10-20 people, I think you can start upping the number. I’m not a natural public speaker but have become comfortable speaking with up to 40-50 people just based on practice. And it’s been super valuable, professionally – my willingness to present and train people when my coworker wasn’t meant I was the main face of our project and became the de facto expert, as far as anyone else was concerned. My coworker was fine with what that meant for his career – it was worth it to him to not present more than absolutely necessary.

          Presenting to 100 people is a different beast. I’ll do it (assuming you give me time to prepare), but I won’t be thrilled. That’s asking for something very different than, “Train your 20 coworkers on X.”

      4. Sleepy Librarian*

        The fact that they’re early career gives me pause, the same way it did for Alison. When I started in my career, I was nervous even to talk to my group of 15 student employees. But I needed to do it anyway to be an effective manager, so I did it and it gave me practice. It’s a **given** that they will become comfortable with public speaking, but often people who are new to their careers haven’t really tried a whole lot yet, especially if the idea itself makes them nervous and they’ve successfully avoided it. It’s not required in my field but I found that I can be much more effective and engaged as a professional if I can speak to a room of people, and it’s opened the doors for other things I want out of my career. If Toastmasters isn’t possible, perhaps encouraging them to try with small groups at first then work their way up to rooms of 100 people might help.

        That said, if they literally cry when asked to speak in public, they might not be game for any of this!

        1. Genny*

          When I was new to my job, I was terrified of presentations and briefings because I didn’t feel like I really knew enough to speak competently about my portfolio. In some cases, I’d brief someone who actually knew more about my portfolio than I did. That’s incredibly terrifying. As I grew into the portfolio, my confidence picked up to match. All that to say, sometimes it’s a matter of pushing new people out of their comfort zones, and sometimes it’s a matter of letting them gain proficiency in their day-to-day skills so that they then feel confident enough in their ability to speak to a crowd about their portfolio.

          1. Anonymous geologist*

            Totally agree with this. Personally, my comfort level with speaking in front of any size group is directly correlated with my familiarity with the content.

        2. Ego Chamber*

          Do they not require those godawful public speaking/communications classes all through middle school and high school and as part of most degrees anymore? I had to take that class every year from 7-12th grade. I hated it and I never got very good at it, but I can still stand up and talk at a meeting.

          Part of it might be the framing: “Talk about X for 10 minutes at the all-hands meeting” sounds a lot different than “I’d like you to practice your public speaking skills at the all-hands meeting omgsofun!!1!”

      5. Marlowe*

        100 people is a lot, yeah. If these employees came into their roles unaware that this would be part of their job description, I understand why they’d hit the brakes, especially if they aren’t comfortable with public speaking in the first place. But, really, I’d argue anyone who isn’t either very confident in their material or completely used to the task would find it extremely daunting.

      6. Engineer Girl*

        This is quite normal for so many office jobs. It would have been better if they had learned with smaller groups, but that is something they should have already conquered at this stage, either at high school or university.
        The tears and refusal really bothers me. We all encounter scary parts of our job (especially when young) but we also need to step up and do it. And yes, jobs can change under us and all of a sudden we have new duties we don’t like.
        I suspect that this material is created ahead of time so the employee has plenty of time to practice presenting. I’d suggest OP work with the staff extensively to prepare them.
        But yes, speaking at meetings is a normal part of many office jobs (and other duties) and yes, it is career limiting if they refuse.

        1. Engineer Girl*

          Modified – I wouldn’t expect the admin to do this. But the associate director? Absolutely no question.

          1. Engineer Girl*

            I also want to point out that second employee has the word “director” in their job title.
            At that point I would have zero sympathy. You want the title, you do the work commensurate with that title.
            Directors absolutely speak, many times to larger audiences.

        2. Archaeopteryx*

          I agree, and early on they should at least try to give it a go. Whether it’s toastmasters, improv classes, or even just practicing in front of roommates, at least for groups of 10-20 people they should be willing to practice up to being able to handle it decently.

          1. Rainy*

            I taught university for 9 years as a graduate student, so I lectured to classes between 20 and 500 pretty regularly, and a big part of my job now is presenting to groups that can range anywhere from 10 to 200 (200 is a good day!!). I am extremely comfortable speaking to large groups, and if someone told me I had to take improv classes as a requirement of my job, I would quit on the spot.

            Not because I’m scared, but because I HATE improv. The only thing worse than doing it is watching other people do it. Yuck.

            1. Ego Chamber*

              I think the point was suggesting different ways for the employees to get comfortable being in front of an audience, not specifically suggesting improv be a job requirement? But I hate all that shit. Practicing anything in front of an audience is uncomfortable and awful and I’d prefer not to, especially if the audience is going to have to sit through my godawful presentation more than once “to help.”

              Give me the material to familiarize myself, let me write notes to follow for the parts I’ll say if necessary, but don’t make me practice it in front of an audience (barf). I don’t want to do it over and over again, I just want it to be over.

              1. Rainy*

                When I got to your last line I laughed out loud. :) I feel exactly the same way about things I hate. Practice? Why on earth would I do that?

                I also really hate the idea that improv is a great way to improve your presentation skills. In my job, I don’t have to pretend I’m a seagull eating a french fry during my presentations. No one in a presentation has ever asked me to use a prop to pretend like I’m a circus performer. I don’t have to “just go with” awkward manufactured situations called out by my audience–if a question is relevant, I give the answer. If it’s not, I shoot the questioner a Look and say “Interesting. Next?” Basically, I think that improv is significantly overrated as preparation for doing anything but improv.

        3. Eddiesherbert*

          I think the very extreme reaction also throws me off. To me, that is far stranger than having to speak in front of your coworkers!

    7. Mediamaven*

      I agree. I wouldn’t call presenting at meetings public speaking even if the groups are large.

    8. MissDisplaced*

      I totally agree with this. I’m fine presenting in small meetings and decent on a call or webex. But I hate hate hate anything more “public” than that. I would not seek out conference sessions or keynotes.

  3. Anonymous Educator*

    I don’t know if you hired or inherited these employees, but if you’re involved in hiring and really believe public speaking is necessary for the job (not just some life skill you believe they should have that won’t limit their careers), then make sure you’re up front about it being a requirement of the job, not something they get surprised about later.

    1. Akcipitrokulo*

      Very much this – at that stage in my career, I would have self-selected out of jobs which required public speaking, so would have been upset if the role I’d accepted, expecting based on the description that it involved tasks I could comfortable to, turned out to include tasks I specifically avoided during the job search.

    2. Peachkins*

      Yes, definitely. I wouldn’t assume an administrative assistant position required public speaking, and I would be mortified to get that job and find out that it does.

      1. Turquoisecow*

        I wouldn’t either, although it might not scare me off, depending on the size of the crowd I was presenting to.

      2. Mia*

        Yeah, I worked as an admin assistant for a while and I would never have expected public speaking to be in my job description. It was largely a behind-the-scenes type position IME.

      3. Excel Slayer*

        Yeah. I don’t see how an admin assistant job could possibly absolutely require public speaking to more than a small group of people, and I don’t think I’d react well to getting that job and finding out it did either.

    3. Letter Writer*

      LW here- I inherited them. Although I agree with you about the job description, what happens when an organization starts to shift, under new leadership, for example, and meetings and presentations like this become more common than they were before?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Ah! If that’s happening and it’s something their role really does require now, then you have that conversation: “this is changing, these are the reasons, here’s what it means for you, these are the places I can be flexible and the places where I can’t … and knowing that, how do you want to proceed?”

          1. JSPA*

            You can specifically explain that you need them to develop a plan of action (beyond “sink into the floor”) and at least a limited skill set, in case you’re scheduled to give a presentation, only to have laryngitis or be unable to present for some other reason.

            Make it clear that you will not schedule them to speak for frivolous reasons–ergo, they would only be judged as “the person stepping in.” Nor will you call them up unexpectedly for “training” or “desensitization” unless they explicitly request it.

            However, point out that given an actual NEED for them to present (despite your best efforts to avoid it) could well happen in the next year or two, you’d like to have each of them update you quarterly on what they’re doing to deal with that possibility.

            Offer your help, should they want it, in getting practice speaking in front of a group that gently and non-threateningly pushes their current boundaries.

            Be open to options like, “I would prefer to present remotely” or some other accommodation, as their objection to public speaking could play into any of several bona fide phobias or trigger underlying issues. (For some people, it’s about being in front of the room, physically, rather than being the focus of attention, per se; for other people, it’s the opposite. There can be body issue aspects, fear of blushing, fear of being struck dumb, all beyond the fear of “not doing well.”)

            Work out a plan (whether it’s flipping a coin or drawing straws, or whether one will cede to the other) if such a thing came to pass. Basically, take it out of the realm of the unthinkable, by dealing with the mechanics.

            Decide in advance whether this is a big enough issue to risk losing them over. Find out if, upon hiring, they were promised a role with no public speaking, ever.

            1. Ego Chamber*

              “Nor will you call them up unexpectedly for “training” or “desensitization” unless they explicitly request it.”

              I wanted to highlight this part of what you said, because I legit walked out of a job once after disclosing a phobia to a manager and then having them ambush me with “an exercise” (not related to my job duties at all) to help me get over my fear. I was supposed to do this at a team meeting, and I happen to also not like being the focus of attention, so I made the most rational decision I could at the time, which was to silently walk out of the conference room back to my desk, gather my things and leave the building forever.

              It went about as well as you’d expect—but fuck that manager.

      2. Baby Fishmouth*

        If job descriptions change enough to include specific skills (especially big things like public speaking, knowing a 2nd language, doing sales calls, cold-calling, etc.) that weren’t necessary before, I think it’s a kindness to have a frank discussion with the employee to let them know. Just saying ‘because of some organizational changes, your job will now include giving weekly presentations’ (or whatever the new deal is) lets the employee know that it’s not negotiable (if indeed it isn’t) and honestly, gives them the opportunity to find a new job if it’s truly a dealbreaker.

        1. Sleepy Librarian*

          OT: Sorry I have to cut in and applaud your username. I laugh so hard I cry at that scene.

          1. Rainy*

            There’s a very reminiscent–but dirty, so dirty–scene in We’re The Millers if you haven’t seen it that makes me laugh immoderately every time. I don’t know if it’s an intentional nod, but it’s amazing.

      3. School Inclusion Specialist*

        If I were in your shoes, I’d sit down with the associate director and let them know that you are seeing the shifts in organization and increasing public speaking may become more of an expectation for them. Then I would talk about goal setting–like if they are comfortable with 10, maybe they present at a meeting with 15 or at a meeting of 100 people they introduce themselves. Then, spend some time talking about the obstacles in the way of success. Ask your associate director what they think is preventing them from being successful at public speaking and what challenges they have had in the past. Then pick an area or two to problem solve how you would address the challenges (ie practice before hand, read from a script, you sit in the audience and they only look at you)

        For your admin, I think you can encourage that person because, as you said in another thread, she is the expert in certain processes, but I agree with other posters that it shouldn’t be a requirement.

          1. Mousel*

            And be prepared that they may decide to leave if you do this. I would. Maybe that’s OK with you, but if they are great in other ways you could be making a trade-off too.

      4. Ama*

        I don’t know if this would be the option, but my employer had a large group of us recently move up to middle management, and decided to pay for a presentation skills course for all of us, since as part of our changing roles we would likely need to give more presentations (both to internal and external stakeholders). I was dubious– I’ve already had to do a lot of presenting in my particular role, so I was concerned it would be more geared toward the people in the group who are less experienced — but the course leader was very good at creating a flexible program that anyone from a complete newbie to a more experience presenter could get good tips from, including a robust discussion about overcoming anxiety (and how it’s a completely normal feeling around presentations).

        If there is a way that you can get your team some additional professional development in this area to help them feel more comfortable, it might be worth it.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Mind did individual coaching sessions for a group of us us with a public speaking coach. The worst part was that it was recorded so I could see myself, but the it was also a one-on-one so if I looked like an ass, it was just me and the speaking coach, who’d likely seen people way worse than I am. (I talk too fast, tend to deliver in deadpan, and do a weird thing thing with my head.) It was by far the most helpful public speaking training I’ve had in my professional career.

          1. PhyllisB*

            When I took business classes we had to give a speech on camera. I tried my best to talk my way out of it; but no dice. So, I bit the bullet, got prepared, and wouldn’t you know, the day I was supposed to do it I had laryngitis!! I just knew my teacher would think I was faking, so I went to her office and told (rasped) to her that there was no way I could do this. She told me to get on with it, it was just for practice, so off I went to the studio where these were being taped. Like yours, mine was one on one and the guy filming was great. He stood there and nodded and responded like I was saying the most interesting things he ever heard. You can imagine how it sounded. My kids cracked up when I brought the tape home to show them.

        2. Incantanto*

          I second this, very helpful!

          The one I did was intense though: in the middle of a snowstorm so only 2/10 of us turned up.

      5. Close Bracket*

        Are you the new leadership in question? In that case, let it go. Stick to seeking ways to use their existing strengths, and maybe rethink whether all the ways you want the organization to shift are really good ways to shift or just your personal ideology.

    4. Cacwgrl*

      This! I think in some cases, where most people would assume public speaking or addressing classes/groups would be inherent, if you don’t specifically say it, people don’t make the jump that speaking may be integral to the job. I work with a team of HR specialist who largely refuse or try to back out of events where they would have to address anyone larger than maybe 5 people. We are HR, you will need to speak to your customers, sometimes many of them at once. You should be able to talk through slides on a process you should know how to do backwards and forwards in the event that the one person who agreed to do it for the rest of the department has emergency leave come up. One would assume an HR specialist with years of experience would take on a 30 minute class with slides but they refused, all of them, 10+ people, because they “weren’t comfortable talking to a group like that”. YOU ARE HR, IT IS YOUR JOB TO TALK TO PEOPLE! Blows my mind

      1. Jadelyn*

        Yeah, no. I’m in HR as well, and there are definitely roles in HR that would never be described as “your job is to talk to people”. It really depends on what part of HR we’re talking about here – someone in recruiting, or benefits, or a generalist, sure. But analysts and systems folks? Not so much. That’s not a particularly accurate generalization to base your judgment of people on.

        1. Cacwgrl*

          It actually is an accurate generalization in this particular organization. The analytics team doesn’t get lumped in with the specialists for the group splits. I never said all of HR in all of the world has to work with people and I’m well aware of the different flavors of HR; my salty options are solely regarding the public facing section of this organization. My coworker compete for the positions, they are not randomly assigned. Everyone knows what the job entails when they accept it. And yet, they balk and whine about speaking to the customers, who are our employees and managers, while pretending like they had no idea this responsibility would be heading their way.

          1. Rainy*

            Maybe you need to integrate a presentation component to the interview process, especially if this is going to be a regular and expected part of their duties. The ones who are legitimately unable will self-select out, and the rest will probably sort themselves pretty nicely into trainable or not.

          2. Jadelyn*

            Maybe it’s accurate at that organization, but then you might say that, rather than “you’re in HR, your job is to talk to people,” which was the mischaracterization I was pushing back on.

    5. RUKiddingMe*

      Yes. Public speaking is such a big deal fear for so many people that I think it’s irresponsible to not let someone know that it will be part of the job (however much part… a tiny part or a significant part is irrelevant) so that they have the opportunity to pass before being offered the job. Bonus is that the employer gets an employee who understands it is part of the job going in and therefore has no legitimate reason to refuse on the regular.

      1. The New Wanderer*

        I forget whose line it is (Seinfeld?) that I’m about to mangle, about the fear of public speaking being more common than fear of death – the only thing worse than being in the coffin is having to give the eulogy.

    6. media monkey*

      agree. there would be no progression in my job (advertising) if people couldn’t present. so at interviews for any roles above entry level there is normally a presentation to prepare.

      having trained entry level people to get to a point where they can present, we would normally start with giving them a small part of a bigger presentation to own and talk through with the support of the other team member if they dry up or someone asks a tricky question. always a good idea for it to be an area they have a lot of knowledge and expertise in where they can talk through what is on a chart in front of them rather than them having to come up with insights or anything on the fly.

  4. Lily in NYC*

    I chose to become a career executive assistant because I have no interest in the responsibilities that come with management, like hiring/firing people, disciplining people, and having bottom line accountability. I am a ham so I don’t mind speaking in public, but there is very little need for me to do so in an administrative role. So I can imagine why OP’s admin didn’t want to give a presentation; it was probably something that caught him/her off guard.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Exactly this. I can’t think of any circumstance in which an administrative assistant is required to present to 100+ people as a core job responsibility.

      It may be reasonable to reevaluate if public speaking is a core responsibility for the associate director, but if it isn’t, OP should not push their employees into doing it. I think it’s fine to point out that it’s career limiting and/or that it’s an essential job function for promotion to [specific job titles here]. It’s also fine to provide training or opportunities to overcome their fear if they do want to be eligible for promotion to [specific job title] and need to master their fear of public speaking to do so.

      But if it’s not an essential skill for the job, there’s no need to insist that people do something that causes them tremendous anxiety.

      1. Lexi Kate*

        I can’t see the admin having to really present to groups of any size (maybe to other admins). But our company requires the head admin to give out instruction such as the plan for lunch, making break announcements etc. during large scale meetings which would require the admin to be able to speak in front of groups. However this kind of speaking is really not the same as public speaking.

        The associate director position though I don’t know of a director position where some presenting is not a part of the job. So for the AD, I could see it being very necessary to the point that this may not be the right job for the employee.

        1. Eddiesherbert*

          Similarly, a good friend of mine at a very large company is their main Admin and she plays a big role in organizing meetings and training seminars. She does all the introductions for the speakers and the general announcements at them, usually speaking to a crowd of like 200-500 people.

        2. Mallory Janis Ian*

          Yeah, my role as a university department admin requires me occasionally to stand up in front of our department of about 50 faculty and staff and give them updates and reminders about procedures, or the plan for lunch, etc., but it’s not really the same as presenting a public speech where securing a client is riding on it; it’s just disseminating information.

          If someone is young and in an admin role, maybe start with getting them comfortable speaking up in informal team meetings about what they’re working on this week; then doing the same in a larger, more formal group meeting.

          1. Annie Moose*

            As someone who has a lot of trouble with public speaking, I definitely agree there’s a difference. I would have no problem reading off a list of announcements or updates in a casual manner, but giving a formal presentation would strike me dead on the spot! These are such different things.

    2. SarahKay*

      Agreed; I can see why there might be a case for the Assoc Director to need to do some public speaking, but I wouldn’t expect it of an admin assistant.
      And if I were that admin assistant, I would be very surprised and (depending on audience size) pretty horrified to be asked.

    3. Seriously?*

      Yeah. This doesn’t sound like a core part of the job for an admin assistant and probably won’t be that career limiting. It may be good for the OP to sit down with them separately and find out what their career goals are. If public speaking will be necessary for that career then that should be explained. Otherwise back off outside unless they actually need to present for their current job.

    4. kittymommy*

      I agree. As an Executive Assistant I cannot think of any arena where I need to do public speaking. I would maybe re-examine if that is an actual necessity for their job or if it is something that the LW feels they should have. I don’t do public speaking and have never had a job that it was required or needed. I have however, needed to do it in my educational life and I hated it! With a passion. They actually needed to medicate me for me to be able to do it. Having my boss force a job requirement on me, that is not needed for my job and is purely because they think it would be god for me later on, would put me on edge.

    5. Cordoba*

      I’m sure this varies based on employer and industry, but in all of the companies where I have worked it has been routine for administrative assistants to speak in front of department-sized groups of ~50 people.

      They are the MC’s at recurring meetings, present in place of execs who are out, and handle the presentation and discussion of new day-to-day office policies and changes.

      From what I’ve seen this is very common; it’s not accurate to say that “admin assistants will never have to speak to a group”.

      LW, who is closest to the situation and presumably acting in good faith, does not seem to think it is unreasonable for an administrative assistant to play a role in a public presentation.

