our motivational speaker got drunk and went off the rails

A reader writes:

My partner’s small company recently held their annual team retreat. Most years, they hire a facilitator to run standardized workshops for some of the retreat, and then have more casual “fun events” the rest of the time. This year, however, they hired a motivational speaker to MC and run a few lightweight team-building exercises.

On the first night of the retreat, they had a cocktail hour. I think you can guess where this is going. Unbeknownst to leadership, the speaker had a few drinks too many. They then called her up to introduce her, and she grabbed the mic and launched in. She spent the first few minutes bashing the new corporate ownership (the company was recently acquired), telling everyone that they’d “sold out.” That topic exhausted, she moved on to the three things she wanted them to balance in their lives: work, health, and sex. She then pointed at the female HR director and said, “and she should be in charge of all three!” She veered on from there, making masturbation jokes, until the CEO finally stepped in and cut her off. A number of the employees were so uncomfortable they immediately left for bed.

This was the beginning of the retreat, so this speaker (thereafter sober!) spent the next few days making welcomes, leading icebreakers, and trying to instill cheer. She mostly skipped the remaining social events, but didn’t acknowledge that she’d messed up (nor did the company). My partner says people were so turned off, however, that it soured the tone considerably.

My question is: what do you think should have been done after her inappropriate monologue? They’d clearly planned for her to MC, so I’m sure they didn’t know what to do if they sent her home (though someone could have easily stood in). Would you have given her a stern warning and kept an eye on her? Focused on employee comfort by having her leave?

Oh no.

She showed such bad judgment on the first night and made people so uncomfortable that I’m surprised the company didn’t decide to part ways with her after day one. She was presumably brought in to bring people together and build morale, and she did the opposite of that.

After day one, I don’t think she could do the job she was hired for anyway; she had already made people too uncomfortable. And by keeping her around, the company was conveying, “We think this person is still a good choice to lead our events.”

I’d say that of any speaker, but it’s made even worse by the fact that she’s a motivational speaker! It’s not like she was a subject matter expert whose input was needed for the week’s strategy sessions — her sole role there was about how people feel. And when her presence was clearly making people feel worse, not better, it didn’t make sense to have her continue on, and particularly not in such a visible and influential spot.

{ 330 comments… read them below }

  1. Ashley*

    I don’t understand why no one cut her off sooner in the first speech! Maybe just maybe a stern talking to might have worked if it was stopped after the first 15-30 seconds.

    1. Caramel & Cheddar*

      Same! I wonder if her changing the topic multiple times meant that they hoped each time she’d finally turned a corner into something relevant only for it to also be a horribly inappropriate subject. Still, I feel like after the second topic-gone-awry someone could have stepped in.

      1. OP Off the Rails*

        I think this is exactly what happened. They’re usually very good and responsive leadership, so while they handled this incorrectly, I think they just froze and hoped she was about to get back on-course.

        1. The OTHER Other*

          …and they remained frozen, since they didn’t address it after the fact either. It’s a tough situation to be in but doing nothing and pretending it didn’t happen was a poor decision.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      RIGHT? I cannot picture this happening at my workplace without somebody diving in ASAP and grabbing the mic from her.

    3. Antilles*

      My guess would be pure surprise catching people off-guard, mixed with the usual crowd dynamics where each individual doesn’t really know what to do because nobody else is acting either so you’re wondering if this is actually fine and I’m just missing something. Basically a twist on the old “nobody calls 9-1-1 because you all think someone else will” or “emperor has no clothes but everybody acts normal” kind of thing.

      1. The Prettiest Curse*

        Yeah, I am imagining that people just froze in horror because of the sheer level of inappropriate-ness.
        Also, if anyone ever wants to do a screen adaptation of this letter and make it a drak comedy, I would pre-order a ticket.

        1. quill*

          Especially people who don’t have as much experience with running events / the MC type of public speaking may have just sort of stood there, mind blank, or thinking “If I cut her off, do I have to run the event?”

        2. AnonEMoose*

          Oh, so would I, in a hot minute. I mean, I know this was totally inappropriate and wildly uncomfortable, for excellent reasons. But I personally have zero use for motivational speakers. Maybe there are good ones out there who actually do help, but that’s not my experience. Mostly they seem very fake to me, and part of me kind of loves the idea of one of them getting drunk and getting up with the microphone and being like “You guys know it’s all bullshit, right?”

          1. Chauncy Gardener*

            LOL. Exactly. And I would have, very inappropriately, been laughing my a** off if this happened in my company. Mostly because if we were having a motivational speaker, it would have been over my strong objections.

          2. Caramel*

            It pisses me off when companies pay for this shit. Give your staff better pay and better benefits. Instead, they waste money when youtube would be fine. In this case, youtube would have been a million times better

            1. askalice*

              Honestly, when this is done well it is so energising. I attended a small personal development festival recently that would be considered quite cheesy, with yes, an olympiad inspirational speaker among other things, workshops, team building & so on. And the energy it gives you when the speeches, the gatherings and meals, the shared conversations, people being frank with each other, when it all comes together well it really works – it has changed the trajectory of my life inside and outside of work.
              I like a good Youtube or Tedtalk as much as the next person, but don’t underestimate the value of one of these events.
              note: this should be in addition to pay and benefits – not instead of….

          3. Tupac Coachella*

            Reminds me of the scene in Role Models where Paul Rudd asks a bunch of schoolchildren, “Why do people do drugs? Because they’re awesome.” Using that scene as proof of concept, I am also in for the film adaptation.

            I agree with others here: this is off the rails enough from expected behavior that I think OP’s partner can reasonably give some grace if the company shows good judgement otherwise. Never speaking of it again isn’t the best possible strategy, but it’s an unusual enough situation that a lot of perfectly competent people would botch it.

      2. Sloan Kittering*

        I can totally imagine being frozen and hoping it wasn’t going to be as bad as it seemed or that the person would pull it back. Yikes.

      3. GreenDoor*

        I would imagine at first people assumed it was meant to be a roast of the new ownership…but if she then moved on to “focus on work, health, and SEX” I would have hoped that would’ve snapped someone out of their confusion! I’ll tell you what, if I was the female HR head that was being pointed at, I’d’ve shut that down right quick.

      4. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

        Plus, this was an outside person specifically hired to make speeches! After a recent corporate acquisition!

        I can imagine a lot of the people who would perhaps have intervened if Weird Fergus from Finance had grabbed the mic and started talking about sex were held back by thoughts of “is this what the company hired her to talk to us about? Is this some new management trend I was previously unaware of? I’m really uncomfortable with this, but I don’t want to be the difficult one if this is what the new ownership thinks is important for us to get out of this retreat, and since I wasn’t involved with picking the speaker…”

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          The recent acquisition makes me wonder if there was a bunch of freezing, because the speaker didn’t just say that combined with a healthy does of confusion about who had the job of stopping the trainwreck – new leadership or old leadership.

    4. TypityTypeType*

      Well, people are often a bit slow to react in an unusual situation — and if this speaker was new to them, they might have given her a little space to confirm they were really seeing what they were seeing.

      But that she was allowed to stick around all week as though nothing had happened is so strange; I have worked for a couple of freewheeling places, but an onstage drunken rant — that the company presumably paid money for! — would’ve been the end of the relationship. This speaker must have mighty powers of persuasion (when sober) to be allowed to stay for the week.

      1. GDUB*

        This is what concerns me, too. I can understand freezing in the moment and not grabbing the mic in time, but deciding to let her stay for the rest of the event?!?!? Even after a nights’ sleep? That’s crazy.

      2. Rolly*

        It’s a pretty low-performing organization if no one took action after fifteen minutes or so?

        And having that person come back the next day – total failure. Total lack of leadership that points to much deeper problems.

      3. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        And after telling the “keynote speaker” to hit the bricks, the next day’s activity should have opened with an apologetic speech from someone in your management.

        But that could be too much to expect. The right thing to do? Yes. But does management apologize … eh not often.

    5. Ann O'Nemity*

      Initial delayed reaction where you wonder if this is a joke. Continued delayed reaction where you get caught up watching the train wreck. Further delayed reaction where you look around thinking someone should do something. Even further delayed reaction where you are frantically whispering and/or miming your concern to others. And then finally, hopefully, someone actually gets up and intervenes.

    6. oranges*

      OMG, YES! I work adjacent to the group that leads our internal meetings/conferences, and even they have a plan of what to do if the speaker goes off the rails. And that’s any speaker, including the CEO! (It’s under the justification of “investor confidence”.)

      Pull! The! Plug!!

      1. Rolly*

        And even if you don’t have a plan, here is what you do in a situation like this: look around and find a manager or even two or three colleagues, get together with them, and compare reactions. Then let it go if the others all find the situation acceptable or take action if you all are in agreement that there is a problem. The action might be taking the person offstage, or escalating to/engaging others to make a decision.

        Do this in life *in general* with apparent emergencies.

    7. Ummmmm…*

      I think this was a higher-ups/hiring party’s relative or they had a personal relationship with them. It’s hard to believe the speaker stuck around unless someone was going to bat on their behalf. Logical professionals understand the longterm impacts of poor behavior from someone with influence, not to mention lost of time and resources from a job poorly done.

    8. Wintermute*

      I call it the “reboot time”.

      Most people have mental scripts they run, the human brain is REALLY reliant on offloading processing to routine as much as it can, developing rote patterns you don’t have to think about, libraries of functions basically, to reserve your intellectual capacity for things that matter more. Social situations are the same. But if someone badly, badly breaks from the expected flow of a situation you basically have to hard stop the routine handling and launch into analytical mode then figure out how the heck to deal with what’s going on right now.

      For instance, if you ask someone if they want coffee, you expect a small range of answers, basically yes, potentially with qualifiers like “with sugar” or “with milk and sugar”, or no. If someone asks for tea instead, you might be thrown a little but it’s still within scope you’re not going to freeze up.

      If instead they jump to their feet, lean into your face and start screaming about how coffee does not actually exist, and that they thought they knew you but you must be a part of the evil international barista conspiracy. No one’s going to have a good reaction to that in the moment. It’s just TOO out there. Do you deny being a barista? do you try to explain there’s no such thing as the barista conspiracy, unless it’s a hot new band from Seattle? Do you try to explain that coffee does, in fact, exist and there’s some sitting right there on the counter, are they so delusional they might not react well to that? Are you in danger right now?

      I can’t imagine anyone planned for this, the speaker probably came recommended and had a portfolio or sizzle reel and this stuff wasn’t in it! surely a competent professional wouldn’t get drunk, and surely it must take more than a few drinks to make a professional motivational speaker “work blue” and use insult humor at a corporate icebreaker! well… it did happen, I’m sure if the planets align and it ever happens again they’ll have a plan but in the moment I don’t blame them from freezing.

      1. Corporate Lawyer*

        This is an excellent explanation of the brain processes behind “freezing” in the moment.

      2. Rolly*

        Good explanation. I can understand freezing for a few minutes. But after a while some people should have been asking themselves “As I hearing what I think I’m hearing?” – and then perhaps gone to other people to see what they thought. I then collectively took action.

        I’ve done is in other situations. It’s a form of leadership. No one taking action – particularly after the first day – is a sign of deep deep dysfunction in the company.

        1. Wintermute*

          This is true, as well, it speaks to a certain level of “surely that’s not MY job!” and no one wanting to be the one to go up there and provoke a confrontation.

          Our default in those “freeze moments” is usually to be pathologically agreeable and ‘nice’ because we’re still processing and, well, most people are socialized such that confrontation and aggression is not their preferred or first response. You can certainly see animals where aggression is their first instinct when surprised… but as a highly social species we’re not one of them. Basically “go along to get along until you figure out where you stand” is something we’re all both predisposed to and acculturated to in most cultures.

          BUT, and here’s where I fully 100% agree with you. Once that moment of shock is over a leader needs to be comfortable provoking confrontation for the good of the group. Not doing so is a shocking abdication of leadership.

        1. Wintermute*

          Coffeehouse, with a Javanese-inspired fusion sound. I recommend their albums “Livin’ la Vida Mocha”, “Sacred Grounds”, and their electronica experimentation “Trans-Europe Espresso”

      3. Phoenix Wright*

        Having recently finished Deus Ex Invisible War, which contains an actual barista conspiracy as a subplot, I found that part of your comment hilarious. But I totally agree with what you said, the brain works in strange ways.

  2. StoneColdJaneAusten*

    Am I the first one to make an “in the van, down by the river!” joke?

    Fuck, I’m old.

    1. L.H. Puttgrass*

      Came to the comments for this; wasn’t disappointed.