      1. Elaine*

        I am not so sure LW is acting in good faith. She pretty clearly said she thinks the admin, at least, ought to do it simply because she herself thinks it important for her own personal reasons. I agree the AD should expect that at least some speaking is part of the job.

        1. Mia*

          Yeah, I think LW is maybe having a hard time seeing the issue from her employees’ perspective. This letter reads as if it’s a given that all professionals in traditional office settings should be comfortable with presenting to fairly large groups, but that’s not the case for lots of folks.

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            Agreed. I see that OP thinks that everyone should do this just because OP thinks it’s important. I can see the AD needing to do it. That’s part of the title/pay level, but not so much the AA, not presentations at any rate. Updates internally to the group, but presentations in front of 100+ people seems to be more than an AA type job.

            OP did say that roles are changing so I think that she needs to sit with these two and figure out how things will go from this point on. If it’s not really necessary for the AA to do presentations, if that’s the OP’s personal bias because…career tract, or because OP wants someone else to tap in case she can’t be there herself, well I’m not sure how I feel about that.

            I think that the AA can decide for herself if she wants to limit her career opportunities. Not everyone always has an eye on the next level. If it’s just so OP has someone to tap in a pinch, this kind of bothers me because it’s so out of the norm for most AA jobs that it seems kind of …self serving I guess.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          Yeah, just thinking something is important for your own personal reasons is not enough in my opinion.
          LW did say that this is going to be the wave of the future at her company. If that is the case then these two employees need to be told that. And LW should be sure to include this talking point as part of the interview process for any new hires.

          We all have our hills that we are willing to die on. I lost out on a promotion once because I was refusing to go up a full story plus on a ladder. TPTB deemed it insubordination. I said to myself, they can tell themselves whatever fairy tale they want if it fills their cup, it’s not worth it to me to wake up screaming every night because I am in terror of my job. (I later found out that the real reason they did not want to promote me was because I was married. This meant if I had sucked it down and went into my terror, I STILL would not have gotten the promotion.) This segues into reason number 2 why people would refuse to take on certain things, their feeling is that it opens the door to take on many more things that they are not paid for, do not have the time for or do not want to do. People can believe that there will just be many more hurdles to jump and the job is not worth it.

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            Oh you mean an actual literal ladder right? I had to re-read a couple of times because my brain would just not process it. I was thinking ladder like corporate ladder.


      2. SusanIvanova*

        The only time in 25 years that I ever heard an admin say anything at a meeting, it was along the lines of “sorry the remote audio isn’t working, I’ll try to set up something else”.

    6. Danke*

      Yes, this reminds of that time when I had a job as an analyst and I was still new. My senior coworkers then asked me to take notes during a meeting. Well I got a job as an analyst because I’m good at analyzing and critical thinking, spotting mistakes, etc. But I’m really bad at taking notes, and especially so when I was still new and I still didn’t have enough of an understanding of all the things being discussed, half of them not even remotely relevant to my work or my team’s work. So what was supposed to be a job that fits my skills very well turned into a mixture of an analyst and admin job. That was pretty stressful and I didn’t even know how to say that note taking is extremely hard for me.

      1. Dr. Johnny Fever*

        I was a business systems analyst for a long time and there were people who thought that meant I was a glorified secretary. I would get that demand, usually from abrasive men of power.

        As for public speaking, I did that in my group since so many developers weren’t “cut out for it”. I finally gave them a presentation on giving presentations. I called it the Presentation Framework so they would show up. :)

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          Somebody wanted something from me a while back…a male somebody and when I refused he said something like “you could just do it on Excel real quick.”

          1) Excel and I have a love/hate (more hate) relationship so “quick” is never possible.
          2) I don’t work for him.
          3) I don’t use excel (regularly) I employ/manage people who use it.

          I told him he could do it on Excel “real quick” too. I would have even helped him out if he hadn’t been such a misogynist dick about it (you had to be there). Oh well keep assuming things because I’m a woman…go on, see how far that gets you.

  5. Anon From Here*

    Going forward, if it’s not already there, I’d add some language about public speaking or training duties in these folks’ job descriptions. That way future staff will be better aware of the expectations for the positions.

    1. Liet-Kinda (nee Snark)*

      But only if it actually makes sense to make that a core responsibility. An admin assistant doesn’t actually need to present anything, because that’s not their role.

      1. Morning Glory*

        I feel like for a lot of the comments here, the title ‘admin’ is throwing people off who predominately have worked in offices where that is a career-secretary position.

        From the LW’s responses (many of which came after your comment, so this is not a criticism of you), it is pretty clear this is a junior-level promotion-track position and that this person is interested in moving up. I think it is fair for the LW to consider this person’s stated professional goals/opportunities at this company, and how refusing to do this might limit her. If this person is young, they may benefit from being pushed a bit, especially since their idea of ‘normal’ is likely being impacted by the associate director who is not interested in professional development at all.

    2. starsaphire*

      Agreed; this isn’t something one should be blindsided with.

      I worked as an admin for years and was very clear during interviews that a disability prevents me from driving. It’s fairly common (although less so these days) for an admin to need to hop in the car to go get the mail or pick up the boss’s dry cleaning — but if the job description said, “Drivers license/vehicle required,” I simply didn’t apply for those jobs.

      If an office job truly does require something outside the box like giving speeches, or 50% travel or fluent Swahili, that shouldn’t ever come as a surprise.

  6. LQ*

    This is a great response. Some of this I think becomes a matter of what size the organization or team is too. If you have a larger team you can get away with having fewer, more specialized skills. If your organization is smaller you expect and need, to have people fill more roles and take on more tasks. Which might be something worth pointing out. If you are small enough that people just need to fill in sometimes, then they need to gain some level of comfort of doing that. (or they need to work in a place that is large enough that they can just do their one piece of the work)

    There are also different kinds of public speaking. There is a supervisor here who is terrified and hates public speaking when it is a presentation. But if you stick her in front of a room and just let her answer questions? No problem. No prep, no definition of what it is, no list of questions. Just sort of, eh people are going to ask about teapot handles, and maybe spouts and lids. She’s relaxed, comfortable, confident, and right. (Which is amazing.)

    So it might be about talking about all the ways that public speaking can manifest. From speaking up in a meeting, to presentations, to training, to leading conference calls. The chances that an employee can advance their career and escape all of those is nearly null. So what can they be successful at which can lead to more success.

  7. Loves Toast, Hates Toastmasters*

    OP thinks their administrative assistant should get involved in public speaking? That’s…odd.

    1. Murphy*

      I could maybe see it for an internal thing, depending on what it was about. But otherwise I agree that it seems odd.

    2. pomme de terre*

      I work at a company of > 200 people, and I can imagine some of our admins giving presentations at internal all-hands meetings, especially if it is related to the work they do. (“We’re rolling out a new teapot management system, Joaquin the Admin will be doing most of the hands-on work administering it, here is Joaquin to explain how it works.”)

      1. Eddiesherbert*

        In addition, my friend who is the main admin at a large company often helps organize training seminars/meetings and does all the introductions for speakers and the general announcements (ex: you have an hour for lunch, the cafeteria is down X hallway and serving Y and Z, please be back here at 1).

    3. Letter Writer*

      LW here- the admin is early in her career, and wants to move up. On our small team, she’s also an integral part of designing processes that contribute to our success, and she knows her work better than anyone else.

      1. Havarti*

        In light of this update, then sure – maybe the admin does need to learn to speak publicly if the role(s) she wants to move up into require it. I’ve been an admin for over 10 years, have no interest in moving up anytime soon and have never been required to make a presentation. Admins don’t present at my company. That’s just how we roll.

        Also, if they’re young, it’s really hard to shake the feeling that all those folks in the room who are probably older with more years of business experience are judging them and judging them hard for having the temerity to speak at their elders. I’m not saying they are judging. Just that it can feel that way when all eyes are on you. If they’ll like me when I was younger, it can feel like facing a firing squad. Now I care less what someone might be thinking.

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          What I’ve seen for admins who have an integral role in a project is, they speak at internal/departmental meetings regarding their contribution, but when the presentation is to a larger outside group, the manager or department head summarizes the admin’s contribution as part of a general overview.

        2. Genny*

          100% can confirm that it’s terrifying to speak to a group of people who have 10, 15, 20 more years of experience than you. It feels like they’re going to roll their eyes at everything you say because of course they already know that. IME, fear over public speaking is inversely proportional to both how much I feel like I know about the topic and how much I think my audience knows about the topic.

      2. Holly*

        If the admin is hoping to move up, all the more reason to push back and make it clear that public speaking would be a requirement to do so. If the admin then changes their mind about wanting those responsibilities, that’s fine, but it’s their decision to make.

      3. Bea*

        I hope it’s youth that’s to blame here because if I’m ever told “I want to move up” and get pushback from the person to gain skills, I’m over it.

        Just assume she doesn’t have upward mobility in her future. You tried. She said no. You’ll drive yourself mad devoting energy into trying to give her any help in development.

        She has the right to say no. No has a consequence.

        As a former EA who snatched every opportunity and climbed up, she doesn’t really want it.

        1. Jadelyn*

          I think this is an unfair characterization of the admin. It’s entirely possible to want to move up, but have personal dealbreakers, without it meaning they “don’t really want it”. If those dealbreakers interfere with the ability to move up, then the person needs to decide how to handle it, but it’s overly harsh to say they “don’t really want it” if they don’t approach things the exact way you did. I’m also not super thrilled by the implication that if someone has an issue with one particular skill, you should completely give up on ever helping that person develop in any other way. I know I’d have a lot more respect for a manager who was realistic with me about the effects of my dealbreaker items, and was willing to work with me to see if there are other areas in which I could develop, other upward paths I could take, than a manager whose response basically boils down to “You don’t want to do X? Fine. Then I’m not going to help you with anything else either.”

          1. SarahTheEntwife*

            Agree. There are a couple career paths that I had to turn away from because I realized they required skills that I really didn’t want to develop. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t really interested in, say, being a field anthropologist. It just means I realized that the amount of people skills in both fieldwork and academia meant that I would only ever be a kind of mediocre one and I would probably hate way more of the work than I’d first realized.

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              Margaret Mead made me want to be an anthropologist. Don Johansen made me want to be an archaeologist. Academia made me want to teach anthropology. The realities of traveling all over the world, doing digs, living in conditions I preferred to not live in and academic politics cured me of all of that.

              I did what I needed to do. I got my doctorate. I teach anthropology classes as a part time adjunct by choice, but my focus ended up being feminist social anthropology (DV victim advocacy) which is an area that never crossed my mind when I started out. I also own/operate a couple of businesses not related to anthropology at all.

              I just wasn’t willing to spend six months living in the desert digging for possibilities or learn sixteen different languages in order to make whole groups of people feel like science experiments.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            I agree, one can be factual without being cold. If a boss said, “Do this or I am done with you”, I’d start looking for other employment. Too many bosses are friendly as long as things are perfect. It’s really important to remember that this is a fellow human being. There are other ways of saying. “I can’t help you advance if you are not interested in developing as a group speaker.”

            Ironically, she may very well be interested in advancement, but when she said that she did not mean at OP’s company. So there is that, too.

        2. Cheryl Blossom*

          Wow, that’s… harsh. Maybe this admin has a different idea of what moving up looks like than OP is imagining for them? Or maybe conquering a fear of public speaking isn’t just as easy as “snatching every opportunity”?

          1. Blue*

            Wow, agreed. If this is just a matter of professional development, the individual’s goals and priorities do matter. In this case, it’s possible that the assistant would really, really prefer not to do public speaking, but if it’s made clear to her that this is a skill she should develop if she wants to advance, she might decide it’s worthwhile, especially if she can start small. But it’s not clear that’s been laid out for her. The least the OP can do is provide her that context so she can make an informed decision.

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              “Start small.” Very good point. I got the feeling that OP was planning to just throw the AA in front of a group of 100 people to give a presentation when the AA has no experience/comfort level at all with public speaking.

        3. Marlowe*

          That’s very harsh. The admin doesn’t yet feel up to talking to wide audiences, ergo she must be prevented from upward mobility from here on out?

        4. Dankar*

          This is harsher than I probably would have said it, but I agree with this sentiment. If you want to move up into roles that actually do require public speaking (and I think most higher-level white-collar roles do involve some form of presenting to colleagues internally), then it’s ridiculous to push back when your manager says, “Hey, this is something you might want to practice doing.”

          From OP’s comments, it seems like she’s been accommodating and sympathetic. But if she’s being told “I’m not cut out for this specific thing that you’ve identified as a necessary skill to move up,” then she should listen to the employee. The admin is telling her that she’s not interested in the type of upward mobility OP can provide at this company.

          The caveat to this is that OP really needs to make it clear that public speaking will be required for advancement, if it actually is and she hasn’t done so already.

        5. Lily in NYC*

          This is harsh and you are simply using your own experience to judge someone you’ve never even met. You don’t have enough info to make such negative assumptions about someone.

  8. Radiant Peach*

    I’m no fan of public speaking, but it sounds like they might need to suck it up. I have anxiety but I realized when I started grad school that in order to do literally almost anything in my field I would have to present in front of groups. Luckily I have supportive colleagues who know how much of a mess I can be before I have to speak publicly. Reacting to your boss asking you to present with TEARS seems like massive overkill and is a little insulting to those of us who decided self-improvement was better than self pity.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      This seems a bit uncharitable to the employees. If they have an actual phobia or other significant barrier, tears may not be professional, but they also might not be “massive overkill” or “self pity.” Their reactions have no effect on people who have worked to overcome their anxiety with respect to public speaking, and they’re certainly not insulting you.

      It’s great that you realized that public speaking was an essential skill you had to develop to pursue careers in your field. But that may not be the case for OP’s employees (certainly not for admin assistant—requiring public speaking in that role is rare). They may have purposefully opted into jobs that don’t require them to engage in public speaking, and it’s not always reasonable to impose new job responsibilities/skills on people when they specifically opted out of a career track to avoid that activity.

    2. Elemeno P.*

      I am glad you were able to overcome your anxiety. This is not the reality for many, many people, and to assume that they’re weak because of it is very mean-spirited. Empathy is important.

      1. Less Bread More Taxes*

        I think saying “I’m not cut out” for anything is admitting defeat and essentially saying you don’t need to learn or grow.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          But people do that all the time and still excel in other areas. I’m not cut out for sales. I’m not cut out for science. I’m not cut out for Guitar Hero. I’m cut out for other things, and built my life and career around them. I learn and grow in the areas that I’ve chosen. No one needs to learn and grow at absolutely everything.

          1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

            This x1000000!

            I’m not a salesperson either and I have no desire to be in sales. I seek out opportunities that aren’t sales jobs for that reason.

          2. Less Bread More Taxes*

            What I meant was that you’re admitting you have no desire to learn or grow in that area – I should have been more clear. I’m responding to Elemeno’s comment about empathy. I think you can have empathy while also still expecting people to address something that you think should be addressed. This is assuming that public speaking is a part of these people’s jobs. (If it’s not, then as you said, OP should let it go.) But if it’s the case that they need to speak occasionally, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being compassionate but also coming up with a plan for these employees to overcome the fear.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              But it’s completely reasonable to admit you have no desire to learn or grow in a particular area. We all specialize, to some extent, in our labor. Not all jobs/people have to be good at (or want to learn to do) all things to be successful employees or lifelong learners.

          3. Akcipitrokulo*

            Yes! I’m not cut out for project management. If I were, there’s an opening at my place I might have been able to go for – but it’s not in my current skillset and I have zero interest in making it part of my skillset.

            And even more so for any sales-based roles!

            I’m growing and developing in the areas that I *am* cut out for :)

            1. Bostonian*

              But if you had to take over a project for a manager going out on leave that required 20% project management, you wouldn’t flat out refuse to do it?

          4. pleaset*

            Here’s the thing – this is not as specialized a skill as guitar hero. Yes, 100 people is a lot. But most people at their level should be able to present to smaller, but still “big”, groups of colleagues (not the public) – say 20 or 30 people or maybe a bit more more. The same way most everyone in an office should be able to write a clear email. It’s a basic professional skill that people should be capable of doing, even if they don’t like it.

            And yes yes, if they have a medical condition that makes it hard, then they’re an exception.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                (And by “require,” I don’t mean “it’s listed in the job description.” I mean “it’s part of performing well in this role, or of having a well functioning team.”

            1. Inca*

              There’s a lot of ‘shoulds’ in this, and I think we are limiting people in having all those standards even when they aren’t necessary. It’s very much about fitting people in a preconceived mould, and it also means that you’re really pushing that there’s a line between normal people and people with a medical condition, rather than treating people as being wide-ranged in talents, skills, preferences and also fears, irritations or inabilities, without the need to qualify or diagnose it.

              I think it’s helpful for everybody if the focus is on ‘what do we need done, and how do we take care of it’ using those talents and preferences than by expecting people to be some generic standin that just fits the process.

        2. Murphy*

          Maybe in some cases, but in general I think you can trust people to know their own strengths. I think it’s fair to say that “I’m not cut out for X, which is why I took a job in Y that doesn’t typically require people to do X.”

        3. Anonymous Educator*

          It’s saying “I don’t care about learning in growing in that specific way.” I’m sure they’re learning and growing in lots of other ways.

        4. Liet-Kinda (nee Snark)*

          Yeah, sometimes people admit defeat. That’s legit. I admitted defeat when it came to contracting. I hate it, I’m not good at it, I don’t think that way. And I guarantee you’ve done the same, in some area you declined to tackle.

          Saying you don’t need to learn or grow in a particular area is not the same as saying you don’t need to learn or grow at all.

          1. Dee*

            I read that as saying you’d admitted defeat when it came to contradicting, and I tied myself in mental knots for a few seconds trying to figure out what that looked like.

        5. Doug Judy*

          But some people just aren’t cut out for certain things. There is 1000000000% nothing wrong with knowing one’s limitations and choosing to avoid jobs/careers that avoid those things.

          I have zero desire to learn and grow in things I am not cut out for. I’d much rather grow and develop the things I enjoy and are in the scope of my ability.

          1. Elemeno P.*

            This. There are things I needed help with when I started my career, and there are things I found that absolutely do not gel with the way I think or act, and thus avoided those things in the future.

            An example: I have phone anxiety. I worked on it very hard, with a lot of help from my manager, and was able to overcome it 99% of the time. That other 1% is cold-calling sales clients, which I am absolutely not cut out for, would not accept a position including it, and would protest if I were expected to do it suddenly. I am not broken or a failure for this, and I continue to grow in other ways, but I will not do that one task and that’s not the end of the world.

            1. Sloan Kittering*

              I was thinking about phone anxiety, which seems very common these days, when I read this letter. Like OP, I refuse to the be only person in the office willing and able to pick up the phone when we have a matter that requires it, so I’m irked that my coworkers are doing the “can’t/don’t want to” dance. I think that was coloring my perceptions but public speaking may be less necessary for the average role than phone conversations.

        6. Aleta*

          It’s saying you don’t need to learn or grow in ONE THING in your entire life. There’s physically not enough time in anyone’s life to learn everything. Even if you want to completely dedicate your life to learning, you still have to narrow it down, and it’s ABSOLUTELY fine to cut out things you’re not that great at and don’t get much benefit from.

        7. Decima Dewey*

          It might not be a fear. Perhaps when it comes time to present they drone on and on and put everyone to sleep. Perhaps if they’re nervous their voice goes into a high register that they’re aware most people would find annoying. “Not cut out for public speaking” could cover a multitude of problems.

          I’m also a bit concerned that OP mentions speaking to groups of 10 and 100 in almost the same breath. Ten people around a table is basically a staff meeting. I have no problem with those. But 100 people I don’t know? I’d have to ask my doctor if she’d prescribe beta blockers for me.

        8. ArtK*

          Acknowledging limitations is not admitting defeat. Calling it defeat is not healthy. Most people associate defeat with failure. I’m 60 years old and overweight — I’m never going to play professional basketball, no matter how much I want to or how much I try. I don’t feel defeated by that; it’s simply a limitation of who I am.