      (Yup, first thing I thought at seeing the headline.)

    2. Forrest Gumption*

      FIRST thing that came to mind! (For those too young to get the reference, Google “Chris Farley SNL motivational speaker sketch”)

    3. TrackingCookieMonster*

      I mean, it sounds like this person makes Matt Foley a godsend by comparison. All Matt got hyped up on was coffee and a steady diet of government cheese.

    4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      There aren’t many motivational speeches I would enjoy, but this would be one!

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        Right?! I understand some people were uncomfortable and left, but man! I would have been terrified of missing out on the spectacle — I’m that nosy and FOMO Lol

  3. Meep*

    Reading this I just realized I am morbid. This story is delightful and I would have loved to be there to relish in all the cringe.

    When your VP of Sales & Marketing launches into a monologue the “hot” firemen that did a safety check of your building 3 years prior to anyone she meets (including the guy we are interviewing for a CFO position and ~clients~) and is still not even reprimanded despite numerous complaints about her professionalism, you become more amused by these things, I suppose.

    1. Goldenrod*

      “Reading this I just realized I am morbid. This story is delightful and I would have loved to be there to relish in all the cringe.”

      Oh my gosh, me too! My first thought was: Why don’t I ever get invited to anything like this?? :D

      I take after my dad, I guess. The speaker at my high school graduation showed up DRUNK. Slurring, keeling over, drunk. My dad said it was the best speech he ever saw, he still talked about it years later. :D :D

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes! My husband thinks I’m weird because I told him that I hoped someone would get drunk and cause a scene at our wedding. I still regret that no one did.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          Don’t think he was drunk, but the family dog broke out of the house (we got married in the back garden) during our wedding, crashed through the marquee and only settled down when someone found a ball to throw for him.

          Interrupted things sure, but my word did I forget my own tension! I think those kind of interruptions are great for distracting you from your own stresses. Kinda memorable too :)

          1. Cherry*

            I’m not that excited about the idea of someone getting drunk and causing mayhem, but a random, overexcited dog on a quest for a ball? Hell yes, I would go to that wedding even if I didn’t know anyone else attending!

          2. EmmaPoet*

            This would make the wedding for me. Though whoever I was marrying would know that I would be the one playing ball. And as a guest I’d be even happier- doggie time!

            1. L.H. Puttgrass*

              Right? The family dog is what would take a wedding from, “Lovely wedding, everyone looked so beautiful and happy,” to “BEST WEDDING EVER.”

          3. Regular Reader*

            Happened to me too. Wedding took place in a chapel attached to a Stately Home in the UK. Dog got loose from the main house and got into the chapel. So it was ‘Dearly Beloved…. WOOF’ Totally unaware of it myself, too nervouse, but have dined out on the tale for over 40 years!

          4. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Reminds me of a wedding I went to – drunken friend of the groom made his feelings about the bride known by convincing the DJ to play “Thunder Rolls” by Garth Brooks, with a dedication shout out to the Bride.

            (He must have known something – bride dumped the groom via a dear john letter while he was working an overnight shift a little over two years later…)

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              Whoops, sorry Keymaster – I
              Meant for that to best under Alison’s drunk guest comment, not yours.

              1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

                To NEST.

                I think it’s time for Orchestra to head for bed – too tired to post without typos.

          5. allathian*

            I haven’t experienced any true wedding disasters, but my friend’s dad went a bit overboard with his wedding speech, it started with a sentence like “On the day we brought you home from the maternity ward, I knew…” and went on for 45 minutes. By the time he finished, the food was cold, even if most people had been eating on the sly when they realized the speech was going on and on and on (here it’s considered a breach of manners to eat while someone is giving a speech, because the noise cutlery makes is distracting). When he finally finished, there was a desultory clap or two, but her MIL said what I bet most of us were thinking with her “At last!” that was loud enough to be heard across the room, and told her husband to skip his speech. Luckily the rest of the reception was fun, with plenty of opportunities to talk and dance, and no awkward wedding games. When my friends’s sister got married a few years later, she made it a firm rule that speeches had to be 3 minutes or shorter, and her maid of honor had a stopwatch, because the bride didn’t want a repeat of the long speech. Her father gave a lovely, short speech, and ended with a quip about having to keep it short this time. The applause was deafening.

          6. Cannibal Queen*

            Before we met, my husband attended a wedding in India at which one of the elephants got on a sugar high from raiding the dessert buffet and tried to join in the dancing!

        2. Expelliarmus*

          I wouldn’t mind a scene where someone’s just being weird, but I wouldn’t want them to say things about me that I wouldn’t want my parents to know lol

        3. Dust Bunny*

          Acquaintances of mine got married outside. All went well until after dinner, when people had started to get tipsy and drift away from the buffet tables . . . and the raccoons smelled the barbecue.

          Brooms were deployed.

          1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

            Ok, I am starting a Filk band and calling it Broom, Deployed. We will go on tour to promote our new album Trash Pandas and the Spiders from Mars, PA. Download or stream its sure-to-be hit single, Barbara (Alan) Shepard.

          2. Insert Clever Name Here*

            This is the type of thing I came to the comments of this letter for, and I am cackling!

          3. quill*

            +1, we had raccoons make deconstructed s’mores during a family outing once.

            Childproof coolers are not raccoon proof.

        4. Librarian of SHIELD*

          You should have had open mic for the wedding toasts. That feels like a sure fire way to get drunk antics.

          (Source, once attended a wedding where both bride and groom were from blended families. BOTH bio-dads gave very interesting drunk toasts during the open mic portion)

          1. Kevin Sours*

            So at my sister’s wedding they did this. And it was the groom’s family in charge of handing the mike around. And, so it ended by in the hands of an uncle who while a good guy is notoriously a bit rough around the edges. You could hear the vibe of the room change as half the people in it suddenly stopped breathing. He looked the bride straight in the eye, smiled, and passed the mike to the person next to him without saying a word.

          2. Stockholm Syndrome*

            My father gave an extremely passive-aggressive and rude speech at my wedding. He was mad that I put the brakes on his third ex-wife’s attempts to take over wedding planning. I don’t mean that they were married at the time and subsequently divorced; she walked out on him a year before I got engaged but somehow thought that gave her the right to run our wedding. His entire speech was about what a crap person I was for not being properly grateful to her.

            1. Meep*

              OMG. I thought my cousin’s wedding was bad. Both his parents got up and talked about how he was the perfect son and the son they always dreamed of. Which might’ve been nice if it weren’t for they picked really superficial reasons out as to love him (good at sports, popular, etc.) And you know… his brother hadn’t been sitting right there…

              1. WoodswomanWrites*

                I once worked at an office that employed two half-time receptionists, one for the mornings and one for the afternoons. At the going away party for one of them, the office manager in her speech said she had been the best receptionist they’d ever had. Her counterpart loudly said, “Hey…” So awkward.

            2. Sara without an H*

              Bad, but I’m sure all your guests drew the proper conclusions — about him, not you.

              1. WoodswomanWrites*

                Yes, exactly. Horrible to have to listen to, but no doubt your guests recognized this was all about him and not you.

          3. The New Wanderer*

            We did that – small wedding, no wedding party, so we had an open mic for toasts rather than prepared speeches. This went well until about 5 toasts in (with plenty of champagne) a friend of my husband’s told everyone present that she wished he had married someone they liked. It didn’t exactly cause a scene, just a lot of friends and family staring at her wondering if she realized she’d said that out loud. Someone must have partially clued her in because she came over later and gave a sloppy rambling apology … to my husband.

            1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              Better place for this one:

              Heard at a wedding once: “Thunder Rolls” by Garth Brooks with a special dedication to the Bride by one of the grooms Very drunk and passive-aggressive friends.

              (Though he must have picked up on something bride left the groom about 27 months later via Dear John letter while he was working an overnight shift for one of her coworkers….caught most of us by surprise.)

          4. Gimble*

            One of my favorite weddings ever was when a college roommate from a very large, somewhat unconventional, blended family married a guy from a very WASPy nuclear family. The groom’s father gave a kind but buttoned-up boilerplate toast. The bride’s stepfather gave a talk about native birds of the land we were on. The bride’s father, an accomplished civil rights attorney, delivered a full-on oration in which he called on the daughters of other civil rights leaders present to stand up and be applauded, and led all attendees in a hymn…

          5. Pool Loungere*

            Try a Quaker wedding. Anyone who feels moved by the Spirit can stand up and speak during the ceremony. At my MIL’s second wedding her teenage son stood up and said he didn’t think the marriage was the right thing to do! (Turned out he was correct–they got divorced in a year.) No one said anything embarrassing at my wedding ceremony, luckily!

        5. Green Beans*

          One of the student organizations at my college used to hold a Drag Show benefit for a local AIDS organization each year and one year the (non-straight, male) MC showed up plastered, a (straight-ish) guy participating in the show popped up on stage to help MC, and the drunk MC turned around, said “you’re hot, honey!”, grabbed him, and French kissed him. (It was described to me as “it was like taking a shot of tequila through a kiss.”) MC then spent the rest of the show strutting and lying on the stage in suggestive positions while the helper-MC (thankfully a large, muscular dude) kept him from falling on stage and did all the actual MC’ing.

          Still one of my best memories from college. The entire audience was cracking up and the judges had a ball. At one point the drunk MC just grabbed handfuls of condoms and threw them out into the crowd.

          1. Shorts shorts shorts*

            I’m sure it seemed funny but what you’ve described sounds a lot like sexual assault. If the straight man had been a woman perhaps it would have been more clear, but gender shouldn’t really matter.

        6. sadnotbad*

          At my brother’s wedding, one of the bride’s relations took a call in the back of the church in the *middle* of the ceremony. We all heard her clear as day have a brief conversation and then, after the usual pleasantries and a little catching up, say, “Okay, sorry, I gotta go, I’m at a wedding.”

          1. Squidlet*

            Oh wow. This reminds me of my husband’s boss. He called my husband one non-work day (weekend or holiday, can’t remember).

            He chatted for a few minutes but more quietly than usual. But my husband could hear people muttering in the background. He asked his boss where he was, and Boss replies “at the movies – I’d better go”.

            He was actually in the cinema and the movie had started when he decided to make a call.

            This is not the strangest thing he’s done in the 20 years my husband has been working for him.

            1. WoodswomanWrites*

              Okay, I gotta ask–I’d love to hear about the other strange things your husband’s boss has done, posted in a Friday open thread.

        7. What She Said*

          I like your husband would have been mortified of the thought pre-wedding. Day of, eh, I didn’t care and it actually did happen. Nothing really horrible was said, I think they were thanking people for coming but they were completely bombed. The best part for me, my grandmother clutching her pearls. I loved it!

        8. CoveredinBees*

          We got some tipsy wedding crashers who turned out to be quite lovely. They were bored at the wedding going on elsewhere at the venue (one was a bridesmaid!) and wanted to join the fun. Years later, an intern was describing a wedding she once crashed and it turns out she was the bridesmaid crasher.

        9. Not my usual account*

          At a family wedding, an elderly great aunt with dementia grabbed a microphone and started singing Vegas styled show tunes when her minder went to the bathroom. Fortunately, she was an unexpected hit. We are about to have another wedding in the family soon and she won’t be able to come and I am sad about it.

        10. Environmental Compliance*

          Nobody in this story was drunk… but at my sister’s wedding, in which I was matron of honor and my husband had to duck in last minute as a groomsman, our father gave a speech and managed to call Sister’s Brand New Husband by *my husband’s* name. Twice. The two names are not close to each other at all (think like…. Bob and Timothy). I elbowed him after the second time and told him the right name.

          At our wedding, one of Hub’s cousins wore a white-based dress (white summer dress with big floral pattern, but primarily white). Honestly? I didn’t notice or care. She’s just like that. All of his aunts, however, including this person’s future mother in law, were quietly furious on my behalf and would mutter about it at family events later. Also at our wedding, which was partially on a boat, one of Hub’s uncles paid off the boat captain to take a few extra rides up and down the river at the end of the night because he was having too good a time and there was still a half a keg left.

        11. Nancy*

          Coming from an alcoholic family I’ve been to many events disrupted by drunk relatives. Consider yourself lucky, it’s really not funny.

      2. Massive Dynamic*

        YES. If I was at that company (and had no responsibilities toward potentially grabbing the mic), I would absolutely settle in and enjoy the show.

      3. Yinka*

        I would absolutely be sitting there smirking trying not to explode laughing, think Aubrey Plaza on Parks & Rec when things are going terribly.