          Platitudes like “If you can dream it, you can do it” can be inspirational. They also have a dark side because they have no room for reality.

          (And, like Alison and others, I absolutely cannot do sales.)

        9. aebhel*

          I think that’s the sort of thing that people mostly say about skills that come easily to them. I’m not cut out for public speaking, or for any job that requires a lot of high-energy social engagement. When I was in a position where I had to do those things, I was miserable. Fortunately, I was able to find a line of work that suits my skills and temperament.

          I mean, imagine if every extrovert who decided they weren’t cut out for very solitary work got eyerolls and implications that they don’t really care about growing or learning?

        10. Le Sigh*

          You know what’s also a sign of growth? Knowing when to quit or say no. Or just listening to yourself.

          Sometimes you need to push yourself. I’ve done it and benefited from that. But, I’m also someone who was terrible about listening to my gut and powered through my anxiety, convincing myself that if I pushed enough, I’d get there and be happy I was. It landed me in a career that had me on Xanax, because I didn’t stop and listen to myself when my brain was trying to tell me no from almost the very start. But I was convinced everyone else was right, that this was the career I should pursue and I’d be better for it, and I just powered through the anxiety.

          One of the most valuable lessons of my 20s was learning that sometimes you’re actually better off saying no. What will pushing past the anxiety get you? Is it something you want or need, and is it worth it to you to try? Are you dealing with run-of-the-mill anxiety, or something more deep-seeded and challenging? And if you still can’t overcome, and maybe you can’t, what’s your hard line to preserve your sanity? It can be hard to know when to make that call, but it’s a good skill to develop.

          I’m admittedly projecting but also want to push back on the idea that one can and should always power through anxiety.

          1. Le Sigh*

            Also, to echo some others — it’s not defeat–we’re not at war. Sometimes it just is what it is.

          2. LilySparrow*

            Plus, what could you have spent your time and energy enjoying and *succeeding* at, instead of trying to force yourself into a bad fit that makes you miserable?

            Opportunity cost is real, and sometimes it’s greatly to your advantage to cut bait and go win at something different.

        11. Jadelyn*

          All saying “I’m not cut out for X” means is, “I’m not cut out for X.” It has no bearing on what else the person may be cut out for, and being pragmatic/realistic enough to understand that trying to force yourself to get good at something that’s way outside your strengths is often just a waste of time isn’t “admitting defeat.” Why waste time spinning my wheels at something I’m terrible at, especially if that thing isn’t something that I actually want to do, when I could “admit defeat” on that and instead put my energy toward something that has value to me?

          We get a limited number of hours in the day, and a limited number of days on this earth. I fail to see what’s wrong with making strategic choices on how to allocate those hours and days. Just throwing yourself at a glass wall and trying to climb it gets you nowhere, so would it be “admitting defeat” to stop trying and go find something else to climb?

          We have this weird cultural obsession with Never! Giving! Up! No! Matter! What! and quite frankly I think it does people a huge disservice. Persistence is great – to a point, when it’s deliberate and you’re choosing to persist because you think you’ll get something good at the end of it. Just persisting for persistence’s sake does nobody any favors.

    3. Birch*

      This was my reaction too. It sounds a bit harsh to people who do have extreme anxiety over it but in my experience most people who self-identify as “not cut out for public speaking” haven’t actually tried to improve that skill, or they believe it’s something innate that some people have and others don’t, and thus they develop this block about it where they’re unwilling to try to learn. I’m seriously side-eyeing the whole situation if it involved TWO people in TEARS over being asked to HELP give an internal presentation. IMO the vast majority of jobs outside of manual labor should include some kind of expectation about being able to present information to different groups of people (internal, external, experts, laypeople, etc.). It’s part of working in teams to be able to communicate in different ways.

      1. Birch*

        Before people get on my case, I also want to point out that “public speaking” sounds huge and scary and like something politicians and newscasters do in front of thousands and millions of people. It’s much more reasonable to frame it as an expectation for communication skills at work, which is what this is.

        1. Liet-Kinda (nee Snark)*

          I’ll get on your case anyway. It’s a specific communication skill that some, but certainly not all, jobs require. The associate director may have to suck it up, the admin assistant almost certainly does not. It’s not appropriate to demand that people who picked jobs that don’t typically have a public speaking component engage in that task anyway, for abstract “it’ll be good for them!” reasons.

          1. Birch*

            I’m not arguing that people should be forced to do something just because the boss wants to be patronizing and insist that it’s good for them, but it is a really important part of a lot of careers and a good life skill. I don’t disbelieve that some people really can’t do it, but more people self-select out of communication skills out of fear of trying or laziness than actually have crippling anxiety about public speaking. Which is provable by the number of people who have successfully learned to do it despite the anxiety that everyone has about it.

            More to the point: if the two reports really refuse to do it, fine, but 1. it should be framed as a potential skill building experience, and 2. even if they do both have crippling anxiety about it, how is it that tears and anger are their first reactions to being asked to do this? That’s a wildly out of scale and unprofessional way to react to something your boss asked you to do once.

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              how is it that tears and anger are their first reactions to being asked to do this?

              Where do you see that these were their first reactions to being asked to speak in public? It actually looks like this has been going on for quite some time. It’s possible that reaction #1 was a simple “I’d rather not,” and the reaction got worse and worse as the LW kept pushing.

              1. Scarlet(2)*

                And actually, anger and tears ARE common emotional reactions when one is struggling with anxiety.

                1. Birch*

                  A reaction to doing the thing, of course. To being asked to do something? Surely not?

                  Re: Rusty–this is my point. Something is wrong.

                2. Jadelyn*

                  @Birch, yes, actually, they can be reactions to being asked. When I’m asked to do something that touches on an anxiety trigger, I have an immediate stress response because my brain immediately starts imagining doing the thing, which has a similar effect to actually doing it. Imagining doing the thing is an intrusive enough response that it can be very hard to control or suppress, so it’s not like they’re deliberately dwelling on it to freak themselves out, but it’s just A Thing That Happens and can result in responses like tears, anger, or however else that person’s anxiety manifests.

                3. A Teacher*

                  Read about adverse childhood trauma–or anyone that’s experienced trauma–it doesn’t have to be extreme “trauma” in the sense you might be thinking. Any sort of trigger will put them into flight, fight, or freeze. Initially, they go into “flight” or the “no, thanks I’m not interested” then they do the fight–the acting out and crying or the freeze–not really having an answer and not getting why you need one. Some individuals with anxiety may be triggered by the simple task of being asked. It is not right or wrong, it is a reality for some people. If you’ve ever witnessed or experienced that fear you understand what I’m talking about.

                4. Julia*

                  I used to fight tears when doctors even mentioned the possibility of drawing blood from me, that’s how scared I was. (I got over it, mostly, although it still makes me nervous, but I also have fears I don’t see myself getting over any time soon, and I do try.) Fears aren’t really rational.

            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              But that’s true of all skills that are good for people to have. I learned in college that despite my love of science and math, I am not good at abstracted principles without understanding the context and application of those principles to real life problems.

              So although STEM skills are good life skills, I decided I wanted to spend my life honing things I had a talent for and was relatively good at (and could get better at doing). That doesn’t mean I can’t do math, or statistical analyses, or understand/read scientific articles. It just means that I didn’t want that to be a core function of my job/career.

              That doesn’t make me lazy, and it doesn’t make OP’s employees lazy for “opting out” of “communication skills.” I suspect they have other really strong communication skills that aren’t related to public speaking. Public speaking is a very specific skill that many people do not need to master to excel professionally, to be great at their jobs, or to live fulfilled lives.

            3. Liet-Kinda (nee Snark)*

              “I don’t disbelieve that some people really can’t do it, but more people self-select out of communication skills out of fear of trying or laziness than actually have crippling anxiety about public speaking.”

              I don’t disagree, as someone who pushed himself to learn how to speak publicly, but note how I phrased that: I pushed myself. I didn’t have a boss second-guessing me, it was a decision I made myself. I don’t see scolding and brow-beating the AD and admin about how they need to build their professional skills doing anything but alienating them. If it’s a core responsibility of the AD function and they’ve been refusing, then maybe they’re not a good fit, but I wouldn’t ram it down their throats and tell them to like it.

              1. Zombeyonce*

                I agree, and want to note that even having the internal push to get better at something doesn’t always mean you will. I hate public speaking. To try and get over my fear, I took acting classes in school and did plays, but my level of stage fright just got worse and worse with each performance.

                I don’t have an anxiety disorder or anything similar, I just don’t seem to have the capacity to speak in public well. Put me in a room with 5 people and I can speak to them just fine, but make it 10 and make me stand up and my voice gets all shaky no matter how confident I am in the material I’m talking about. Because of this, I now self-select out of any job that requires presenting, and I think that’s just fine.

              2. Birch*

                I never suggested that it should be rammed down their throats or that anyone should be scolded or brow-beaten. Of course it’s within their rights to decline to do it, the same as it would be with overtime or travel.

            4. Akcipitrokulo*

              It’s not lazy to self-select out of jobs you don’t want to do, and pursue a career with jobs that you do want to do.

            5. Close Bracket*

              > even if they do both have crippling anxiety about it, how is it that tears and anger are their first reactions to being asked to do this?

              That’s sort of the nature of crippling anxiety. It means you have reactions that are wildly out of scale. They know their reactions are wildly out of scale. If logic mattered to anxiety, then anxiety would not be a thing.

            6. madge*

              more people self-select out of communication skills out of fear of trying or laziness than actually have crippling anxiety about public speaking…Which is provable by the number of people who have successfully learned to do it despite the anxiety that everyone has about it.

              I’m genuinely curious how you know these things to be true? Are there data supporting this? Because I don’t think this is something you can safely extrapolate from personal observation.

      2. Heynonniemouse*

        Honestly, when I hear that two out of two of a manager’s reports are reacting to them with anger and tears, my first instinct isn’t that there’s something wrong with the reports.

      3. Mad Baggins*

        I think public speaking is like a muscle. Some people are naturally super flexible and build/maintain muscle easily, so they become athletes and succeed in physical careers. Some people literally can’t; they have a medical condition that impairs their muscles, or just rolled a nat 1 on their STR stat and it’s just not in the cards for them. The majority of people are somewhere in between, where if they train that muscle it will grow stronger, and if they don’t it will atrophy (whether they like training or not is another matter).

        Instead of turning that around on to declare What People Should Be Able To Do, or Why Don’t People Just Do CrossFit Like Me, OP needs to see whether they need someone in that role who can run a 4 min mile, or if it’s OK if they can just do somersaults, or whether a paraplegic person would do fine.

    4. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Those tears aren’t directed at you, nor are they directed at anyone who decided to face their fears, choose a different way, whatever. You chose to go about it one way, they’re going about it another. It may not be the greatest course for them in the long run, but I really don’t see how it’s insulting to you.

    5. Liet-Kinda (nee Snark)*

      “a little insulting to those of us who decided self-improvement was better than self pity.”

      And this incredibly self-satisfied judgement is more than just a little insulting to those whose personalities, personal inclinations, and careers should not reasonably impose on them the obligation to speak publicly.

      Your role, your job, your career path requires you to speak publicly. So you sucked it up. Here’s a gold star. That of an administrative assistant does not. There’s precisely no reason for her to suck it up.

      1. Scarlet*

        Exactly. I’m so tired of people who assume that because *they* can do something, *everybody else* can and should do it, and if they don’t, it means they’re stupid/lazy/etc.

        1. Scarlet*

          And I don’t see how public speaking is synonymous with “self-improvement”. People can improve in all sorts of ways without having to speak in public.

        2. Akcipitrokulo*

          Thank you so much for putting your finger on it!

          There are things that are difficult for me to do (public speaking isn’t one of them at the moment by the way) – and it doesn’t make one whit of difference how many people can do it, or how easy they find it – good for them. Well done. They are not me.

        3. Harvey P. Carr*

          “I’m so tired of people who assume that because *they* can do something, *everybody else* can and should do it”

          Yes yes yes yes yes.

          “If I can do it, you can do it” is meaningless because your situation may be different from mine. You may have a large network of friends, and/or a significant other, to fall back on for support, encouragement, motivation. I don’t. And there may well be lots of other factors in your life that played a big part in allowing you to be able to “do it” – factors I may not have in my life.

          It’s like – hey, if Alison Green can write a blog devoted to answering workplace questions, you can write a blog devoted to answering workplace questions!

          “If I can do it, you can do it” is meaningful only if the “I” is someone you know, and you have personal knowledge of the struggles he went through in order to be able to “do it.”

        4. Jadelyn*

          This x100000. “Well I did the thing, therefore anyone who says they can’t do the thing is being lazy/self-pitying/etc.” is one of the single most grating things someone can say, in my opinion. I’m very happy for you, but I’m not you, and neither are the people we’re talking about. Everyone has their own tolerances, skills, strengths, weaknesses, reactions, and so on. That’s called “being an individual” and not “being a clone copy of everyone else”. So by definition, others will not necessarily respond to the exact same situation the exact same way you did, and to act as though that constitutes some kind of failure to live up to your example is insufferable.

      2. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Or just people who decide to focus their time and energy on their natural strengths. We can’t all be good at everything. What’s wrong with focusing on the things I am good at?

    6. blammobiddy*

      I have had panic attacks brought on by public speaking, despite making a concerted effort to improve in that area. I’m better now than I used to be, but still get very anxious. I would absolutely be at risk of tears if my boss suddenly told me that public speaking was now a job requirement.

      But I’m sorry you feel so insulted.

    7. Dr. Pepper*

      While I definitely don’t *love * it, I got over my fear of public speaking in grad school too. I simply had to do it so much that it became not a big deal. I’ve taught classes, given lectures, presented at conferences to rooms full of judge-y strangers, and presented my research to rooms full of even more judge-y faculty. I say this as an introverted, mildly awkward person who previous to grad school very well might have ended up in tears in my boss’s office if asked to present to a group. It really is something that many (not all, but many) people can get over if they have to; it’s just that so many of them really don’t have to.

      1. Tau*

        A third person who got over it in grad schoo herel. For me it was like… I felt like I was told, growing up, that public speaking was something I was supposed to be scared of, and so it was really easy to feel that way. Around my last year of undergrad/first year of Master’s, I deliberately shifted my perspective and told myself that I was the sort of person who wasn’t scared of public speaking, that from now on I’d talk about it casually and be the one to volunteer to give a presentation if no one else wanted to – sort of taking away the permission I’d given myself to be and act scared, if that makes sense. That did wonders, and although I still get nervous before presentations it’s more of an adrenaline rush than actual fear.

        So I agree that I think a lot of people who are scared of public speaking could learn to get over it. The thing is that, well, it’s their decision to make whether they want to try, it’s not the boss’s place to decide if their fear is genuine. And there are definitely those out there who won’t have nearly as easy a time of it. I have a speech disorder and am very unusual and lucky for not having come away with serious speech-related anxieties or even phobias; for quite a few of my fellow stutterers, demanding they speak in front of a group would be downright cruel.

        In short, I like Alison’s advice of very explicitly laying out the consequences of refusing to do this sort of thing; this gives the employees a chance to reconsider whether they want to push themselves (especially if their fear is sort of learned/reflexive, the way mine was) or whether what they’d sacrifice is worth it to them.

        1. Dr. Pepper*

          It’s definitely not the boss’s place to decide whether or not their fear is genuine. I dislike all the value judgements that fly around whenever things like this come up. Is my illness “enough” to call out sick? Is my fear “legit” enough to warrant saying something?

          It is the boss’s place to decide whether or not public speaking is part of the job, and what the consequences are for refusing. I’ve point blank refused to do a certain aspect of a job before, and my boss at the time decided it wasn’t all that important and we’d work around it. But he very well could have decided it was in fact critical that I do the thing and then it would be up to me to quit or get over myself.

    8. Marlowe*

      “a little insulting to those of us who decided self-improvement was better than self pity”

      And that statement is incredibly insulting to people with genuine limitations who are very, very tired of being looked down on by those who decide those limitations are self-imposed, selfish, and lazy. Your self-improvement is not everybody else’s. It’s highly likely that the same admin you deride for not being able to ‘suck it up’ excells in fields that you do not. A little self-awareness and understanding would do you wonders.

    9. twig*

      You DO know that anxiety is not something that you can just turn off and on, don’t you?

      Tears are not necessarily “self pity” so much as a physiological reaction to anxiety.

      You say that you have anxiety, yourself, and have had support in overcoming that anxiety in public speaking. Not everyone has had that support. As an admin, myself, I didn’t go into this job expecting to be a public speaker. I too, have anxiety, and I too, have worked to overcome some of my fear of public speaking. (shout out to Toastmasters, here — anyone who needs help with public speaking, should check out a local chapter)

      However, If you ask me to perform, solo, publicly? (I’m a ukulele player) I will be a mass of tears and hyperventilation before I even know what’s going on — even knowing that my audience is full of supportive fellow musicians who just think it’s great that I got on stage regardless of whether I play/sing well or not.

      THAT is not self pity — that is anxiety.

    10. Genny*

      We really have no idea what prompted the tears. It could’ve been anxiety, already being in an emotionally vulnerable state, or a natural reaction to a boss pushing too hard against a boundary. We have no idea if it was a few sniffles or a full-blown meltdown. I don’t think we need to denigrate someone for having an emotional reaction. We’re humans, not robots. Sometimes we react emotionally. It would be a problem if that was his response to everything, but responding once with tears is not some major black spot.

    11. Alyx*

      I have an anxiety disorder; I took several presentation – style classes all through school and all it did was culminate in me having a hysterical panic attack in an auditorium in college and had to be calmed down by total strangers (the instructor gave me full credit plus a bonus point for ‘bravery’ which was a little patronizing but whatever). As a professional adult I made a point to enter into a career in which I would never have to speak in front of more than a dozen people, and even then, it’s happened maybe twice in five years. If my boss suddenly came to me and said my position now requires me to speak in front of 100 people, and kept pushing the issue… yeah, I’d have a panic attack, and there would probably be tears. And I’d be furious, because I can’t control my panic attacks, and it’s super embarrassing, and that’s why I don’t put myself in that position in the first place.

      If it’s something they legitimately cannot do, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to accept that – if they’re so vehement about not speaking, they’re probably fully aware that it won’t go well (or will be a complete disaster) and I don’t think anyone wants that.

  9. Rae*

    I worked an office job and we each had different responsibilities to our team. We were expected to be able to stand up and clearly speak about the area that we had chosen/were assigned. Our teams were 12-30 people.

    One of the things that I think often happens is that people use lack of “public speaking” skills as an excuse to check out and get out of work. The associate director needs to understand that public speaking is a part of the job, period. As far as the admin…it’s not unreasonable to want them to be able to speak, but it’s not unreasonable for an admin to not want to do so. Those terms should be laid out in the job description.

    1. Jadelyn*

      I think that’s an unkind assumption, re “using lack of public speaking skills as an excuse to get out of work”. Is there some reason you would assume that of someone, without knowing them personally?

    2. Elspeth*

      Wow. That’s a bit of an over reach, don’t you think? Lots of people don’t like public speaking, and it’s not just “an excuse to check out and get out of work”!

  10. Renamis*

    I’d say this depends greatly on what their job is, and if there are any others that can fill in if OP gets hit by a bus. If they don’t need to do it, I’d advise them that it’s career limiting but halt pushing it. If it’s honestly important to the department then they’ll have to decide if the job is a good fit.

    But as mentioned before, who will fill in if OP is sick and can’t present? Is there someone, or will there be a scramble to get things sorted? I’ve a strong belief that there ought to be a backup system. If there’s not I’d look at who’s roll should be that person, and then make sure they know some day they might have to fill in. Warn them ahead of time and work with them so they can handle it. Better than your boss telling them to do it two days before while you’re in the ICU.