      4. Narise*

        I would be surprised if a video of the motivational speaker was not on reddit or you tube for all to see! I would have loved to have been there and probably would have thrown in an Amen or two just to make it even more cringe worthy.

    2. anonymous73*

      Yeah I would have secretly enjoyed this as well. But I’m also obsessed with true crime docs and tv shows with disturbing subject matter LOL

    3. Chickaletta*

      Such a good story to share with friends and family too! I’m so tired of being asked how my week went and the most interesting tidbit I can think of is that someone didn’t respond to an email.

    4. Free Meerkats*

      Honestly, this is something that will be a bonding thing in your company for decades to come.

      Like the time during a meeting when the presenter literally peed down her leg instead of taking a break because, as she said later, “I was on a roll!” We still talk about that and it was in the 90s.

      1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

        Yeah, I’d say this speaker actually did bring people together… just not in the way originally intended.

        1. TiredMama*

          That was my thought at the end. Shared awkward evening makes for a great shared memory that everyone can refer to later. Like, man, that was awkward but not as awkward as that time the MC at training talking about sex. Or E1: I’m so nervous about this pitch. E2: Don’t worry, you cannot possibly be as awkward as the MC at that training that got drunk and talked about sex with the head of HR!

          1. kiki*

            I almost wonder if there’s a market for actors creating awkward events to bind people together, lol

            1. InASuit*

              At least in Australia — yes!

              There’s a fairly prominent motivational speaker who essentially turns up in a suit and tie to deliver a ‘keynote address.’

              He does enough research to talk convincigly about his topic for a couple of pages — and then it starts getting strange.

              Very popular speaker.

              1. Phony Genius*

                There’s an American comedian who does something similar. He is a “doubletalk” expert, where he gives speeches in which he seems to be saying a lot, but is actually saying absolutely nothing (or even less). He will also interview employees for a “corporate video,” but his lengthy questions make no sense and are unanswerable, and the employees try to answer, anyway.

          2. Wintermute*

            you know that does really prompt the question of who the HEAD OF HR goes to in such a case. Is there such a thing as metahuman resources?

      2. raincoaster*

        Ah, the “move fast and break things” 90’s. I remember them well. We thought we were Changing! The! World! with lattes.

    5. MigraineMonth*

      My company had a speaker come in who had… questionable judgement. He was a retired salesperson supposed to talk about the history of software in our industry, which somehow included a slide of a woman from the waist down wearing a mini-skirt; a joke about Mormons having multiple wives; a joke about only hiring Jewish lawyers; the side-comment that he and the other salespeople had “made time” with that woman in the advertisement; wearing an Afro wig for no apparent reason (he was white) and proudly discussing his career of committing fraud by selling software that he knew would never actually work. His thesis was that all salespeople were trash, which was pretty convincing when backed up with so much evidence, but nevertheless probably awkward for the salespeople in the audience.

      I almost wish he had been drunk. This was a mandatory event.

      I sent an email to HR asking for them to publicly acknowledge that this was not acceptable conduct. They said “not our department, but we’ll pass along your feedback about the speaker”. A week later they posted video of the speaker to our internal website so we could re-experience the talk whenever we liked.

        1. Wintermute*

          I read that as “we WARNED management this was not okay but someone up top liked this guy so much we were told to stuff it… so we are refusing to smooth this over at all.”

    6. generic_username*

      100%. This would be absolutely hilarious and entertaining to me as well. I was once at a book club where one person got so drunk that she peed in the kitchen sink of the apartment community room we held the event in, then after she was escorted out, she snuck back in to grab the bottle of wine she brought, and then had to be escorted out again (and this time the host called her an Uber to her house and waited until she was loaded in). I felt a little bad for the host who had to deal with it (although I know she enjoyed telling the story afterwards, just not that night) and I felt awful for the woman who got drunk and made a scene because I’m sure she was embarrassed, but I could barely wait to get home and tell my family/friends about it.

      1. Jillian*

        Enough readers (me too) would think this was funny. Makes me wonder if that was the intent. It’s possible the company didn’t do any research and actually hired a comedic motivational speaker, or and R-rated one.

    7. Roy G. Biv*

      I have been to enough week long sales meetings that the letter reads like the best amalgamation of the worst moments I have witnessed: drunk at corporate event and should probably have been escorted out already, check; speaker cannot read the room and is escorted off stage by C suite suit, check; highly paid guest speaker takes multiple swipes at leadership while corporate drones sit there, stifling laughter because “my boss is sitting at my table,” check, check, check.

      I wish I could have been at that event, as well. It ranks very high on the squirm-o-meter!

      1. The Editor-In-Chief*

        Squirm-o-meter is good, but squirmometer sounds like a legit device.

        “Oh, that’s a ten on the squirmometer.”

        1. FisherCat*

          I *need* there to be a “corporate squirmometer” somewhere. I think my job would be a good candidate, content wise, but no one has the sense of humor to make it actually worth doing

        2. IndustriousLabRat*

          Thanks for reminding me that mine is up for calibration; don’t want to get a false reading when I use it on the inevitable “all hands standing meeting” that’s going to happen soon, if the re-org notice I got this morning is any indicator…

    8. kiki*

      Right? My favorite family 4th of July celebration was when someone brought their Danish acquaintance who immediately got very plastered (this was a family celebration where everyone typically has a beer or two over the course of the day), loudly yelled for an hour that nobody should have guns (I don’t necessarily disagree but the audience was a rural family who hunts and it’s a topic we all carefully avoid), insisted two cousins were dating, said he wanted to leave his wife, then stuck his whole hand into the dessert trifle (don’t worry, there was a spare).

      1. Roy G. Biv*

        I like the contrast of celebrating independence from the British while serving one of their signature desserts — trifle. “OK, this is our country now, you can go home, and oh, by the way, THANK YOU for the recipe.”

        1. Gumby*

          Eh, I’d feel bad about that but then I saw what GBBO thinks “American Pie” is and… I mean, the fillings were whatever, I get you are trying to stand out. But there was not a single pie pan used so at the start the shapes were completely wrong.

    9. Wendy Darling*

      There is a part of me — not the part that gets to make the decisions, typically — that just wants to watch the world burn. I do not set out to burn down the world, but if it happens to be on fire I turn up with a camp chair and marshmallows.

      I Just Cannot with motivational speakers and this shitshow sounds 10x more entertaining than any motivational speech in history so I would have been delighted.

      1. Meep*

        This is where I am at with my life. I am not going to add gasoline to the fire, but I am also not going to move to put it out. Not even if it poop on fire.

      2. FisherCat*

        Yeah this is me. I’m not an agent of chaos exactly, but I’m an appreciater of (the mostly harmless kind of) chaos and certainly wouldn’t move to stop it even if I could….

      3. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        Honestly, this is the only type of motivational speaker I could sit through. Otherwise they just get on my nerves

    10. Clisby*

      Me, too! I wouldn’t have been uncomfortable, I’d have been like, bring it! At the place I worked before retiring, I imagine dozens would have been laughing hysterically by the time she was halfway through talking.

    11. oranges*

      This is reminds me of the Kathy Griffin stand up where she describes going to Brooke Shield’s wedding and Brooke’s mom Teri got drunk and grabbed the mic to make a toast. Kathy was in HEAVEN.

    12. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I bit my husband on the hand at his 40th birthday party, while he was standing in front of 30+ guests that were all singing Happy Birthday to him.

      It was in 2008, and one of my sons brought this incident up as recently as YESTERDAY. I am sure this story will be retold at my funeral. And I am all for it.

      (Longer version: it was a surprise party thrown by our large group of friends. I was told to bring a cake, but no birthday implements, so he wouldn’t suspect. He thought we were going to a Memorial Day cookout. My friends then were unexpectedly angry at me for not having brought candles, after being told not to bring them. I was then told to stand in front of my husband, holding the cake on my upturned palms, in what was a submissive wife pose I assume? while everyone else sang Happy Birthday. My husband had a massive drinking problem (one of the reasons why he’s now the ex-husband), was drunk off his arse by that point, and apparently wanted to dance. To that end, he grabbed me by both hands and started waving them up and down and side to side. I was terrified of what my friends (and I use this term loosely…) would do to me if I dropped the cake, but I could not get him to stop. Talking didn’t help and neither did swearing. Finally I screamed in his face and that surprised him enough that he stopped moving my hands for a second. I then bit him on the hand and he finally let go of mine. I put the cake on the nearby counter, told everyone I’d be back shortly, and went out to take walk around the block and to think about how I was apparently married to an alcoholic and also needed new friends. Today, we have been divorced for 12 years and I have a lot of fantastic new friends! The end.)

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Adding to the above comment, it was not funny then. Not to me, not to the guests. Maybe to the birthday man it was. He was pretty happy and oblivious by that point. But now, 14 years later? Holy smokes, what a story. 10/10 would bite again.

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*


          My friend had a vow renewal ceremony for their 20-year anniversary, and during the feeding him a bite of cake part, he did some kind of weird thing where he leaned toward her with his mouth open and a wad of masticated cake on his tongue — and she fended him off by going en garde with a fork about a millimeter from his nose — he had it coming, too!

      2. coffee*

        Oh my god, I did not expect anything that happened in that story, and I am extremely glad you have divorced him and got better friends.

    13. Mallory Janis Ian*

      Me, too — I would NEVER have left in the middle of such delightful inappropriateness!

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      Imagine if the poor managers from the hellish retreat with minimal breaks, no chatting and a terrible facilitator had had to put up with this MC too. It would’ve been pitchforks at dawn!

  4. evens*

    Yeah, the company should have sent her home and a company bigwig should have facilitated. There are problems to that, of course, since a bigwig isn’t going to “instill cheer” or increase team cohesiveness in the same way an outsider would.

    I disagree that the company was saying “We think this person is still a good choice to lead our events,” though. Probably the-powers-that-be froze, weren’t sure what to do, and then just gritted their teeth for the remaining time. The situation sounds so weird and unexpected that it would be easy to do that. I bet she won’t be invited back, though!

    1. Anonymous Hippo*

      I’m not sure that’s any better. So the higher-ups aren’t capable of making quick decisions in dealing with changing landscape?

      1. Hip Hop Anonymous*

        LOLOL as if ALL people make it into high level positions because they have talent and have earned it, not because they’re someone’s brother uncle cousin wife best friend, or stayed at the company the longest, or any other number of reasons people end up in leadership positions.

        I think that should be in the purview of the leadership, but this site has proven to us over and over and over that what a leader “should” be capable of is often not their strength.

        1. ecnaseener*

          Obviously there are plenty of incompetent people in high-level positions, but Hippo’s point is that “we don’t know what to do when things go wrong” is just as bad a look as “we don’t see a problem here at all.”

          also you two should join forces and become Hip Hop Hippo

    2. kittymommy*

      Yeah, TPTB were probably just as astonished and mortified as everyone else and at a loss for what to do.

      The poor HR director.

    3. Nessun*

      They weren’t thinking it, no – but by keeping the speaker they tacitly implied that that WAS what they were thinking. On the outside, not doing anything looked like acceptance of that behavior, which isn’t a long leap to approval of that behavior. Like any corporate attitude really – if John and Joan are allowed to act like that and no one sees them reprimanded or removed, then it must be acceptable to act that way per Company standards. Not a good look – someone high up should have asked her to leave and ended her contract after that first speech (and taken away the mic as soon as possible during that first speech).

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        I have tried and tried to get my higher ups to understand that when something serious happens and you don’t say anything, you’re leaving the door wide open for your staff to believe you don’t care and you think the serious thing is fine, actually.

        1. Olivia Oil*

          I’m currently on an MCU Spider-Man marathon and remember one of Tom Holland’s first lines was (I’m sure I’m butchering it though): “If you have the power to keep something from happening, whatever happens is because of you.” Guess it’s relevant to this situation loll

    4. Le Sigh*

      It’s one thing to have kept her on (debatable, but sure), but they didn’t even acknowledge it. At a minimum, the company should have apologized for what happened; if they were going to keep her on, they should have also had the speaker apologize and clear the air a bit. They might not have meant to send that message, but not even addressing it, that’s likely how it came across to employees.

      The whole point of this stuff is to build team morale, bring coworkers together, etc., and while funny, it was also really disruptive and counter to the spirit of the event. To just plow through with a “nothing to see here” vibe would leave me feeling like the execs either don’t know how to lead, which is concerning, or just want to just stick their heads in the sand, or both.

      1. OP Off the Rails*

        They did apologize after the retreat when everyone was home. But I agree that they should have done it much earlier.