    1. Letter Writer*

      LW here- I prefer “winning the lottery” to “ICU” or “getting hit by a bus,” haha! But your point is part of my concern. My supervisor could fill in, certainly, and maybe having two out of four people on a team poised to do this kind of work is enough.

    2. LJay*

      I mean, if the OP is the director, I feel like it’s reasonable to expect the associate director be the person who can fill in. That’s part of the role, in my opinion, and it shouldn’t be foisted off on some random person just because the person filling the associate role doesn’t want to/is incapable of doing it.

  11. Greg NY*

    Alison’s right. There are a lot of things that some people are just not cut out for. Some people have great attention to detail, such as in accounting. Others excel in creative fields. Public speaking is no different. I personally don’t like public speaking at all. I’ve done it, I’ll do it, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it. I have to weigh how much I’m willing to tolerate something I am capable of doing but dislike doing and consider the advantages of doing it with the disadvantages of not doing it. I consider this like I consider jobs requiring me to wake up in the morning, to tolerate traffic or train crowding, or not to take as many days off as I would like.

    I do think it’s OK for someone to decline a public speaking engagement as long as colleagues are willing to step in and as long as it’s understood that their job may be in jeopardy if those colleagues leave or are out and they can’t present on their own at an acceptable level. If speaking is a core requirement of a position and someone else fulfills that responsibility, you are depending on that person to continue to fulfill it. That’s shaky in the long run.

    And for those who really aren’t cut out for it, just pursue another type of position, much like the example Alison gave of positions without travel.

  12. Jenn*

    I think it is silly to try to force this on people. I am a transactional attorney but on rare occasion we have to do hearings. It is very, very easy to just have another attorney cover if one of our attorneys whose cases involve it doesn’t want to do the hearing. The hearings are rare so it is not a serious portion of work, and the attorney makes it up to the colleague by taking some other task or task of theirs.

    Is this limiting? Sure, it they wanted to go work for a different org or start their own firm, or go work in our litigation department. But all those things are optional. It is not my job as a supervisor to force someone into a role they don’t want.

    Now in OP’s situation since no one can cover for her, this can be a bigger deal and a reasonable part of the job. OP does need to be able to have someone to cover for her. That is not an unreasonable ask. Whether than person is in the department or not, putting a burden on OP to cover all presentations is problematic. And I think that is how OP should tackle this issue. She needs backup, how does she get it? Is it a reasonably important part of the job that it is required from one of the subordinates? Is there an alternative that reasonably works?

  13. Cordoba*

    Obviously if it’s a core job requirement they need to figure out a way to get comfortable with public speaking, but it doesn’t seem like that’s the case here.

    If it’s a job where they truly have zero expectation of *ever* having to present to a group then this is no problem.

    But most professional jobs of the type the LW describes can reasonably be expected to occasionally include some degree of public speaking or presentations, just like they can be expected to include occasional travel.

    If I were the manager I would try to make it very clear to these employees that I will not deliberately put them in a position to do public speaking but I also can’t guarantee that circumstances will *never* dictate that they have to speak in public, and that if this occurs I expect them to be able to do at least a passable job of it.

    Again, I think travel is a good point of comparison. If I had an employee who had a professional job that did not include travel as a core aspect and said they didn’t like travel and “weren’t cut out for it” I’d believe them and try not to put them on the road if I didn’t have to. However, if a situation comes up every few years where the only practical answer is them traveling a bit I’d expect them to go do it.

    1. pleaset*

      All this.

      “Public speaking” as in speaking to a crowd of other employees is not that far out – for many professional jobs people may sometimes need to do it.

  14. k8*

    “It gives them a tremendous amount of anxiety, and if asked to present to a crowd larger than a small meeting, they react with refusal, anger, and sometimes tears.”

    “anger and sometimes tears” is the only thing about this that somewhat gives me pause. they are totally allowed to not want to speak in public if that’s not explicitly their job, but idk if anger/crying is an appropriate response…

    1. Scarlet*

      tears etc – it depends. I mean, I don’t *like* public speaking, and it makes me nervous, and I’ll agonise about it later, but for me, that just makes it an unpleasant thing I can deal with. The friend of mine with an actual phobia, who may have an anxiety attack, feel faint or lose focus in the moment, throw up beforehand? Different situation, not always a controllable thing, and less about what’s appropriate vs what’s possible. There’s a reason she’s chosen a career in which it’s unlikely to come up…

      The associate director seems like they’re in a role where it might be necessary (which presumably should have been communicated to them at some point), but it’s hard to see why it would be reasonable to require the admin to present. It makes me wonder how this comes up that it gets to the point where someone feels they have to react that strongly to turn it down – anger and tears don’t seem like a first response.

    2. beth*

      I don’t know…LW sounds like they’re really pushing for their employees to develop this skill, and I’m wondering if that’s as much the root of this reaction as the public speaking itself. If my manager was pushing me to do something outside my job description, and I told her it was a hard no from me and she kept bringing it up and and pushing anyways, I could see myself eventually getting frustrated enough to show that much emotion. (Not to mention, intense anxiety is plenty to induce tears on its own.)

      1. Letter Writer*

        LW here- I am not “really pushing” either of them. We have had conversations in their annual reviews about Toastmasters or other strategies for overcoming this fear, and one has pursued some professional development and the other has not. My letter here was asking whether or not I should push them. Asking them to present with me was offering an opportunity for them to present their own work, which they know better than I do, to the team at large, and a chance to get in front of our senior leadership. I asked them through an email, and when they both declined, I let it drop. I certainly understand and respect anxieties, but I also feel isolated as the only person on my team who can represent us at an all-staff meeting.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          OP, it sounds like some of your concern has more to do with your ability to find coverage than with whether this is a skill your employees need in order to succeed in their positions. If you have a director who can cover for you, I understand why your AD does not want to do so.

          You mention feeling isolated, but some of that isolation is because you’re the director. You’re expected to represent your department and to take some of the pressure off of your reports. I think it’s reasonable to tell your AD that you may need them to step in for you, but it’s going to be really important to separate out how much of your insistence is because you feel isolated and how much is because this is an essential skill that is necessary for your department’s success. It’s one thing to help develop people because they need it to achieve their professional goals, but if they don’t have the same vision for advancement that you do, then you have to revisit whether public speaking is truly a core job function.

          But I don’t think it’s reasonable to push them if they’ve purposefully opted out. I’m in a department of three (me, an admin, a fellow), with one inherited employee. I would never ask my admin to engage in public speaking if she didn’t want to. I would expect it of the fellow, because some level of public speaking is required of all lawyers. But there’s significant differences with respect to the size of the audience and the venue, and my fellow doesn’t have to be skilled in all of those venues.

            1. NewJobWendy*

              Princess CBH makes great points, but “offering an opportunity for them to present their own work…and a chance to get in front of our senior leadership.” are ALSO great points. You sound like a good manager and I appreciate you were giving your staff that chance. I don’t have any advice better than what you’ve already gotten, but good luck!

        2. Smarty Boots*

          It may be that your gesture towards an opportunity did not come off that way, but rather as “pushing” (not that pushing is your intent, but that it feels like that to them). Were you detailed about what “present with me” meant? (Other commenters have already suggested good ways to word these so I’m not going to give a script.)

          It’s just another rhetorical situation: who’s your audience? Tailor your requests accordingly.

          BTW, I think that needing coverage in case you are out is a good enough reason to expect them (especially the AD) to be able to present at least occasionally, and I think it is reasonable for you to have them presenting before that happens so that you can be sure it goes off well, or at least competently.

        3. beth*

          I actually had a case a couple years ago that I think was a bit like this. I was really swamped, and most of my conversations with my manager for a couple months were about which things to push back, which things to hand off, etc. At the same time, though, she kept bringing up ‘opportunities’ that she thought I might be interested in. It made me feel really awful and pressured, because she knew I was already stressed and burning out, so why was she putting me in a position where I had to keep saying no all the time? Did she think I should be doing more? Was she not hearing me when I said I was overworked?

          I eventually asked her why she kept bringing things up when she knew full well that I was swamped. It turned out that she’d been thinking of the conversations as casually offered opportunities to do a cool thing (and many of them were genuinely cool things that I would’ve been excited for if I weren’t so swamped!). She hadn’t realized how much pressure having the same “Do you want to do X?” “No, I don’t have time right now” conversation over and over again was putting on me.

          The details of your situation are different, but it sounds like you’re maybe doing something similar. You’ve had conversations about public speaking as a skill set before. You’ve offered professional development for it. It’s come up in performance reviews. And you’re continuing to ask them about doing it. I understand that you see these as opportunities, and that’s a great instinct in general! But as the manager, when you bring a topic up repeatedly, that can end up feeling like intense pressure to your employees, even when that’s the opposite of your intent. You have to remember the power dynamic here–it might be a casual ask for you, but it’s probably not casual for them to say no to you.

        4. Close Bracket*

          > I am not “really pushing” either of them.

          I mean, you wrote into an advice column to get tips on how to make them do it.

          > I also feel isolated as the only person on my team who can represent us at an all-staff meeting.

          yeah, well. Being the boss isn’t all salary bumps and authority.

        5. Kerr*

          LW, I think your desire to give them the opportunity was admirable! But from your employees’ POV, this was probably a major request. It hit all the public speaking anxiety pain points: bigwigs, important presentation (even if short), plus if they screw up the presentation they’re screwing up the bigwigs’ impression of their project.

          FWIW as someone with anxiety: having these conversations in annual reviews about Toastmasters or “other strategies” would read to me as pushing. The LAST thing I’d want would be to work on my fears with my boss. If this is very important, especially for the AD, I would suggest making other resources available – resources that you, personally, aren’t involved in at all.

          If things do come up that they need to be involved in, start small. Like, “Hi I’m Jane and I’m the Associate Director” in a meeting small. Give them plenty of advance notice, and be very clear about what is expected. (“Just get up and talk about what you do for a couple of minutes” is a terrifying sentence.)

          How are their jobs normally? Do they allow for informal, low-stakes, organic opportunities to speak up in small meetings without it being A Thing? Or are all presentations formal, so it feels like extra pressure?

    3. Jennifer*

      I like public speaking, but I went to a class on it where it was pointed out that people are literally less afraid of death than they are public speaking.

    4. Gazebo Slayer*

      Tears are totally understandable if it terrifies them. But “anger and tears” gives me pause. A Brett Kavanaugh-like temper tantrum about how DARE you ask me to do this is… not a good look.

    5. Monty & Millie's Mom*

      Right. If there is legitimate anxiety, or even if one truly does not want to do the thing, anger and tears aren’t work-appropriate.

  15. Roscoe*

    I agree that it really depends on the level of public speaking you mention. Doing a short presentation to your team, or even speaking for a couple minutes at a staff meeting seems like it should be ok. I think its fine to say “I need you to go in front of the staff and explain this new procedure”. However, that is very different than external speaking.

  16. Justin*

    As many have said, it depends on the job and the size. If they want to rise, they’re probably going to have to be able to speak to small groups, which is not at all the same as a conference or what have you.

    I am an educator, which is sort of public speaking, but many of my colleagues don’t enjoy it outside of the classroom, whereas I love a microphone (not just because I’m vain or whatever, but I’m actually good at it).

    So….. basically I agree that they don’t need to be great public speakers but should probably be able to present to a small number of colleagues, especially if you aren’t around on a given day. Or they can accept that certain opportunities may not be available, which is fine, I think.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      I am an educator, which is sort of public speaking, but many of my colleagues don’t enjoy it outside of the classroom

      I used to work at a school that had an all-school assembly every morning. Sometimes teachers would give a short talk at the beginning of that assembly, and I was always shocked that many teachers would begin with “I’m so nervous talking in front of everybody.” My inside-my-head reaction was “But you talk in front of groups of people every day… multiple times a day!” After thinking about it more, I realized it really is a completely different skill to speak in front of a large group of people (several hundreds or thousands) than to engage with a smaller classroom of 16-30 students.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        I was a classroom teacher myself, but I’ve never had issues with public speaking, so I just couldn’t relate to the two being so completely separate to some people.

        1. Baby Fishmouth*

          I used to act in plays when I was a kid and a teenager – but when I had to present in class (in high school and even later in college), I would stutter and rush through things and my face would ALWAYS ALWAYS go bright red. To me, it was completely different than performing as somebody else on stage where the lights block out the audience, but nobody else could understand why I was okay with acting and not with a 10-minute class presentation.

      2. Justin*

        Yeah my friend received an award once and froze when accepting, and I was surprised, because, as you said, I figured she does that sort of thing all day.

        But it’s a different (though related) skill. I like that, but, well, that’s just me.

      3. Yorick*

        I’m much less nervous while teaching, because I’m talking to the students instead of giving a speech.

      4. Danke*

        I would imagine it’s also different to speak to kids as an authority figure and to speak to adults as their peer.

      5. MsMaryMary*

        And I know people who speak in front of large groups on a regular basis who are terrified at the idea of standing up in front of 20 children! I did a Junior Achievement project a few years ago and some of my colleagues were dumbfounded that I didn’t think it was a big deal to talk to a first grade class.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          I get that! Most adults will at least feign attention and clap politely at the end. Kids’ feedback is more immediate and decisive. (I do both – I have to present to adults a lot as part of my job, and I also volunteer with group of anywhere from 8-15 kids on a regular basis. The kids are a MUCH tougher audience!)

    2. Bostonian*

      Yeah. In my office job (not public-speaking focused by any means), everyone at least occasionally reports to the department, and sometimes outside of the department, on certain projects (some people more than others). It’s so normal that trying to get out of it would be REALLY weird.

      I’m about as introverted as they come. I also used to struggle with generalized anxiety. But doing the occasional presentation is something I deal with because it comes with the territory. (And I really don’t think it needs to be in the job description to be expected some of the time.)

  17. Almond Butter*

    I think its fair to push your associate director to be better at public speaking, especially if it this is apart of her role. Your admin however, I think she definitely needs to be able to address a room of people and be able to give instructions to large groups. Though true public speaking for your admin is a great perk if she wants it and especially if you know she has aspirations to eventually move up into another role then this is a great benefit you have provided her. However if she doesn’t have aspirations to move into another role or just doesn’t want it I would let it go with this position.

    1. Seriously?*

      I think it comes down to the OP needing to worry less about the impact on their future career and more about how it affects their current job performance. Offering opportunities to help with future career aspirations is a good thing to do, but should not be forced. What they can (and should) push is getting their reports to fulfill their current roles.

  18. Rusty Shackelford*

    I hate that concentrating on what I like to do, and can do well, is considered “career limiting.” I don’t ever want a career that requires me to do a lot of public speaking. It’s not limiting me to avoid that. (Oh, but you’ll never move up into management? Well, good. I don’t want that either.)

    Deciding that your staff need to be good public speakers is like deciding they need to be good artists, or good salespeople. Some people thrive on that kind of stuff, and some people don’t, and people who don’t want to do it or can’t do it tend to avoid those jobs. You’re not going to make anybody happy – you, them, or the audience – by thrusting them into it anyway.

    1. Aleta*

      Strongly agree. I’d even say (general) you HAVE to engage in “career limiting” behavior, because there are so many options with so many different qualifications, and not enough time in your life to pursue them all. Even if you were fine doing whatever, you still have to choose at some point, and that will inherently rule out other things. There’s no One True Path to A Good Career, and even The Pursuit Of Promotion And/Or More Money shouldn’t be a given. Not everyone seeks Fulfillment from work, and can be perfectly happy living on a modest salary. The paths are multitude, and it’s hardly shocking to close the door to one path.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Not everyone seeks Fulfillment from work, and can be perfectly happy living on a modest salary.

        Limiting yourself to areas where you are comfortable and proficient can actually lead to a lot of fulfillment and a lot more money. I’m happier and more valuable as a NonSpeaker than I would be as a Speaker, because I’m better at it.

    2. Birch*

      Being able to explain your role in a team in an internal meeting is such a low bar, shouldn’t everyone be able to do that, no matter their role? It’s not really the same thing as requiring someone to be good at public speaking or take on a completely different role.

      1. Elspeth*

        If everyone could do that, great. Not everyone can though, for various reasons – anxiety, not good with words, not good with speaking to groups of people. Not every role needs you to be able speak for your department. If a role REQUIRES that type of speaking, then it needs to be made clear before the person accepts the position.

      2. Clare*

        Yes I agree. This is not about being an expert public speaker, it’s more the equivalent of being able to write a coherent email.

        1. jojobeans*

          Not necessarily. I can write an extremely coherent email (my job is primarily writing and editing) because that is where my strength lies. Also it gives me time to think, write, revise, and proofread.

          When it comes to discussing my job in a meeting, I can do it but it’s probably not going to make a whole lot of sense — or at least, not as much as it would in an email. This is because I don’t think quickly, my tongue has a bad habit of getting ahead of my brain, I have a bit of a stutter especially when nervous, and I hate speaking in front of others so it always makes me nervous, no matter what.

          So equating the requirement of speaking extemporaneously in a meeting with writing a coherent email is not exactly equal. They might both be necessary skills, but some will be better at one and others will be better at the others. And hey, some might be awesome or terrible at both.

          If it’s required, then you do it (as I do). But it’s with the understanding that it might not be of very good quality and as such, handing that responsibility off to someone else if possible might just be best for everyone.

    3. Jennifer*

      Yeah, this is why it sucks so bad when the “requirements of the job change.” I wouldn’t have taken the job I’m in had I but known I would be thrown on the public service phone lines.

    4. NotAnotherManager!*

      It *is* limiting, though, and the question is whether or not the person choosing not to do something is bothered by the limit it will place. It is totally reasonable to decide you do not wish to do a certain job or work in a particular field or cap your career trajectory at a certain level – you’re self-limiting based on your personal preferences.

      I’m an upper manager who is required to speak publicly all the time – it’s not my favorite by a long shot, but I’ve decided the overall job is worth the hassle of sucking it up on this thing that I don’t enjoy. It’s also fine that my spouse has no interest in a management role of any type and prefers jobs that allow for primarily solo or partnered work, not large group projects – those preference absolutely limit the jobs for which they’d be eligible/interested in applying to, but it’s a self-imposed limit and it’s the best approach for their personal happiness. I consider both of us lucky that we get to set our own career limits rather than being forced into ones that aren’t in line with what we do/don’t want to do.

    5. Colin*

      Also, if you’re going to actually say “career-limiting” to your staff, then be aware that some people will associate that with the euphemism “career-limiting move” meaning something that will get you fired in very short order. (In fact, the LW even used the longer phrase directly!) To me, a CLM is more in the area of outright insubordination or gross misconduct than the area of being upset about a new or changing job requirement.

      Whether that’s part of your idiolect or not, if it isn’t what you mean you might want to choose a different phrase when talking to people you have power over.

  19. Myrin*

    Alison, regarding your last paragraph, what exactly would “pushing them a little more” look like? I can’t quite envision any phrasing that wouldn’t either be too soft and suggest-y or too “harsh” and pressure-y (yes, I like making nouns into adjectives by simply adding -y because I can’t English right atm, why do you ask?).

    1. Seriously?*

      If their job requires them to present, I don’t think coming across as harsh or “pressure-y” is necessarily bad. When someone is refusing to do their job, harsh feedback is required. But the is only if it is actually a job requirement.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I just meant stuff like “This is a skill that’s going to be important to you as you move through the work world, so I’d like you to speak at the upcoming staff meeting about X” or even just “I’m hoping you’ll reconsider because Y.” (But again, only in the limited circumstances I described in the post, not as general advice. And if the job actually does require it, then it’s just “I do need the person in this role to be able to do X.”)

    3. LizB*

      (I am not Alison, obviously, but:) I think this could be a good conversation for a regular 1:1, sometime when a big speaking engagement is not imminent. “I want to mention something I’d like you to consider: I think it would be really beneficial to your career in this field to increase your comfort level with public speaking. If you’d eventually like to get to the level of Llama Director, it’s generally expected that you’ll be able to speak to your department’s work in situations like all-hands meetings or presentations to community partners. I know public speaking can be really anxiety-inducing for many people, but it’s something you can improve with support and practice — I don’t expect anyone to just be automatically good at it. Would you be willing to make that a professional development focus for yourself? If so, let’s talk about resources we can connect you with.”

      1. Letter Writer*

        LW here- I have had this conversation over the years, in 1:1 meetings and in annual reviews. One of them has pursued some professional development, and one has not.

        1. Liet-Kinda (nee Snark)*

          My wild guess is it’s the admin who has not. I’d stop bringing it up with them in that case, honestly, because it’s really not a typical expectation of someone in that role – even as a “expand your skills” kind of thing.

          1. Persephone Mulberry*

            I’m not going to go back and check time stamps on comments, but based on LW’s observation above that the admin has expressed interest in moving up and that the emphasis on larger meetings and presentations is a shift in the organization, I’d bet it’s the other way around.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I would stop bringing it up for the employee who doesn’t need it to succeed in their current job (most likely the admin, but possibly the AD). It will come across as coercive over time and may breed resentment if your employees feel like they’ve clearly pushed back and you’re still bringing it up.

      2. nonegiven*

        >but it’s something you can improve with support and practice —

        It may be something that a lot of people can improve, but not everyone.

  20. Project Manager*

    I think the right path forward depends on your industry. I will say that as an engineer, you definitely don’t *have* to be the one member of the team who gets up and talks to the room full of 150 people with another 100-200 on telecon, many of whom are happy to put the “critical” in critical design review…but if your face is never in front of management, that might not hurt your career exactly, but it does make it harder to get the best work. I love public speaking and have taken on optional opportunities to talk about my projects, not for mercenary reasons but just because I was invited to do so and thought it would be fun, and I guarantee that has helped me build a reputation and get opportunities for new and exciting work that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

    1. Close Bracket*

      > I will say that as an engineer, you definitely don’t *have* to be the one member of the team who gets up and talks

      Just my perspective, but I’ve never seen an engineer role that didn’t have something alluding to presenting as part of the job description, and it’s been part of most of my interviews. In fact, I was really weirded out at my last on site interview bc I *wasn’t* asked to give a presentation. I’ve been on 10-12 on site interviews in my life, so that’s not a huge sample. However, if we are going with “industry specific,” I would say that engineering is an industry where you have to be willing to present, even if it’s not you every time.

    2. Engineer Girl*

      I will strongly disagree with you.
      Almost every senior engineer position requires speaking and selling your designs to your customer. Maybe it’s proposal work, maybe design review, maybe another review. But you WILL have to present your ideas.

      People lie to themselves and say “but I’m in a tech position”. The problem with this is that there are always less expensive newer engineers coming up behind you that can do your lower level tech job just as well as you. At some point the company will decide that you are more expensive than someone else and will lay you off.

      It’s move up into the senior roles or move out. And all senior roles have speaking and writing as critical skills.

  21. socrescentfresh*

    This letter could have been written by my manager, and as one of the people on the team who doesn’t mind public speaking, I sometimes resent that some colleagues who get out of group presentations because they do mind it. They don’t have phobias and come across just fine when they give presentations, but my manager recently decreed that those of us who expressed comfort with public speaking will henceforth do all the group trainings normally shared by my team. I have sympathy for people with anxiety and phobias, but for anything less, I wish people would suck it up.

    1. Yorick*

      I have some anxiety about public speaking, but if it’s part of the job, you just gotta do it.

      If OP wants them to be public speaking more, they should try to provide some trainings or resources instead of just saying, “you should get better/more comfortable at this.”

      1. Yorick*

        Forgot to actually write my response to socresentfresh, which was that it’s not right to push work off on other coworkers just because you’re not fully comfortable with something yet.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      What you’ve described is a great example of a manager over-correcting by going too far in the other direction. If you’re a team that has group presentations, then it’s reasonable for public speaking to be a core job function and to expect it to be evenly divided. It would be different if you were getting some kind of reprieve (e.g., you do more of the trainings, but they have to do more of the content development or other work), but if this is an expectation of all staff, then it should be evenly applied.

    3. The New Wanderer*

      I’d resent them if they got out of doing any part of group presentations, and the speakers had to do all the prep work too. But if they’re contributing at least their share of slides/info/content, I could see agreeing to keep their speaking part to a minimum if they’re really unhappy about speaking (not zero all the time, though).

  22. TotesMaGoats*

    I would say you’ve got good ground to push back with your associate director. She’s your back up person in a lot of ways I would imagine and at that level, probably regardless of the industry, she would be expected to be able to present and not just as a back up when you are sick/can’t go.

    The admin I’d give more leeway too. It’s generally not a part of that kind of role and while encouragement and explanation of how this would be a benefit to them is appropriate, I wouldn’t push as hard.

  23. Lady Jay*

    So what struck me was that the staff members “suggest[ed] other ways that [they] can share information, for “those among us who just aren’t cut out for public speaking.” A week or so ago, an article cropped up on my Twitter feed about how HS students are increasingly asking teachers to design other ways for them to present information and be assessed beyond public speaking: e.g. videotaping a presentation that will be viewed only by the instructor, creating a Prezi, etc. The idea was that some HS students are people who “aren’t cut out” for public speaking and shouldn’t be made to do it as part of, say, their English assignment.

    I have such mixed feelings about this, as a teacher myself. On the one hand, I believe in designing instruction/assessment geared toward student strengths and varied personalities; on the other, the beauty of education is that it’s a good time to develop new skills and abilities. Especially with younger people, like HS/college students, saying you’re “not cut out” for something denies you of the chance to develop new interests and skills. I spent my HS years saying I wasn’t “cut out” for math, and now that I’m in my 30s, I regret that I spent so much time telling myself this, because math is cool, and I wish I’d taken the opportunity during my formal education to actually study it more.

    In the situation here, I similarly see the benefit of having staff members perform job responsibilities in ways that reflect their strengths. If they’re really good at designing infographics for instance, an infographic could be valuable. But when they say they’re “not cut out” for speaking, and immediately take a detour around any kind of speaking, without dipping a toe into the waters, they risk denying themselves the chance to develop new skills and grow as professionals and people. Is it possible there’s value in pushing people, just a little?

    (Note that these are questions without an easy answer; it’s the reason I’m asking a question, not making a statement!)

    1. Birch*

      I agree with you. It’s such a delicate balance. Most people have some level of anxiety about presentations, struggle to some extent with math, etc. The framing of being “cut out for” something or not is so final and gives people the permission to stop trying. It creates such a psychological block–I also did this with a variety of things. Now I try to frame it as “I don’t have as much experience in this area” or “this is a strength of mine, and this other thing is something I’m working on.”

    2. Yorick*

      I was thinking of math too, as another example of something people limit themselves about. Public speaking is something that isn’t natural for a lot of people but can be learned.

      And an infographic can be awesome, but it usually still requires someone to explain it a little.

    3. Rusty Shackelford*

      But when they say they’re “not cut out” for speaking, and immediately take a detour around any kind of speaking, without dipping a toe into the waters, they risk denying themselves the chance to develop new skills and grow as professionals and people. Is it possible there’s value in pushing people, just a little?

      Isn’t that a choice that adults should be allowed to make for themselves? I mean, if it’s a job requirement, it’s a job requirement. But if it’s not necessarily part of their jobs, and is just an eager manager wanting to help her staff grow… encouragement is okay. Pushing is not.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        I don’t think Lady Jay was addressing directly the OP’s question. The focus seemed to be a bit more on a related (but not equivalent) situation around teaching high school students.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Given that she says “In the situation here, I similarly see the benefit of having staff members…,” I disagree with your interpretation.

      2. Yorick*

        Well, I don’t think young people realize how limiting these things can be, and how much they might regret it if they finally realize that they could have been doing this all along. Like Alison said, you can push your just-out-of-college employees to grow this way much more than your more senior employees, who may have made a more conscious decision.

      3. Lady Jay*

        I mean, a bit of both? The truth is, even adults don’t always get 100% control over our choices; if the job requires speaking (or videoing, or infographic-making), then that’s what it requires.

        Mainly, I was trying to what was (to me) a kind of shrug in Alison’s answer, and in the broader culture, that we should just accommodate whatever people feel they are or are not cut out to do. I actually think a little bit of encouragement, or gentle pushing–obviously not arm-twisting!!–is okay, though I’d agree with you that railroading somebody can feel pretty bad to be on the receiving end of.

        1. Lady Jay*

          That said, I acknowledge that to the extent this particular job doesn’t require speaking, this may be a moot point.

    4. WellRed*

      Not a teacher, but I saw that article as well. Not sure what side I fall on. I am sympathetic to the fear of public speaking, but reading “we shouldn’t have to do anything that makes us uncomfortable” made my eyeballs roll. That’s a big part of life and growing.

      1. LQ*

        We should have to do a lot of stuff that makes us uncomfortable. The lack of willingness to be uncomfortable is really a problematic trend. I’m glad my boss talks fairly often about being uncomfortable and how the work we do will make us feel uncomfortable but his job isn’t to make my life comfortable. (And if I want to be comfortable there’s a yawn worthy entry level job he’d stick me in until I retire in 4 decades.) If you want to grow in your job or your life you have to be uncomfortable, that’s what growth is, expanding the places where you’re uncomfortable, becoming more comfortable with them and then doing it again.

        I think just hearing my boss talk about that has helped. This last year has been nothing but being uncomfortable, getting pushed to the edge, figuring out that’s the edge, coming back for a breath and going again. That’s what development is. I don’t know this thing and I need to try and learn and grow.

    5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      It’s different when you’re a kid and don’t really know what you’re good at and what simply causes anxiety because you haven’t tried it before. But that’s not really applicable to adults, imo.

      1. LQ*

        I strongly disagree. Adults get anxiety because they haven’t tried things all the time. Adults don’t really know what they are good at if it is something they haven’t tried. I mean maybe at some point in my adult life I’ll stop trying new things and stop getting better at it, but I’ve spent more time in my life as an adult trying new stuff than as a kid.

      2. nonegiven*

        If you were forced into it as a kid and had a traumatic anxiety attack in front of a full classroom, maybe don’t push it.

    6. Alternative Person*

      As a fellow teacher, I agree. Knowing how to push a little can be a key factor in getting students to achieve what they want/need (and often save them time/money/hassle later on).

      I’ve had students come to me after months/ years of not doing enough speaking practice (through both avoidance and being let off the hook (or never being put on the hook in the first place)) wanting conversation/interview/presentation skills but then really struggle because they’ve never had the nudge to do those things (at least in the way they’re being expected to for their target) before and they find themselves almost totally at sea and in some cases, resistant to being helped because they’ve always rubbed along perfectly well before.

      For a manager, it’s a bit different, especially if their reports don’t need certain specific skills (and in the case of the crier, sounds like there are deeper issues at work) but I still think there’s room to encourage them out of their comfort zone or provide support- like dry runs and supporting roles .

    7. Sue Wilson*

      I think the entire point of school is learning to do things you’re uncomfortable or unfamiliar with (with the caveat that if someone is having trouble with that, that it makes sense to accommodate them into something that they will exceed at). That’s….not the point of a job.

    8. Critical*

      Public speaking isn’t the be-all and end-all of communication, so it’s good that we are moving to other options. Sure, some people love a good presentation, but when it comes to retaining information and being able to reference later, a well-written email/memo/slideshow is much more useful.

      If the topic is something people don’t need to remember or refer to later, then maybe we should reconsider if it’s worth wasting time on a presentation. Office jobs are overfilled with meetings as it is.

    9. Mia*

      I have been out of high school for nearly a decade and Prezi, videos, powerpoints, etc. were all utilized for presentations back then too. It didn’t hinder anyone’s professional development, and some degree of “presenting” was generally still required.

      Also, some kids just *know* when they’re “not cut out” for things. I also grew up thinking I wasn’t cut out for math and was ultimately diagnosed with dyscalculia as an adult. Sometimes you have to take people at their word when they say they don’t have certain skills.

    10. Dankar*

      I struggle with this, too, because when you have a packed classroom and a thousand targets to hit (standardized testing, regional minimums, standard curriculum) there isn’t enough time to design tasks and alternatives that everyone is going to excel at or feel comfortable doing. And I really don’t think it’s helpful to, anyway.

      I teach a composition class at the local community college, and I require writing assignments and public speaking assignments. Generally, students hate both, but they do them and sometimes learn that it’s not as scary or impossible as it seems. And some of these students ARE fully grown adults.

      On a more personal note, my partner is not artistic in the slightest, but he attended an arts high school and was forced to flex that part of his brain on occasion. He took from that school a lifelong love of the visual arts (he almost pursued a humanities minor) that he never would have had without that exposure. I was forced to take a course with a heavy public-speaking component to fulfill a degree requirement, and that was the class where I discovered that I LOVE being at the front of a classroom.

      The calculus can be different for adult professionals in the workplace, but I don’t think we do students any favors when we spare them from unfamiliar experiences just because they may be uncomfortable with trying something outside their wheelhouse.

    11. LilySparrow*

      As a teacher, yes.
      As an employer, not so much, or not in the same way. Students are there specifically to be instructed and guided in their learning & development.

      A good boss offers opportunities for development, but the employee isn’t there primarily in order to receive guidance and instruction from the boss on personal development.

      They are there to exchange work for money.

  24. bopper*

    I had a boss who assigned someone to attend Toastmasters meetings to work on his public speaker. We also were able to take public speaking classes.

    I agree that for the admin that public speaking would not generally be considered a skill they need, but for an associate director..yes.

  25. tallteapot*

    If this has never been presented as a part of their job, then I wouldn’t press it upon them. If you’re changing their job duties and making it a required part of their job, then it would be reasonable, IMO, to have a conversation about this change and offer to find training/workshops to help the employee(s) develop this skill and work past their fear.
    Otherwise, just bringing up the idea that not being willing to speak in public puts limits on on your career direction is fine when talking about future plans.
    but if it’s not a requirement of their current job, I wouldn’t press this.

  26. Mike*

    I do find public speaking a bit odd for me. I’m not a huge fan of it , still get some shakes beforehand, am self conscious during, but get so much praise afterwards. So I keep doing it and getting better at it but still not comfortable with it.

    I expect that people in leadership positions should be able to do it even if they don’t like it. I don’t expect rank and file positions to do it.

  27. UK Nerd*

    After several years in Toastmasters I no longer fear public speaking and feel like I can do it reasonably well. It’s still something I’ll avoid if possible, because it’s not something I particularly enjoy. It’s not always just a question of getting over fear – it’s also a skill that some of us need to learn before we can do it. Before Toastmasters, being asked to do public speaking was like being asked to get up and play the piano without ever having a piano lesson.

    So I’d recommend sending them to Toastmasters, but at the same time accept that even with training they may still not be cut out for public speaking. I would have more career options if I was willing to do presentations, but they aren’t options I actually want.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      But if they don’t need to do it for their jobs, it doesn’t make sense to send them to Toastmasters if they don’t want to, particularly the admin. If they do need to, then sure. That’s really what’s at the crux of it: do they need to, or don’t they?

  28. Ella Dawson*

    I used to be petrified of public speaking… and then I started working at TED (gulp). Public speaking is a huge part of our corporate culture, and my manager encouraged me to face my fear and build those presentation skills. Making those presentations for the company was critical for gaining recognition of my work, and they helped me stand out as an intern… and then as an assistant… and eventually as an editor. I’ve gotten to the point where I truly enjoy public speaking, the give and take of energy from an audience, and the visibility it gives to my work and my value to the organization. It’s never a good idea to push someone in front of an audience who is terrified, especially a shy introvert like me, but there’s a case to be made that it can help your visibility and progression within the company, especially for junior staffers. I’m now the interim director of my department, and I don’t know if I’d have gotten here if I didn’t put myself on stage in front of organizational leaders here. But managers have to invest energy and training in their staffers who are afraid of public speaking: give them resources and encouragement, practice with them, praise what they get right and help them identify their individual strengths. Definitely do not be hostile or judgmental! They need to know they have someone rooting for them in the audience, not waiting for them to mess up and reflect poorly on the department.

  29. beth*

    Large-audience public speaking is definitely not a skill that everyone is naturally good at or wants to develop. If you were talking about speaking up at a small meeting, I’d say that’s a necessary skill set for most professionals…but presenting in front of 100 people is a totally different thing than giving a quick report in a 10-person meeting.

    Do your employees actually need to develop this skill set to fulfill their job duties? If they really do, then you have standing to tell them that they have to figure it out. If you can offer ways to support them or venues for them to practice, that would be a lot more helpful than just telling them to figure it out.

    If it’s not a necessary job duty for their current position, though, I think you need to reevaluate why you’re so hung up on this. Speaking in front of a large group might limit them from some jobs–someone who hates being in front of a crowd is never going to be a politician, for example–but there are so many jobs that don’t require it that I would hardly consider it a serious limitation for most people. They’re allowed to decide that it’s not worth it to them to develop that skill. I honestly find it pretty patronizing that you’re questioning whether it’s ‘acceptable’ for people to make that decision for themselves; you’re their manager, not their parent.

  30. Sunflower*

    Honestly it’s going to be pretty difficult to find a job where you’ll never have to speak in front of people, ever. Even the admins in our office have to do it every so often. They handle it fine.

    I treat public speaking the same way I’d treat any work capacity. Yeah, if you ask me to balance the department’s budget and I’ve never done it before, I’ll feel anxious. If I receive the proper training and get to practice first, then no problem. It’s no different and people who treat it as something Major and Different and Scary are doing themselves a disservice.

    1. beth*

      But talking in a 10-person team meeting with your most familiar coworkers is a hugely different skill set than presenting in front of 100+ people who you may not know at all. The former is necessary for most professionals. The latter is really not; there are some jobs that require it regularly, some where it might come up once in a while, and plenty where it’s never a required thing.

      And whether you like it or not, public speaking is a common area for people to experience intense anxiety. It’s not something they’re ‘doing to themselves’; it’s an emotional reaction that some people experience and others don’t. It’s up to the individual whether it’s worth pushing through that or not, and different people make different decisions depending on the intensity of their reaction, whether they need it for their chosen field, etc.

      1. Sunflower*

        What does it have to do with what I like or not? It’s a work skill like any other, except it gets elevated into something OMG SO SCARY when it doesn’t need to be. Like I said below, I would never throw someone in front of 100+ people with no training or coaching. After training and practice, public speaking isn’t so scary.

        I have anxiety around numbers and formulas. That doesn’t mean I should never have to touch an Excel spreadsheet. It means I need to learn how to do it.

        1. beth*

          “After training and practice, public speaking isn’t so scary.”

          This just isn’t true for a lot of people.

          “I have anxiety around numbers and formulas. That doesn’t mean I should never have to touch an Excel spreadsheet. It means I need to learn how to do it.”

          Maybe you do need to do this–maybe it’s important for the job that you want to have, maybe it’s important for your life in other ways. But not every anxiety-provoking thing HAS to be overcome just because it exists! A different person with numbers-related anxiety might be on a different life path where they’re never going to need to use numbers in a work-related way, and might entirely reasonably decide that it’s just not worth the effort to work through that anxiety. Whether it needs to be addressed or not depends a lot on the individual and their goals for themselves, which is one reason this comment thread has so many posts emphasizing whether this is a core job skill for LW’s employees or not.

        2. slick ric flair*

          100% agree with this point.

          My opinion is that just because some is anxious or scared doesn’t mean it’s a get-out-of-jail card, especially for a work skill. Admins have to speak in front of a group sometimes, and it is completely reasonable for a manager to expect that and make it a requirement without a Big Talk years in advance or putting it in a formal job description.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      That’s not comparable. Speaking to people who approach the front desk or to groups of 10 is categorically different than presenting to 100+ people. There are certainly admins who have to present in front of 100+ people, but there are very few admin jobs where public speaking at that scale is a core job responsibility or expectation.