      2. Sara without an H*

        Yes. I can understand how everybody might have frozen while the event was in progress (although I can think of several execs who would have figured out a way to quickly make the mic “malfunction” and declared a break), but letting her continue to work the rest of the event without some kind of acknowledgement that this-was-not-our-professional-standard?

        What to do? Take the mike from her, thank her loudly and heartily for the inspirational presentation. Encourage all staff to visit the buffet and hustle the speaker out with a couple of trustworthy staff to look after her.

        Would I have let her to continue to lead presentations at this retreat? Only if she would agree to apologize to the attendees and make a presentation about how to recover from professional disasters.

    5. Rav*

      TPTB are usually judged harsher than the lower spheres, but that comes with the territory. Even if they froze up, they had at least 12 hours to do something. Not acting gives the impression of them not caring, and for TPTB, it’s just as important what they do as what they look like doing.

      The replacement will have their work cut out for them: no matter how badly they can botch the rest of the week, they’ll always look better when compared to the opening act.

    6. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      Or they’d paid 50% up front and were damned sure they were going to get their money’s worth

    7. fhqwhgads*

      OK, but if I’m in the audience and no bigwig goes up and stops it, my thought process is “either they think this is acceptable or they’re too conflict avoidant to do anything about it”. Either way, it makes management look really bad.

  5. Not that kind of doctor*

    I’m not generally a fan of demanding your money back, but I would think the natural consequence of that set of actions would have been to send her home immediately and not pay her bill. I know it’s easy to feel stuck with a plan that took a lot of effort to arrange (and maybe a deposit?), but when a vendor literally fails to deliver and in fact does more harm, well… I don’t think I should pay for the privilege.

    1. Athenae*

      You also need to approve everything that’s said on your stage. If your name is in front of it, ain’t nobody getting up there without you knowing EXACTLY what they’re going to say.

      1. The Prettiest Curse*

        Yup, as a long-time event coordinator, rule #1 of events that involve alcohol is to make sure that everyone who gets the mic is coherent – and if not, to get it away from them ASAP.

        1. JustAghast*

          Yes! Also a good reminder to include language about this in any speaker contracts. If they act a fool, they don’t get paid. Simple as that.

      2. Gan Ainm*

        Mmmm sometimes/often when you hire guest speakers you work together on key points that you want conveyed, and you get an outline and their ppt in advance (which might just be a couple graphs or pictures) and their exact speech isn’t shared in advance. Normally speakers are professionals, you’ve seen examples of their other past work, and they may come referred from an agency, so you’re comfortable not knowing exactly how they’ll say it.

        In this case even knowing exactly what she was going to say wouldn’t have helped as she went completely off-piste anyway. The company might have recognized a little quicker that she was off script and maybe could have reacted faster, but given their overall lack of response from leadership (allowing her to stay all week?!) I doubt it would have helped in this situation.

        It’s easy to backseat drive in this situation and say “I would have…” but as someone who has planned large senior leadership events like this, I can confidently say I would have stepped in within 2 mins or so, which is about as long as it would take me to take stock of the situation then radio the a/v team and tell them to have a “technical difficulty” with the sound equipment and cut off her mic, called for a ten minute intermission / snack break to deal with the “technical difficulty” and then come back with a different MC (probably me, as the event coordinator, unless some brave sole volunteers). You have to expect the unexpected with events and roll with it.

    2. The Prettiest Curse*

      One year at the mid-sized conference I used to help coordinate, the hotel gave us an AV guy who showed up way too hung over to do anything useful, which led to my boss (who was not an AV expert) basically running the AV desk for an entire morning of presentations on her own.
      She chewed out the hotel at the first opportunity, they gave us another AV guy and they gave us a $10,000 discount on the AV portion of the bill. If you’re paying for a professional event service, you are entirely within your rights to expect it to be professional and a service.

      1. Littorally*

        If you’re paying for a professional event service, you are entirely within your rights to expect it to be professional and a service.

        ding ding ding, we have a winner.

  6. anonymous73*

    Yeah the company messed up big time. They should have
    1. Stopped her long before they did on that first night.
    2. Gotten rid of her after that and found a replacement – at that point ANYONE would have been better.
    3. Acknowledged it and apologized. Doing nothing implies that the behavior was acceptable whether intentional or not.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      4. Send everyone home and apologize for thinking a week long retreat was a good idea in the first place.

    2. Kevin Sours*

      I’m guessing that #2 would be essentially impossible. There probably wasn’t anybody at hand that could manage the program on zero notice with zero prep (and hiring somebody outside overnight would be a challenge). What they could (and should) have done is scaled back the program to a company social event or just cancelled it. But the “show must go on” is a powerful impulse as is the sunk cost fallacy.

      Definitely not a shining moment, but I’m not sure absent other indicators I would deem it reflection on anybody’s core values.

      1. anonymous73*

        “She spent the first few minutes bashing the new corporate ownership (the company was recently acquired), telling everyone that they’d “sold out.” That topic exhausted, she moved on to the three things she wanted them to balance in their lives: work, health, and sex. She then pointed at the female HR director and said, “and she should be in charge of all three!” She veered on from there, making masturbation jokes…”

        Nothing about this is okay at a work event. If you pretend it didn’t happen, that implies you think it’s okay. So yes, it does reflect on people’s core values.

      2. PT*

        If you can’t hire someone to take over her job, then you a) have a cast of people who are on staff take over what portion of her duties they can, b) shuffle around the schedule so her “time” is covered with other parts of the retreat, c) use that borrowed time to have someone track down a new speaker/new content/new activity, d) if you’re still left with extra time you cannot productively fill, give people free time or let them go home half a day early.

        I’ve never managed corporate retreats but I’ve run a lot of staff trainings and they often get disturbed by something stupid. You have to be able to rearrange the schedule at the drop of a hat. “Well we were supposed to be in the llama paddock this afternoon, but there’s a raging thunderstorm and tornado watch so we’re going to move into the teapot studio to cover tomorrow’s classroom content, and then tomorrow do a double practical in the llama paddock.”

      3. pancakes*

        What would they have done if she’d gotten food poisoning, then, or tested positive for Covid, or fallen ill in some other way? Handed her a wireless mic to take into the bathroom with her? Not having any back-up plan whatsoever is simply poor planning. You say “zero notice and zero prep,” but there’s no good reason to wait for notice of the lead emcee being totally incapacitated before devising a back-up plan for an event like this.