      1. Sunflower*

        Was it not clear that I was speaking about the admins in my office? Ours often do present to 70+ people (the number of people in our division. We have 5 admins.) They present new procedures, share status updates, and present on side projects (if they’ve been working on some, not all of them do.) Just sharing anecdotal evidence that yeah, some admins do have to present sometimes. That’s all.

        My point is that it’s a skill like any, that can be taught and developed and practised. It would be cruel to throw someone in front of an audience with no prep, absolutely. After some Toastmasters training or coaching or one-on-one practice? That’s different.

        1. Elspeth*

          Yeah, but the whole point of the question is, does the Admin NEED to be able to speak in front of large groups? If not, why press the issue?

          1. Sunflower*

            I assumed it WAS necessary for the Admin to be able to speak, otherwise the LW wouldn’t have bothered writing in about it. I can’t imagine why LW would be concerned unless they knew it was an integral part of the job.

            Otherwise yeah, why press the issue and waste your time writing to AAM about it?

            1. Woodchuck*

              Apparently because the OP considers this to be some sort of moral obligation that they ought to be compelled to do regardless of its relevance or necessity.

  31. stitchinthyme*

    I wouldn’t take a job that required public speaking. I’ve done the occasional presentation among colleagues, and that’s okay — I still get nervous, but I can get through it — but I will not speak in front of large groups or audiences I don’t know. Oh, I know I could join Toastmasters and take steps to get better at it, but I have zero desire to, and part of why I chose the career I did (software development) is because it generally doesn’t require much if any public speaking.

    However, if public speaking is a regular part of OP’s employees’ job descriptions, they do need to either suck it up or find new jobs. But OP needs to be fair in assessing whether it actually IS a requirement, or whether, as Alison said, OP just thinks they need to get overt their fear.

  32. Persimmons*

    Without getting too sandwichy, there are reasons to dislike public speaking besides fearing it. I hate it because I’m embarrassed of my terrible teeth. My colleague avoids doing staff meeting presentations due to medication-related dry mouth.

    I thought it was worth mentioning because most responses are suggesting that overcoming anxiety will cure the issue. Other solutions may be necessary.

    1. Holly*

      If that’s the case though that would have to be brought up by the employee – it’s a rare situation. and there could be solutions presented in terms of how they present, too.

    2. Bea*

      My general self loathing is why I hate it. But it’s still tied into anxiety in the end. Others focus on their body shape or speech impediment.

      1. Audra*

        Wouldn’t a speech impediment be a reason to not present? I grew up with a a stutter and still have it on occasion, so I am always afraid of presenting professionally because it might make my company look bad or ill-prepared. I don’t know if it’s necessary tied to anxiety.

        1. Bea*

          My speech impertinent comes and goes. It depends on a lot of variables. It’s never meant I could just bow out of speaking in groups. When you hyperfocus on “X” being whatever your insecurity is, it manifests into anxiety.

  33. Anon for this*

    Great advice but that last paragraph strikes me as a little ageist. I do agree it makes sense to tie the level of “push” to the employees’ point in their careers, but not their age per se.

  34. Nita*

    OP – you’re a great public speaker. That’s good. You enjoy public speaking. Also good. You believe public speaking is a very valuable skill. Right on.

    However, do the people you manage really need to be passable public speakers, or are you pushing them just because you think it’s great? If they really need to do it, they should absolutely either try to push themselves out of their comfort zone, or be aware this will limit their career. If they don’t need to do it, they’re adults and can figure out what works for their career in the long run with this limitation.

    To use sports as a comparison, let’s say you’re a good swimmer. You feel, quite rightly, that swimming is a skill that can benefit anyone. Does that mean your employees can never succeed if they for some reason do not want to learn to swim? If they’re a lifeguard, definitely not – it’s a must. If they’re a research chemist, no point in pushing them – they can find dozens of other ways to be active, and make sure to wear a life jacket when they’re on the water.

    1. Letter Writer*

      LW here- I answered this above, but I just want to be clear that I’m not pushing them. I don’t need them to love it, but it would be nice to not be the only person only team who could represent us at all-staff meetings.

      1. Anonymous 5*

        While I absolutely appreciate the sentiment that it would be nice not to be the only person who can represent the team at all-staff meetings, if it isn’t an actual job requirement then I don’t think you have a leg to stand on here. Certainly not for an admin assistant, though a more compelling case could be made for an AD. If the presentation aspect is specific to your job description and not to theirs, then it’s effectively asking a favor–and so they need to be able to say no without repercussions.

        1. Liet-Kinda (nee Snark)*

          “if it isn’t an actual job requirement then I don’t think you have a leg to stand on here.”

          I mean, for most jobs, doing other duties as required is pretty much an actual job requirement. I’m a biologist, I’m going out to clean toner cartridge bins later. I don’t think that’s a criterion to base the decision on.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I read Anonymous5 to mean core/necessary “skill” required for the successful performance of this specific job when they mentioned “job requirement.”

            1. Bostonian*

              That’s not what was said, though, and there are plenty of comments that do mean “job requirement” in the literal sense of the word (job description).

      2. McWhadden*

        Do they make as much as you? If not will you increase their pay for the additional duties they’ll be taking on?

        1. Letter Writer*

          Would you consider presenting your own work (2-3 slides) to your own colleagues additional work that merited a pay increase?

            1. Eddiesherbert*

              I disagree, especially since it’s at an internal staff meeting (where I personal see more wiggle room for mistakes).

              1. Turtle Candle*

                Yeah, I think that anyone who tried to run with “I need a raise for presenting 2-3 slides at the All Hands” would look… out of touch, at best. That’s just not how pay raises work in the vast, vast majority of companies.

          1. McWhadden*

            Also, you say you want them to be able to step in for you if you are unavailable. So, that is not just presenting their own work. That’s what you want them to do immediately. Not all you expect of them.

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Definitely not. Presenting your own work in a few sentences/slides to your colleagues is not additional “duties” that justify a pay increase.

      3. Nita*

        It does sound like a job requirement, then! If you need them to fill in for you when you’re away, they should be comfortable with public speaking. It may help to ask them what’s holding them back, if you haven’t already. If it’s just lack of practice, that’s very fixable, and they may feel better if they get some training first – it doesn’t come to everyone naturally. If it’s anxiety, I’m not sure what the answer is, but others have a lot of good suggestions!

      4. Director and Presenter*

        You may have covered this elsewhere in the comments, but the only element I could think of that hasn’t already been mentioned is:

        Doesn’t the associate director, who reports to you, hope to replace you when you promote into a better gig? If so, she’ll need to be able to give the presentations you’re giving now …

    2. Yorick*

      I don’t think swimming is a useful comparison. There are only a handful of jobs where one needs to be able to swim. But at least some degree of public speaking is necessary in most jobs.

      They probably don’t need to be able to give a TED talk, but most people do need to be able to say a few sentences at an internal meeting without becoming angry and tearful.

      1. Letter Writer*

        This is more of what my letter was trying to tease out. Do most people need to be able to say a few sentences at an internal meeting? Or is that unreasonable? Many of the comments here seem to think it is unreasonable, and I’m not sure I agree!

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I admittedly haven’t read all the comments, but my sense is that the majority of people are saying (and it’s also what I wrote in the post) that you need to figure out whether or not it’s necessary for their jobs. If it is, then you explain that and you require them to work on it. If it’s not, then you don’t push based on ideas of what might help them in some hypothetical future job.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          It depends on the size of your internal meeting! If it’s a presentation to 100 people, then no, I don’t think an admin (or some other positions) should be required to present, and requiring them to do so does sound unreasonable.

          I sit on a Board where our interim Comptroller, who had never needed to engage in public speaking before stepping in to fill a hiring gap, was required to report to the Finance Committee (12 people). He gets extremely nervous with all public speaking at any scale. I worked closely with him to make him feel more comfortable in the Committee, but I’m not going to force him to present to the Board (55-60 people) if it’s not necessary. He opted into a job where he wouldn’t have to give presentations, and although he had to speak publicly in his interim capacity, when he returned to his prior position, there’s no way I would make him present just because I think being able to speak to groups is important.

        3. triplehiccup*

          I’ve had various positions in hospitality, education, and consulting. In every single one, refusing to speak in an internal meeting would have been odd. I wouldn’t describe that as public speaking!

          1. Bostonian*

            Adding my agreement. I know that’s generally not considered a helpful comment, but the LW is getting the opposite sense from the comments.

        4. Joielle*

          Wait, is “a few sentences” all you’re asking for? Because when you say they were “asked to present” at a meeting, I assumed that meant a formal presentation – probably something at least 15-20 minutes, maybe with a Powerpoint or similar. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to expect just about anyone to be able to fill in for you and give a 2-3 sentence update on a program, for example – even if it’s just for the sake of convenience (e.g. someone else COULD do the update but the admin/AD is already scheduled to be at the meeting and it’s just easier).

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Right, that’s a good point! If it’s a few sentences, yes, it’s reasonable to say they need to be able to do that, period. Is that what we’re talking about?

            1. Letter Writer*

              For this particular presentation (which I am giving in an hour) I wanted them to speak about their roles, and the work that they are doing for our team, as a small part of the larger overview that I was in charge of. They’d each have two to three slides. This was clear to them. They declined.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Is that the scope of what you generally want them to do? Or is it often more than that? If it’s usually just this, that changes my whole answer. It’s entirely reasonable to ask people to do that.

                1. Letter Writer*

                  Yes, this is the scope of what I want them to do. In fact, that is the max that I want them to do- most of their “presenting” would be at smaller, seated meetings. But at this all-staff meeting, where I am showcasing the work of our entire department, I wanted to them to cover the parts that they were in charge of.

              2. Eddiesherbert*

                OP, I think that is an extremely reasonable expectation – and that is typically how it works at my company (about 60ish people) during internal meetings.

                I’m not sure if this is the kind of request that made them cry, but if it is… I think their response is wildly out of proportion to the request.

              3. Nita*

                I don’t know if this is very helpful, but a suggestion from personal experience… I find it a lot easier to talk to large groups without referring to slides. Maybe it feels more like a regular conversation. Maybe it’s something about trying to do many things at once – keeping an eye on the audience, keeping an eye on the screen, and hitting the key points without making it a slide text recital. So, I wonder if it would be easier for them to just discuss whatever they need to, without slides…

              4. EM*

                That sounds entirely reasonable to me. I’ve never had a role in which small amounts of public speaking (internally) was not required and I had to practice to get through the anxiety. I also require it of my team regularly – we’ve all done training at different times aligned with our development, including on this for those who need it.

                For me, there was one particular time I was glad I learnt. My boss has anxiety and once had an attack part way through giving a farewell speech and lost their voice. I was able to pick up and speak and almost no one noticed the change. I hated it too, but I’m genuinely proud to that moment.

              5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                That changes my mind. In the circumstance you’ve described, absent some kind of medical reason they cannot share in front of large groups, it’s very normal/reasonable to expect people to say a few sentences about their role and work.

                If your AD is afraid of large groups, it would make sense to have them “practice” in front of smaller groups, first, and then to present to incrementally larger groups. But it’s reasonable to expect the AD to be able to describe their role/work, in 2-3 slides, in front of an internal, all-hands meeting.

          2. Someone Else*

            In my experience, 2-3 slides would probably be 1-2 minutes of talking, depending. So not quite 2-3 sentences, but still very short, and something almost anyone in my company might be asked to do maybe once a year.

        5. JamieS*

          Your letter read, at least to me, like you were talking about giving presentations to a large group of people (something planned relatively far in advance) not being able to speak for a minute or so at a routine meeting. If it’s mostly the latter then yeah people need to be able to do that.

        6. Clare*

          Yes, they do need to be able to say a few sentences. I would take a lot of these comments with a grain of salt, the majority tend to have a certain similar take on things that is not always in line with the population at large.

      2. Nita*

        I can think of so many jobs where there is zero public speaking required. Sounds like the question is about being able to present to large groups, which to some people feels very different than just talking to your team.

  35. IWishIHadACleverUserName*

    I work at a small-ish organization (40 employees), where we’ve all know one another for years.

    One of our management team makes an annual 60-minute presentation on a refresher subject for staff. It’s not a controversial or difficult topic, and she does not need to moderate any discussion — basically she reads a PowerPoint presentation to us and introduces a video that we must view. Yet, she is so anxious about speaking in front of a group that she is visibly shaking — and this is is front of people she knows pretty well. She’s great with each of us one-on-one, but in front of us as a group, her anxiety is palpable and distracts from the presentation. We have great sympathy for her.

    No, not everyone is cut out for public speaking. Assign that work to someone who is comfortable with it.

  36. Geneva*

    I’m one of those people who get intense anxiety about public speaking, as with other performance-type situations, due to general anxiety disorder. Like in college, I avoided taking classes that required presentations, and if I couldn’t, I would worry 24/7 about it from the moment it was assigned, then have a full-blown panic attack right after. I wish I could’ve pushed through my fears, but my brain/body don’t work like that sometimes, and I think that’s the case for some of the people OP is dealing with.

    OP – have you thought about offering accommodations? E.g., smaller presentation room, letting them sit vs stand, etc.? Personally, being able to sit when talking to a group helps me TREMENDOUSLY since I tend to get jelly legs when I’m nervous.

  37. Liet-Kinda (nee Snark)*

    So, my reply assumes that OP is engaged in large-audience public speaking: keynotes, classes, workshops, big training sessions. Assuming that, it’s really not surprising that many folks, even folks who are generally okay with, say, leading an internal meeting, are not okay with being tapped to be on stage in front of a hundred people.

    Given that assumption, it is not reasonable to expect your admin to participate unless they volunteer. It may be reasonable to expect your associate director to participate, but there’s some questions which may guide you:

    Beyond just being backup for when you might be sick, do you envision AD taking on a certain type of presentation? Are they a SME who can speak authoritatively to their area of expertise? Does their role imply a certain level of participation in these trainings?

    Or, do you just regard this as a good thing for them to get comfortable with? Is this just a thing you think all professionals should be able to do on demand? Is their actual role distinct from yours to the point that there’s no functional need for them to participate in the same trainings and events you do?

    I think you should be wary of telling someone who’s adamant that they don’t want to speak publicly to suck it up and do it unless there’s a pressing, clear, and objective need beyond just “this is a good thing for all professionals to learn and besides I might get sick sometimes.”

    1. Letter Writer*

      LW here- this is helpful language, thank you. This thread is helping me to tease out my own reasons behind wanting them to be able to do a minimal amount of presenting.

  38. Short Girl*

    I had my thyroid removed 6 months ago and I still have issues with speaking. I can talk, and hearing me for a minute or two, you may not notice anything weird. But the longer I talk, my voice starts cracking and my throat starts hurting. Due to this, I’ve asked to no longer be in the line up of our rotation to lead the weekly team meeting.

    So, while it’s probably not medical, it could be.

    1. Yorick*

      That’s a totally valid reason to ask not to speak at meetings. But it’s highly unlikely that it’s the case here. They’re becoming angry and tearful and saying they’re not cut out for it, not talking about their damaged vocal cords.

  39. Leslie*

    1) what are they asked to present and what is the overall culture of presentation expectations?
    2) how often are they asked to present?

    1) For me, I realized that my stress of speaking in meetings and presentations stemmed from not being familiar with the subject matter. And fear over pointed questions. In my experience, many people who speak up and present are fairly linear presenters – this is what we did (step by step), this is where we are going (step by step). Others offer broad statements and opinions disguised as presenting. Some folks won’t be comfortable with either approach – from the too mundane to the off-the-cuff. For me, I had to develop the confidence to say “this is how I’m going to do it.”
    2) At old job, I was asked to present only in high stakes environments. No opportunities to hone skills, at least at work. That’s another level of stress.

    In general, you want to be able to speak in an open setting. It’s a good skill to have. Maybe you can figure out how to make this experience less painful for your staff?

  40. Thus Spake Zaso*

    I used to teach speech at an HBCU that, wisely, required a public speaking course right along with composition 101 and other basic classes. I had SO MANY students who, if they hadn’t taken such a class, would have believed themselves to be “not cut out for” public speaking and therefore would have missed out on who-knows-how-many opportunities in life, not just in the workplace. The students who started out most convinced that they could not do it always ended up being those who were most grateful to have been forced to grow. It’s true that many people need a safe and supportive environment in which to learn how to feel comfortable and confident speaking to a group. It’s also true that going through that learning process can be broadly salutary, leading not only to “finding one’s voice” but also to being a more empathic observer of others (since effective public speakers are constantly “reading” the crowd, and that is a kind of listening). So, I have to strongly disagree with the idea that some people just aren’t cut out for public speaking.

    1. Rosa*

      100% agree. I will argue that public speaking is indeed a life skill, like reading and basic math skills. The more ways you can communicate, the more effective you can be in both your personal and professional lives. I think of my mother, who was deathly afraid of public speaking, shaking with anger after union meetings because of something that was said there. When I asked her why she didn’t speak up, she said, “Oh, I could *never* do that.” And sure, she could’ve spoken to her union rep afterwards or perhaps found other avenues, but she never, ever considered speaking in public. And that’s a shame.

      I encourage my employees to have a growth mindset, and I push back when they say, “I’m not good at X.” Now obviously, there are things that might not be in my purvue to help develop; I’m not going to push someone to be a good singer or learn stick shift. But I think public speaking is more important than many people think.

    2. Elspeth*

      Nope – that’s your experience. In fact, there ARE people who “just aren’t cut out for public speaking.” If a job requires occasional or more regular presentations, then that should be addressed when hiring for the position.

      1. Thus Spake Zaso*

        I don’t want to belabor this, but it’s actually important to understand that literally anybody can learn to be a calm and competent presenter of information. It might seem kind to concede that someone is “not cut out for” this or that task, but that actually veers dangerously toward the same kind of false biological determinism that leads some girls to think they’re “not cut out for” math or for people with learning disabilities to be told that they’re “not cut out for” a college education.

        Again, for several years I taught a required course from which people could not opt out (thus, this was not a self-selected pool of people) and never once encountered a student who was inherently “not cut out for” public speaking. There were shy students and introverted students and students with speech impediments. There were students who experienced literally dizzying fear at the very thought of public speaking. All were able to step through a sequence of exercises (in a safe space with nurturing peers) leading to a basic level of comfort and confidence in the kind of speaking-to-a-group that might be required for any sort of job (such as reporting on the progress of your project to a large meeting). More importantly, there simply is no such thing as an inherent disposition to be “not cut out for public speaking.”

        1. Elspeth*

          Again, that’s your experience. There’s a difference between saying a few lines/showing a few slides and speaking to upwards of 50 employees. We all have different strengths. As for me, I’ve tried public speaking and am NOT cut out for it. I know other people who have tried and are not cut out for it. We are all unique, and hopefully bring those talents to our work. If you are in a line of work where you need to learn public speaking, then yes, I think you should attempt to do so. Lots of people choose to work where they won’t have to do work they find tiresome, don’t enjoy.

  41. Lucille2*

    In regards to the last paragraph of Alison’s response, I am firm believer of pushing outside one’s comfort zone as an effective way to grow career-wise. However, I have been very bad at encouraging this with my direct reports. IME, I’ve been able to discover my own strengths and learned so many interesting things by being willing to get out of my comfort zone. And for someone new in their career, it should be expected. But, in practice, I seem to come off as pushy and people dig in their heels about not doing something their not comfortable doing.

    I say this to be careful not to push too hard. If you need your team to be willing to present in internal meetings or with small groups, then maybe stick with that and avoid any expectation of public speaking with large audiences. Also, they are finding comfort in the other’s determination to avoid public speaking. If only one person were unwilling and saw it was part of the job, they may be more willing to stretch outside their comfort zone

    1. LQ*

      I made a comment above about this. But my boss has been pretty successful (at least with me and a few others) at getting people out of their comfort zones by talking about it. Both him doing it and us doing it, and being pretty frank that making us comfortable isn’t his job. It also helps a lot to know that when pushed to the edge of discomfort and into there be dragons we can throw a flag for a bit and not get punished for it.

      I think it looks pushy when you don’t want to advance your career, when you aren’t upfront about it, or when it isn’t needed. If it’s needed, it’s obvious how the thing works into career growth, and you’re upfront it is a lot easier to take.

  42. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    I am imagining a Sliding Doors scenario, two potential outcomes: in 20 years, one of these people tells the story of a manager who advised her to work on public speaking skills because her lack was hindering her. Another where the same person sits comfortably in an office laughing at the manager who thought the lack of speaking skills would hold her back.

  43. Bea*

    Sure they can say no. That’s when you assume they won’t go above and beyond. So just let them spin their wheels. You can only lead a horse to water, you know?

    I loath public speaking and flunked many assignments once upon a time because I was a stubborn teen. But as an adult with dreams of doing crazy things in my career, I deal with it. Sure I’m a big doofus and I suck at it still but I’m not graded or given harsh feedback, so I fumble around and find myself with bigger paychecks. They have to make the decision to step up when it’s worth it to them.

    1. Elspeth*

      But is it actually needed in their position? For the AD, I’d say yes, the AD has to look into training for public speaking. Not so much for the Admin, unless she really wants to. That doesn’t mean that they don’t go “above and beyond” in other areas of their work though!

      1. Bea*

        I’m thinking more of “is it needed for a position” the Admin has expressed interest in growing in to.

        It isn’t necessary for her as an Admin but if she’s gunning for a marketing position perhaps, she’ll need to get over it and this is practice. If I offer an opportunity to someone and they say no it’s not in their current job description, that’s all well and good. Investing in their professional development falls off my radar for the most part at that time.

        If she’s trying to get into accounting or production specialist as her means of growth, then by all means public speaking isn’t something to be concerned with.

  44. Jam Today*

    I have a really distinct split in my communication abilities and affinities. I am *excellent* at 1:1 communication (I think) — I did customer service and tech support for years and was chased down across job roles by clients after I moved to a new department because they loved working directly with me so much. But you put me in something even vaguely sales-oriented? Game over. I stammer, I shake, I can’t remember anything beyond the next bullet point I’m supposed to read — forget it. “Limiting” is in the eye of the beholder — if I wanted to be in Sales, then my inability to do sales presentations would definitely limit me there. But Product operations working directly with clients to solve problems? I can do that all day, every day, and enjoy every second of it.

  45. Dr. Pepper*

    Definitely think about how important public speaking is to the job, and I do second Alison’s caution that perhaps you’re going more on principle that real need here. However, let’s just say that you have carefully and impartially assessed the job requirements and have found that yes, speaking in front of a group of X number of people really is an important part of the job description and the employees need to be able to do it. Now is the time to put together training in this skill for your employees and support them through the process.

    What many people tend to think is that public speaking is simply that, you say things, but in front of a group of people. No different than if you were writing the same information down or telling it to another (singular) person. This is not so. It’s an entirely different ballgame, and many people’s fear comes from that completely different dynamic. It’s not one often experienced in the normal course of life. The all eyes on you situation, where you don’t get that interpersonal feedback and it can often feel like you are on display as in a zoo. If you’re not an outgoing person and/or you’re not confident about the subject you’re talking about, this can be overwhelming.

    I got over my fear of public speaking in grad school mostly because I had to do it a lot and thus got loads of practice at it and became accustomed to it. In my department, all new grad students took a class where you had to read and present research papers. It was public speaking training, basically, and learning the norms of presentations in our field. Before the actual presentation, there were many practice sessions with the course instructor, your lab group, and other students in the class. Each time you would get feedback on your slides, the quality of the presentation, your delivery, etc. Let me tell you those first few times were nerve wracking and I shook the entire time. I wanted to die. If it hadn’t been absolutely 100% mandatory I would have opted out. Loudly. But the practice sessions helped. Each time got better and by the time I actually had to present, I felt modestly confident in my knowledge of the material and thus able to get through it reasonably well. By the time I graduated I could stand in front of a large room and yammer on about my material in, not ease exactly, but moderate comfort. It was a jog instead of a sprint for my life. Yes, the training and practice sessions were time intensive, but it was time well spent. If you decide that this is a skill your employees need to have, please take the time to train them well and let them practice presentations ahead of time, as often as they need to feel comfortable with the material.

  46. CupcakeCounter*

    I can see letting the admin assistant slide on public speaking – that just doesn’t seem like a high priority item for that role (at least my definition of it). The assistant director is a whole other story – that is a role where you need them to be able to handing things when you are unavailable for whatever reason or to move into your role as you progress or leave the company. Since it seems like public speaking is fairly vital to that role I would absolutely stress that getting more comfortable with that part of the job is critical to their success in the role.
    Toastmasters, as mentioned in other comments, is a good recommendation. Presenting internally to smaller groups is also good practice as well as they are more likely to have some familiarity with the group and material. Since you are comfortable with public speaking, have the AD help with the preparations so they can see it is something you prepare for vs “winging it” or just naturally being able to present. When someone is really comfortable with doing something it isn’t always easy to see the work that goes on behind the scenes. Knowing you have to work at it too might help a little.
    And when AD complains that AA doesn’t have to do the same presentations it is pretty easy to just say that role doesn’t require it but the AD role does.

    1. Reaver Bait*

      See the many comments higher up discussing why this may not be a good or helpful approach.

  47. McWhadden*

    Unless it’s coming with an immediate raise it’s completely inappropriate to force the admin to do this. And none of this “it’s OK to exploit you well above your pay grade now for undefined benefits I can’t promise you’ll ever receive later.”

    1. SarahTheEntwife*

      I agree that most admin assistant roles don’t require public speaking, but speaking very briefly at an internal staff meeting is really not outside the scope of the role, especially when it’s presenting on a project the person was responsible for.

  48. Where’s busy bee?*

    I think the deputy should definitely be pressed on this. A director role is a leadership position and a deputy is expected to occasionally fill in for that person. A leader doesn’t hide in the back of the room, they need to be seen by the team and provide direction. Even if that person doesn’t care to advance to the director role, they should be able to take on some of the director’s tasks occasionally, and certainly speaking to an internal group is part of this and not asking something so crazy and outside of their scope. If you are senior enough to have a deputy role, you probably already understand the concept of ‘other duties as assigned’ and the fact that each and every job task is not going to be outlined in the job description you were hired under.

  49. Quickbeam*

    Just an added thought on the public speaking issue. I’m good at it and have done it for a living. I am now in a job where it is an expected occasional expectation of all staff at my level. There are 8 of us and I’d noticed that people were calling in sick etc on days that they were to present internal information. This was always throwing the ball in to my court and taking me away from other priorities. Just because it is easy for me doesn’t mean I want to do it every time.

    I asked my boss to approve some panel presentations where we would all participate to get some immersion for the phobic. It worked really well. People only had to do a couple minutes which I coached them through. She has also let them know it is an essential function and that they would be expected to be able to give short presentations to staff.
    I continue to work with them in practice sessions and am available for support. So far, so good.

  50. Amber Rose*

    I used to cry before talking in front of people. Once someone told me I had a distinctly greenish tinge on my face. I took a speech and debate class out of sheer stubbornness (I hate feeling weak) and now I kind of like public speaking. I definitely have significantly less nerves. But the thing is, it started small and low stakes. I think just jumping in face first to an important work presentation would have actually turned me into a fainting hazard.

  51. Youth*

    You’ve mentioned a couple of times in the comments that one of your motivations for wanting them to public speak is that you want someone else on your team to be able to present at staff meetings. While that’s understandable, if I were one of your employees, I would probably feel a bit like you were trying to get me to do part of your job for you. I’d resent that, especially if presenting wasn’t an original expectation of my job.

    If you decide to continue to push this, my recommendation would be not to dump a whole presentation on either employee. Propose instead that you do a group presentation where you’ll present the bulk of the information and your employees will each talk for a few minutes on one short piece–just two or three slides. That should be less intimidating for them, and you’ll be there to step in or get things back on track if their presenting skills do turn out to be just awful.

    (This comes from someone who purposely chose a field that doesn’t traditionally involve public speaking and has had to do some anyway. My supervisor has divided all team presentations into shorter sections so that none of us has to present for more than a few minutes, and it’s really helped with my dread.)

    1. Letter Writer*

      The group presentation idea was what I asked them to join me in presenting. And I am definitely not asking them to take on my work- the training portion of my job is something I wouldn’t ask them to do. I’m asking them to present on their own work (two or three slides about their portion of our departmental goals for the year) to their own colleagues.

    2. Where’s busy bee?*

      But it’s actually adding more work for the OP because their employees can’t/won’t talk about their own work in a meeting. This means the OP has to be briefed and try to understand what they are talking about because they don’t know the specific piece of work that we’ll. This is such a normal part of communicating in an office environment that I don’t think it’s an unreasonabl ask of the employees and certainly part of their job, not the OP’s.

      1. Youth*

        I don’t think it’s an unreasonable ask either, but if the OP has been doing all of the presenting up to this point, then I think the gut reaction would be, “Why can’t you just continue to do it? Why do you need my help?”

          1. Youth*

            Yeah! I completely agree. I was just thinking that it sounded like OP was so focused on needing/wanting their employees to be able to speak at meetings so that they doesn’t always have to that they might be unintentionally conveying more, “Well I don’t think it’s fair that I’m always the one speaking, so you just need to start doing it regardless of your job title or level of comfort and experience,” and less “From a business efficiency standpoint, it makes more sense for all of us to be able to help out with these presentations, but as the experienced speaker in the group I will help you every step of the way.”

            It sounds like from these additional comments on this thread that the OP is really trying to ease them into it, though, so props to you, OP.

          2. Anne of Green Gables*

            I also think that “because I want our coworkers/the higher-ups/whoever to know your face and associate *you* with the work you do” is an extremely reasonable answer to this question.

      2. McWhadden*

        It is not normal in most office environments for admins to have to present on their work to over a HUNDRED people.

        Maybe the Associate Director should be pressed more. But let’s not pretend it is at all normal for admins to have to stand in front of 100 people to talk about work they are doing.

  52. Anon for this one*

    About 30 years ago, my dad arm-twisted a reluctant underling into giving a talk at a conference. The guy turned out to be a phenomenally talented public speaker, and he’s now nearing the end of a highly successful career largely built on his public speaking skills.

  53. NW Mossy*

    LW, I can empathize a bit, because I’ve got a team that’s stocked with non-presenters too. There are certainly times where I’d like for one of them to speak to something they know better than I do, but if that’s more of a preference than a requirement, I will offer the option but let it drop if they decline.

    That said, there are ways to help people show off their knowledge and start to learn the foundations of public speaking and presenting in lower-stakes ways, especially if they have aspirations towards a role more like yours. You can ask someone to join you on a conference call and give them the floor to speak for a minute or two, and support them by reinforcing their points. You can ask them to help develop the PowerPoints for a presentation you’ll deliver as a gateway to understanding what makes a presentation effective. You can ask them to speak in a small meeting where everyone’s sitting and you know the environment will be casual/relaxed.

    In my own experience, these kinds of steps have been super-helpful in being able to relax and present with more confidence when the stakes are higher. When I first started years ago, speaking in a team meeting was nerve-wracking, but now I regularly present to the people I lead and my upper management without too much trouble. I certainly don’t have keynote-address skills, but that’s OK – I don’t need them now, but I’m doing the easier things on the path to eventually be able to do it when I need to.

    And as a sidebar, I got a good reminder the other day that even those who seem very comfortable with presenting often have to work hard at it. I was walking into an all-division meeting (almost 300 people in person, a further 100 on the phone) and passed the division VP in the hall. He was pacing up and down, notes in hand, practicing. Reflecting, that was a pretty nice human moment to see – just like anyone would, he wanted to do well in front of a big audience that includes his boss and peers.

  54. Bored and its only 10am*

    I am also a career EA. I had panic attacks when I panel interviews because it was too close to public speaking. When I got married, I only had 4 people at my wedding because I couldn’t even think about being in front of a crowd of people I know! If my manager forced me to give a presentation, I would resign on the spot.

    1. Liet-Kinda (nee Snark)*

      Obviously you and some people do react like this, but this is enough of an edge case that I’m not sure how it helps OP.

    2. Bea*

      Tbh anyone who resigned on the spot, I would accept it gladly and find a better fit.

      I’ve quit on the spot before and respect someone’s decision to do so. It’s never going to stop me from requiring my staff to do tasks they don’t want to. So if you’re trying to scare the OP into not pushing, most managers won’t suddenly allow people to choose their duties because “she may quit!”.

        1. Bored and its only 10am*

          Thank you. I guess I will go back to just reading the comments and not posting. I wasn’t trying to push the OP one way or another. Public speaking is a real phobia!

  55. Cucumberzucchini*

    I am the owner of my company. I am very comfortable doing phone calls with very prominent people, I’m very comfortable presenting in small groups. I do not like presenting to more than 20 people in person. I can do it, but I intensely dislike it. I don’t like all the attention or that many people staring at me. I once had an event where I was in a support role and there were maybe 400 people attending. I wan invited on stage as a thank you and offered the chance to say something which I declined. I couldn’t see the audience, the lights were too bright, I had nothing prepared to say and it was a big fat nope for me. (I also do not like to be videotaped.) I would be very annoyed if someone pushed me on this because they felt like it would hold me back. It hasn’t and it’s not going to. This probably isn’t fair but I think people who are comfortable or enjoy giving presentations in front of large audiences have a healthy ego and revel in having that many people paying attention to them. Maybe not everyone but that has been my experience with those that are keen to get in front of large groups. Not everyone is wired that way.

  56. MsMaryMary*

    Assuming public speaking is part of your employees roles, have you tried being more hands on than just referring them to Toastmasters? I’d think of this like any other skill you’d need to develop in a less experienced employee. Develop a plan, start with small groups and work up to larger ones, have your employees do a dry run with just you, talk about present with handouts and without handouts…and so on.

    I used to work with a woman who was at a director level role in our company and was obviously very uncomfrotable presenting to large audiences, such as our quarterly division meetings. Her voice shook, her hands shook, she was clearly having a very hard time. After the first quarterly meeting, my manager grabbed a couple of her direct reports and had us sit in the front row at the next meeting. When it was that director’s turn to speak, we leaned forward in our chairs, made eye contact, and looked at her like she was giving the most fascinating presentation we’d ever heard. She locked on to us, calmed down, and presented much more confidently. So, planting an ally or two when your employees do need to speak in front of people could help a ton!

  57. theletter*

    I also present anxiety when asked to speak publicly. I find that creating a script helps. It’s much easier to present when I’m just reading. Memorizing the script also works but it’s not as effective. I think the only that that really helped me was practice. I took a volunteering job that requires making announcements over a microphone every week. It’s helped me learn how to do maintain a calm and clear voice, which is very helpful in reducing anxiety.

  58. Anat*

    I think there’s an effective middle way between never having the employees present and just telling them to suck it up or leave.

    Not every fear, even powerful fear, is a full-blown phobia. For an introvert with no public speaking experience and a tendency to anxiety, being asked to present in front of a 100 people can be cripplingly terrifying — this is actually fairly common and normal. As someone who is naturally a good public speaker, the OP is really not in a good position to understand these feelings. OP, think of the thing that you’re worst at, and imagine that you suddenly have to do that very thing in front of your entire company, and that your job may depend on how you do it. Wouldn’t you feel some fear?

    If you want these employees to be able to help you with presentations and fill in for you (totally reasonable IMO, especially for an assistant director), and/or if you want to help them with their careers, then understand that you have to build up to presenting at that all-hands meeting in smaller steps. For instance, you could:
    — have them present regularly in the small group
    — ask them to prepare materials for a large group presentation, while you do the actual speaking
    — get up with you in front of a large group just to answer one or two questions
    — take over one topic of the presentation, preferably something low-stakes or that they’re the expert on or that they particularly care about
    — practice speaking in front of a medium-sized group in a situation where there’s not much at stake
    — give them lots of reassurance in all these situations that yes, they were fine
    — give them constructive feedback
    and so on. I think you’ll be able to see pretty quickly if this strategy is working or not, and come up with more ideas.

  59. nnn*

    In my experience, there’s a difference between public speaking when you are an expert on the topic and when you aren’t the expert.

    In all the public speaking I did in school, I wasn’t an expert. I just researched the topic for the project because I’d been assigned the project. I had no independent knowledge or in-depth understanding of the subject matter. And I was terrible at this.

    However, once I was about a decade into my career and organically became an expert on some things, I found I could easily give training or briefings on topics about which I’m the expert. It doesn’t feel like “public speaking”, it just feels like telling people what they need to know about a topic on which I legitimately know everything that needs knowing.

    But, at the same time, I’d still be terrible and nervous about public speaking on a topic on which I’m not truly an expert.

    To use an example given in the letter, if I was instrumental in developing my team’s strategy, I would be able to confidently and skillfully present it, because I understand the in-depth reasoning behind each point and how we got there. However, if my boss simply handed me the strategy and said “Here, present this,” I would not be able to do it well, and would be no more effective than telling people to read it themselves.

    So what I wonder about the letter is, since the employees in question are early in their career, are they even able to be experts yet? If they aren’t experts, pushing them to present is most likely just going to make their confidence worse.

    1. nnn*

      After thinking about this a bit more and reading through more of the comment thread:

      What if the employees weren’t called upon to speak or present, but might be called upon to answer audience members’ questions in the meeting in contexts where they’re the best person to answer the question? (i.e. they legitimately can answer it better than you can, not just that they’re able to answer it)

      That isn’t the same as presenting, they don’t have to stand up in front of everyone and see all the faces staring, and they genuinely have the expertise to share with someone who genuinely wants the expertise.

      (Note: I would not recommend this as a starting point if the questions might end up being adversarial.)

  60. The Other Dawn*

    OP, if you want your employees to be able to speak at staff meetings, I find that completely reasonable and you should tell them you expect that as part of their job performance. There’s a big difference between 10 and 100 people, but since this isn’t a formal speaking engagement (that’s my impression, anyway) I don’t see why you can’t tell them they need to do it. I’m guessing that at a staff meeting they don’t need to have a 20 minute speech prepared, but something more along the lines of a quick two minute summary. Yes, 100 people is quite a large group, but if you coach them, have them practice with you or each other, and give them resources, they should be able to do it. And if you do expect them to do more formal public speaking, then you should think about offering a Toastmasters membership or maybe an adult ed course at the local college or high school.

  61. Falling Diphthong*

    If I can wax philosophic on this: There are various skills that are immensely complicated that we nonetheless decide as a society are important and so we are going to push people to develop them. Literacy and driving, to different degrees, are two examples. There are lots of things that people could learn to do, to some minimally competent level, if they were sufficiently motivated and had enough support–for example, if we communicated primarily through slide trombone, then everyone learning to play and interpret slide trombone would be an important skill taught in families and schools, and “I’m just not a music person” wouldn’t be an excuse.

    The complete suite of possible skills is not something we expect to master–we pick and choose, based on social expectations, our own goals, and our own talents. Lots of people are “just not good at math” even though dividing in your head by 4 strikes other people as an obvious thing to expect of anyone over 8. Languages, sports, drawing–lots of things you can choose to develop, but don’t have either the time or the motivation.

  62. Well, that was embarrassing*

    I see a lot of people saying some variation of “they just need to lean to suck it up,” but I imagine they don’t understand the fear like I do. For me, public speaking used to induce heart-stopping, full-on-terror. I’d throw up beforehand. Sometimes, the adrenaline would cause me to shake for hours before and after. I couldn’t think when all eyes were on me and I’d freeze up. M<y stutter that I haven't had since kindergarten would come back. And lest you think this is part of my personality, I'm in law enforcement. And I'd take a shots fired call over public speaking any day.

    About 7 years ago, I decided to improve in this area so I'd be promote-able. IT.WAS.TERRIBLE. I lost about 15 pounds (vomiting several times a day will do that). I had nightmares and panic attacks. I had to hide sticks of deodorant around the office because I kept sweating through everything I owned. But after 6 or so months, I started to improve. Now, I regularly speak to groups off 50-200. I don't throw up anymore (usually) and my brain doesn't freeze up, but I still hate it. My heart still races, I still sweat through everything, but people usually can't tell that I'm two steps away from panic. In fact, if I start out with a joke about being afraid of cops and public speaking, and I'm both, usually people laugh and I can move on from there.

    1. LilySparrow*

      That’s a really vivid and amazing description. Thank you for sharing that.

      I think there’s an important distinction to be made, though. You chose to push yourself this way because you saw it was needed for the promotions you wanted.

      If this was imposed on you as a new, unexpected requirement in order to keep your job (particularly if it were totally unrelated to your career choices), I think that lack of agency on your part could well have made the anxiety grow instead of lessen over time.

  63. Working Mom Having It All*

    I’m wondering if explaining your expectations clearly, well in advance, and clarifying how they relate to both the job requirements and further opportunities, would clear up a lot of this.

    When I hear “you’ll be required to do some public speaking”, I’m thinking me giving a long presentation or possibly a keynote speech to an audience of 50+ people. Wow, that sounds hard! Especially if it’s something that might be casually thrown at me the way my boss might ask me to convert a pdf into a word doc or any other simple task given out with little fanfare. Especially if I’m an admin! Yeesh!

    On the other hand, it sounds like what others in the comments here, including possibly the LW, means by “public speaking” is what I would call speaking up in a meeting (or perhaps leading a meeting). I’m the department admin for my team, and I wouldn’t quail at the idea of speaking for 30 seconds or a minute about an aspect of my work during a meeting of 15-20 people. I wouldn’t feel comfortable leading a meeting, as an admin, but if for some reason I was called to, I probably wouldn’t have a panic attack assuming I was armed with an agenda and prepared for the meeting at hand. That isn’t “public speaking”, to me, and not the sort of thing most people need special training for.

    Is it possible that LW is putting a lot of unnecessary pressure on their team by saying “public speaking is required” when they mean “I expect you to have the ability to give a short presentation during an internal meeting, with ample time to prepare”?

    On the other hand, if LW’s field is such that literal public speaking, as in giving a long keynote speech or delivering a major presentation to a large audience, is actually an important part of the job beyond entry level, that’s a totally separate thing. In that case, I think in the case of the admin it’s probably best to make sure they really understand this aspect of their intended career path. Even there, I think framing it as a failing on the admin’s part (either “well I guess you really don’t want to move up in this business after all”, or just the sense of this person not being willing to grow as a person) isn’t going to produce the desired results. As to the associate director, it sounds odd that someone would not understand what this career path entails at that level, but, yeah, I think a good talk and an offer of some strategies (toastmasters? an improv comedy workshop?) would be better than making this about a character flaw on their part.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes! I think you’re right that this isn’t really “public speaking” in the way most people were envisioning it! And the OP could potentially lower the stakes by using different language.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        I’m getting the strong impression from the comments that what you’re talking about and what a lot of us are envisioning may not be the same thing. I think “public speaking” connotes something more formal, lengthy, and high-stakes for many of us than “say a few sentences about what you’ve been working on,” especially if you’re mostly talking about smaller meetings (10-20 people, say). I think a lot of jobs don’t require what people think of as “public speaking,” but most of them do require “being able to talk about your work in a seated meeting to a group of 10-20 in a semi-informal way.” Are they pushing back on both types of things? If so, it might be useful to separate that out.

  64. NoLongerYoungButLotsWiser*

    So our “Department” is 300 people, and the larger organization is much bigger. Our all hands is over 200. But we do stand up as an entire team for the group update (annual), address our one-three slides on our products/contribution, and the whole thing is like 3 minutes max (each). The expectation is (except for the admin), that you be able to stand and speak. It’s in our development plan, it’s expected. In our smaller department meetings (group of 20), we rotate the facilitation and present quarterly on our product (again, about 10 minutes); in the next level up (about 100 in that group), we present once a year on our product (15 minutes).
    We are provided with the expectation that we are competent enough to do this with coaching and training, and we are offered paid training, AND A MENTOR to practice with.
    I’m a “Stay at home with the shades drawn” introvert, but I took classes (one entire semester at my MBA, and 2 specialized ones subsequently to be tuned up on this), to “keep up” with this skill set.
    This wasn’t explicitly stated in my job duties, but it was understood that I would be able to speak to and about my area of expertise, from the beginning. And when I wasn’t good at it, I had it listed as an item for development that year.
    “internal” to your peers is not the same as public speaking. Even to the wider department of 300, is not public speaking. These are other human beings who have the same fears and quirks as you. Training is essential, and conquering your fears through practice is life-changing.
    I do now – and did – present at two panel discussions at a national user group for our software, and got major kudos. (Panels are great, you are seated, the slides are all ready, and you take your turn with the mike but have coverage if you get a cold, coughing fit, or other issues come up).
    Semantics matter – it’s not “public speaking” – it’s internal status updates. And at least in my world, if you can’t talk about your area of expertise and contribution, you are (SORRY) at risk. It was much easier for my manager to get me that raise I needed to be closer to market, when the leadership knew what I was doing and contributing. Out of sight is truly out of mind.
    And, I didn’t have this listed on my job description – it was amorphously covered under “other duties as required” but can be pointed to as something everyone in my role at the organization does.

  65. I hate public speaking*

    I am a well-valued administrative assistant with great technical skills and pretty good skills in dealing with the public. If my boss were to force me to do public speaking, I would be looking for another job.

  66. SemiRetired*

    The best thing I ever did to get better at public speaking was to take a storytelling class in library school. It not only helped ease anxiety about speaking but helped with the “how to” of framing a narrative, maintaining interest, dealing with interruptions, etc. I highly recommend it!
    This doesn’t address the question of whether public speaking ought to be required. IMHO, not being able to speak up in a meeting sounds like an anxiety problem that might be addressed either personally with therapy or professionally with reasonable accommodations.

  67. Be Positive*

    It depends on who you are. I’m told that I am a great public speaker and I present often.

    I absolutely hate it. I only do it when asked or demanded. If I could I’d hide under a rock

  68. LilySparrow*

    Personally, I enjoy public speaking. But I’ve never had an admin job that required it. And if you plan to shift the admin’s responsibilities toward training and presenting, that should be reflected not just in the job description, but in the title and paycheck. There is a premium on those skills for a reason, and doing them well requires a lot more prep on your own time than admin work does.

    It really would not be kosher to expect an admin to step up to that level of responsibility without being compensated properly for it. And without being able to reflect it on their resume with a relevant job title.

    On a different note, if a new manager decided that they were now my life coach, and that my job duties would include self-improvement activities that had nothing to do with my work, but the manager just decided they would be “good for me”?

    That’s a major red flag, and I’d have my resume online by the end of the day.

    1. Isabel Kunkle*

      Here to agree with all of your final two paragraphs. For that matter, if a friend decided to step into that role and started pushing me to learn mental math/have kids/be more ambitious/read a bunch of Russian novels/etc because “you have to learn and grow and blah blah blah,” that person would no longer be my friend. If a *parent* did that, I’d stop calling and I’d probably make different Christmas plans.

      (Okay, my dad, God love him, will occasionally point out that if I don’t participate in networking/workplace socialization/managing people, I, like my grandfather before me, will probably reach a particular level of my career and get no further. But that’s occasional, and when I reply that I’m fine remaining a non-managerial editor for the rest of my working life, he stops, so it’s less of a thing.)

      If someone’s asking for advice or complaining or whatever, that’s one thing, but Person A can’t judge what will make Person B happy–whether they really should push their boundaries or whatever or are doing so in other areas and not this one or are fine where they are–and, therefore, should mind Person A’s own damn business unless asked.

  69. Undine*

    I’ve actually been on the other end of this — we had a meeting to go over some legal process or training we were all getting, and different people got up and presented one or two slides each. Several of them were very stiff and it felt like they were reading from a script that they hadn’t completely created themselves. They seemed junior, and I immediately thought — they’re being trained.

    It was painful. Nobody was mean, but their discomfort came through even when all I could see on the video screen was the slides. People do have to be trained, but it’s not great for the audience while they are. For an assistant director, I can see the value in taking my time to watch them be trained, but for an admin assistant, not so sure.

  70. The Other Katie*

    Have these people actually had formal training on public speaking? I’m one of those people who initially would have rather cut off my own arm than give a speech in public, but some actual training on public speaking and a chance to try it in a low-stakes environment helped me come to terms with it. It’s one of those things to assume that they should have already learned and/or be able to pick up on their own, but neither of those assumptions may be true. If you want your employees to give speeches, teach them how!

  71. Sarah N*

    I do think some people have a legitimate fear of public speaking, and maybe even aren’t cut out for it in the sense that they’ll always have some amount of anxiety when doing it, even with practice. Yet still, I don’t think it’s especially appropriate to choose to respond with outright refusal and even anger and tears! It would be one thing if they were politely expressing that they didn’t like this task and ask if it’s optional or if there’s someone else who can fill in for the task. But it sounds like they are having temper tantrums instead.

    For context, I am a college professor who requires some degree of public speaking in many of my classes (so I guess I’m biased here — I think it’s an enormously important life and career skill). Even among students, I have literally never had someone react with anger or tears. I do have students who are nervous/anxious about it, and I work with them on getting more comfortable with public speaking so that it doesn’t become a thing that holds them back in the future.

    Honestly, it doesn’t sound especially sustainable to have you as the only person in your department who is able to do presentations — as you say, what if you get sick or even just want to go on vacation? But even if you end up deciding that these employees ultimately do not need to do the public speaking piece of the job, I think it’s reasonable to have a serious talk about their attitude toward being asked to do a work task they don’t want to do.

    1. RUKiddingMe*

      Check out the site I linked to in my comment. Apparently this is a legit social anxiety disorder. Anger, tears, refusal…they all sound like realistic reactions to something that puts this level of dread into people. It’s not just “bad employees.”

      1. Sarah N*

        How likely is it though that two people in a four-person department have a distaste of public speaking that rises to the level of an actual mental health problem?! I don’t doubt that things could be that level of severity for the occasional person, but it seems like awfully bad luck for a full 50% of a random department to have such a disorder!

        Also — mental health problems are still not an excuse to act completely inappropriately at work. In this case, it would be one thing if an employee really did have a diagnosed anxiety disorder and they raised that with their supervisor and communicated that they were working on the issue but not yet at a point in treatment where doing a public event like this would be possible right now. In fact, I have had one student who had a similar anxiety issue around public speaking, but this student shared how they had been working on it and steps they could take to still complete the project (basically, extra rounds of practice with increasingly large groups). I say this not because this particular option would work for everyone, but rather because I actually have seen someone deal with this specific issue in what I would consider to be a very responsible manner (and this was a 19-year-old college kid, not a working professional). Certainly the student did not get angry with me (at least to my face!).

        That’s very different than getting angry with your boss and simply refusing to do something! Certainly I think it’s a good idea for supervisors to be kind when an employee discloses and work with them to accommodate where possible. But it’s not an excuse for me to treat coworkers poorly and skip doing your job for ever and ever. Ultimately if this is an actual phobia and not just “I prefer not to do this”, it’s on the employee to seek treatment just like any other health problem that is interfering with their work.

  72. RUKiddingMe*

    So many people fear public speaking. Personally I am fine with it. Four, four hundred, for thousand…I don’t care. I have the floor, I am in charge. However, that’s me.

    Apparently it is the single most common phobia, even more than the fear of death, and considering today’s letters, appropriately right before fear of spiders on the “OMFG are you kidding me?” scale.

    According to the article I’m linking at the bottom, the brain freezes and out fight or flight response kicks in. It’s considered a social anxiety disorder (operative word: anxiety) which I think a savvy person might be able to get an ADA accommodation for if they pursued it. Note…I said “might.”

    OP I have no particular advice other than to say if you have people who like to/don’t mind/kind of go “meh whatever sure” at public speaking and those that are more the type to hide/quit on the spot rather than speak in public <–(that would have been my mother), then instead of trying to make a point of it, or trying to push them into it, make your own life easier and just go with the ones that are ok with it whenever practicable.

    If people choose to limit their careers, or even if it's just the result of their choices sans and consideration, that's life and as Alison said, people make career limiting choices all the time.

    One thing I think I differ with Alison about is that I don't think people that are at the beginning of their careers, say age 22-ish should necessarily be given more pressure to speak publicly than those of us who are 45+ simply because of their age/point in their career.

    Sure, tell them the potential impact, but then let it go whenever/wherever you can. Use people that are good or at least not horrible with public speaking.

    * I am never sure how links will work so take out the spaces right after // and between . and com…

    https:// nationalsocialanxietycenter. com/2017/02/20/public-speaking-and-fear-of-brain-freezes/

  73. PersonalJeebus*

    I strongly disagree with Alison that the employees being early in their career (and possibly quite young?) is a point in favor of encouraging them now to learn public speaking. I think it’s a point against it!

    When I was in my twenties and starting out, I was terrified of public speaking, and I might have ended up in tears if a boss had pressured me to try it. Now that I’m in my thirties and have several years of non-entry level experience, the prospect is much less frightening. I have more experience and skills now that would get me through it. I feel more comfortable dealing with people, talking about my work, explaining things to others with a certain degree of authority, giving instructions, maintaining calm when I’m feeling exposed or put on the spot. not only do I know my stuff professionally now, I feel comfortable asserting to others that I know my stuff.

    I say let these employees have some years to build their professional confidence before trying to mentor them toward a willingness to speak publicly. The willingness may come naturally with just a few more years of experience. If you push it now, they’ll just shut down.

  74. Noah*

    I think OP was pretty clear that there is a reasonable chance she may need a fill in, and as a practical matter it would have to be one of these people. And that she–as the manager–would prefer not to have to do every work presentation by herself. They are refusing to do their job. When an employee is asked to engage in pretty basic work behavior and refuses, that is a huge deal. I don’t see any scenario where I’d be okay with this as a manager, absent a legally protected disability.

  75. Koala dreams*

    I’m surprised at the comments that say that public speaking is “easy” and people just need to “suck it up”. Public speaking, as in speaking in front of a large group of people, is a very common fear and often very high on lists of people’s biggest fears. I think the comparisions to other kinds of skills, such as language knowledge, is quite apt. To overcome anxiety or fear might take a lot of dedication and several years of time, just as learning a new language. Some people can do it on their own, and some people need to find a teacher or therapist. Some people might never get well at it, maybe they can reach a just acceptable level, but they won’t necessarily be great at it even after a lot of training.

    I have some mental health issues myself, and since you write about your employees having anxiety, I’m going to comment on this aspect. I find that just willing yourself to overcome anxiety and other illnesses is seldom practical. Often you need competent health care. Unfortunately, it can be hard to find and afford the right therapists or other health care you need. Mental health is not fully understood yet, and there are a lot of ideas floating around, and it can be quite hard to listen to people make a lof of suggestions and have to sift through them to find the one that works for you. Also, sometimes you get treatment and then it isn’t as succesful as you’d hope. What is often underestimated is the level of work you need to do to go through a treatment program. I’ve had therapist sessions where I had to call in sick to work for one or two days after just from exhaustion. Of course most treatments aren’t this extreme, but they still need a certain level of motivation. Medications have side effects, and the patient needs to be willing to engage and do homework for therapy to work.

    In short, if the employees aren’t motivated to get better, they won’t, and if they don’t have the resources to help them it’s unlikely for them to just get well out of sheer will power, especially if there are illneses involved.

    1. Someone Else*

      The OP clarified though that the “public speaking” in question is actually an internal meeting, where the staff in question need to introduce themselves and talk about what they do for about 2 minutes total. I think the expectation that people in most roles be capable of that is very different than what a blanket statement about “public speaking” might entail. I do understand that some folks anxiety may make even something this brief still be very very difficult. However, it completely changes the nature of the question about whether it’s reasonable to push back a bit about these employees doing this. Asking an admin to do a 30 minute presentation? I’d say “really consider whether that’s necessary for the role before deciding to push them to do it”. But asking anyone to essentially introduce themselves to the larger staff in general, barring major extreme circumstances and severe anxiety, in general to me is entirely reasonable. In fact if OP hadn’t framed this as “public speaking” in the first place, if it were just the staff pushing back on giving this short spiel under the premise that they’re “not cut out for public speaking”, I’d probably have recommended reframing the whole thing as not actually an exercise in public speaking.

      1. pomme de terre*

        Word. I am a capable presenter who stumbled into being the permanent MC of my company’s all-hands meetings. For a while, that role included scheduling the other speakers. (We’re supposed to have one team present on their work each month, in addition to the regular IT and HR and operational updates.) People would push back SO HARD on being asked to present and it was frustrating for me as the organizer, since a 5-minute presentation on work you’ve already done to an internal audience barely registers as public speaking for me. AND the same people who turned downed (or worse, flaked on) the chance to speak would also complain that there wasn’t enough teapot engineering content in the meetings and it was all IT/HR/Ops.

        I have tremendous sympathy for people with anxiety disorders. I have almost no sympathy for people who weasel out of a work task they do not personally enjoy, and then complain that no one does that task.

        It’s been a real frustration to me. People expect TED-talk-level content and presentation and do NOTHING to contribute to the tremendous amount of work it takes to pull together a good event.

      2. nonegiven*

        Asking someone to answer a question or two, while seated with a group of 10 is different than getting up in front of 100 people and speaking even for less than 5 minutes.

        It is not reasonable to expect someone who cries at the suggestion to suck it up and stand up in front of a group of 100 and speak two scripted sentences.

  76. Kay*

    I think that if this is, or is going to become an important part of the job, especially if its internal briefing or reporting then the employees need to get used to it. I am surprised by people in the thread who think saying you’re not cut out for something is a legitimate response to a superior without some extenuating circumstances. I feel like internal briefings are common enough that it would need to be in a job description, and especially if these employees are on the promotion track OP might just need to tell the employees this is a part of their position going forward.

  77. Mark Roth*

    Were they hired for public speaking roles? I’m not sure what an associate director does, but an administrative assistant position doesn’t sound like it should require speaking to crowds.

  78. SS Express*

    I haaaaaaate public speaking, am truly terrified of it, did anything and everything to get out of it in school, dread giving even a one-sentence project update in a small team meeting. Recently my department restructured and I was moved to a role presenting workshops – as in, literally all my time is spent either a) planning and preparing for a workshop or b) presenting it. When I found out I had to move to this role I cried at my desk. I was beside myself the night before the first one, and talked so fast I finished it in half the time. I just did my second one today and it was great! I just had to get past that first one, and it was like once I’d done it (even though it didn’t go so great) I knew I could do it again and survive so I didn’t worry anymore, which in turn allowed me to do a way better job and actually enjoy it. Turns out I am cut out for it after all – who knew!

    I don’t think you should force people to do something they truly don’t want to do if it’s not an essential part of their job, but I think you should strongly encourage them to at least give it a try – especially if like me they’re pretty early in their careers and don’t have enough experience doing it to know whether or not they’re “cut out for it”. If they’ve already done lots of it and always sucked at it/hated it, at that point I think it would be fair to accept that they really are not cut out for it.

  79. City Girl*

    As someone who has taught literally thousands of people to speak in public in college and corporate settings (and I wrote a book on the subject), I would suggest a lot of fear comes from not having the right tools or knowledge. Like any job, with the right tools and a little practice, it becomes easier to do. That said, there are a few folks who suffer from genuine paralyzing fear which given the reaction of the employee (tears) may apply in this case.

  80. Lena Clare*

    A study done about 10 years ago showed that the number 1 fear was public speaking and the number 2 fear was dying, so basically people would rather die than speak in public! I get that.
    Like Alison said, they may feel that the anxiety is stronger than any limitations they might face in their career so the choice is an easy one – avoid public speaking.
    Personally, I do think it’s a skill you can learn. I dislike it, but I do it occasionally.
    I think if it’s necessary for your employees them you might send them on a public-speaking course, then they could present to a smaller group together to help build their confidence.

Comments are closed.