        1. anon today*

          Yep. It’s also worth pointing out that “lightweight team-building” could have been literally someone running to the store for some PG-rated board games and it would have been better than the person they hired, so… it doesn’t take a genius to come up with replacement activities even if there wasn’t a backup plan!

          1. pancakes*

            This was at the beginning of the retreat, the first night, so all they would’ve had to do was have someone step up to the mic and say something along the lines of, “We’re sorry for the disruption, everyone. Please enjoy the rest of your evening and we’ll continue with our program tomorrow.”

  7. No*

    I think the speaker was right about bad company leadership considering they apparently had an in person retreat during a plague.

    1. Chickaletta*

      And that they didn’t step in and pull her off stage. Yep, maybe she was on to something LOL!

    2. SongbirdT*

      Eh, our company is doing in-person events right now but they aren’t mandatory and there is a LOT of protocol. Proof of vaccination, masks required at all times, limited food/beverage events, testing before entry to the event each day, distance seating, outdoors wherever they can… All that to say, it’s possible to do in-person events relatively safely right now. The LW didn’t include details on what precautions were taken. So I don’t think the fact that the event was in-person is telling all on its own, but certainly is a factor in the bigger picture.

      1. OP Off the Rails*

        They did have this type of protocol in place, and attending in-person was optional (I believe about half joined via Zoom, including some leadership to signal that this was fine to do). It was also during a dip in cases. But I agree that they probably shouldn’t have had it.

      2. pancakes*

        We know for a fact that there were no precautions taken in terms of having a back-up emcee. It makes me wonder what they’d have done if she’d tested positive instead of turned up drunk.

    3. raincoaster*

      You win the comments today.

      Especially events where people are eating and drinking maskless.

  8. CoveredinBees*

    She should have been cut off sooner but I wouldn’t come down too hard on the people who eventually did. They were probably in as much shock as everyone else. I once went to a keynote by a political figure who seemed to be a having some sort of mental health crisis (in hindsight) on stage. It started ok and then he started screaming at and tearing into the audience who were very close to him in the small auditorium. People who had definitely never met him before and were all members of a pretty broad, non-controversial student group at my university as part of a series on “current events”. Everyone sat there in shock and fear. No one left and no one said a word until he stormed out a fire exit.

      1. CoveredinBees*

        Lol! No. This was an ambassador to the country I was living in. There wasn’t really anyone to complain to either. This was back when phones had nothing more sophisticated than ‘snake’ or it might have impacted his career. His country was engaged in diplomatic hostilities with another country. Someone from the embassy for the other country was scheduled for the next week and attendance was outstanding. That speech was pretty great by any standards but really showing up and not screaming was the standard he had to meet.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I demand the fire exit to have been one of those rickety iron staircases that go up to the top floor in older buildings. (Currently living in one and what was advertised to me as my “back patio” is a fire exit!) Can you imagine him thundering down five flights of those stairs?

      1. CoveredinBees*

        Being a heavy smoker (it wafted off him), that wouldn’t have lasted long and he would have probably been stranded mid-descent, adding to the absurdity.

  9. Dutchie*

    I hope none of the employees have dealt with alcohol abuse disorder (themselves or in loved ones), because I cannot imagine having to deal with that and next having to sit through this “speech”, where you obviously cannot leave because it is a “work activity”.

    I have also never been on a work retreat, but is it common to have activities that involve alcohol scheduled before other activities? Wouldn’t it make more sense to end the day with them to avoid situations like this? (And in general, sometimes alcohol hits you harder than you think, sober people are thinking sharper, socializing is more relaxed if there is not a time limit, etcetera.)

    1. RabbitRabbit*

      Not sure about work retreats per se, but pre-COVID I used to attend research conferences for my work (sponsored by a company or an organization, not my employer), and frequently the evening before the conference would be an optional networking dinner/cocktail hour. Then bright and early the next morning we’d start the conference proper.

      And the LW states this was the first evening of the retreat, so it sounds like there could have been activities earlier during that day as well.

      1. Dutchie*

        But would you have a cocktail party and then have an activity later that night? Or did I misunderstood what happened in the letter?

        1. MsM*

          It sounds to me like they just wanted her to say a few words to pump up the crowd for the rest of the week, and…this happened.

          1. RabbitRabbit*

            Yes, this was my assumption as well – everyone’s mingling, someone gets the bright idea to have the (whoops, drunk) motivational speaker do an informal greeting and she went wild.

          2. OP Off the Rails*

            Yeah correct, the cocktail hour was the only event for the day (night) everyone arrived, and then the rest of the activities began the next day.

    2. Resident Catholicville, USA*

      The one work conference I attended, everyone stayed at the hotel/conference center, and when I was checking in, a coworker grabbed a beer out of the case in the lobby, and yelled to the desk his room number and to put it on his tab. It was ON from there- I was pretty surprised that in today’s day and age, you could get away with that much alcohol at a work event, but apparently not. Made it hard to take certain VP’s seriously going forward after you’ve watched them drunk conga at the themed party night.

    3. Important Moi*

      YMMV, it depends. It is not always common to have activities that involve alcohol scheduled before other activities. I’ve been to events where alcohol was served before events and it turned out fine.

  10. no longer working*

    Seems like if you are hired to give a speech – that is, WORKING, you should not be drinking on the job. I could see having a small drink to calm your nerves, perhaps, but a professional should know better. If she was hired through an agency I hope they were told what happened.

    1. generic_username*

      I wonder if this was a welcome reception and she wasn’t actually supposed to start her role facilitating til the next day, but upper management thought it’d be fine to randomly call her onto stage/to the mic to say a quick hello. Still not great to drink that much at a professional function, but I have a bit more sympathy if she wasn’t expecting to have to give a speech.

      1. OP Off the Rails*

        I think it may have been something like this? Or she was just supposed to give a brief, normal welcome and pump-up message. But you’d think any event host would know that they’d likely be called up to speak here?

  11. Gerry Keay*

    It’s 2022 and the trains are fully off the tracks. I fear we’ve all regressed so much socially that we’ve entered a new realm of truly unhinged behavior. Should be a fun decade!!

    1. Kevin Sours*

      Honestly I think the new thing is not so much this sort of thing happening as is being embarrassed by it.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      And to think that in December ’19, people worried that the Roaring 20s wouldn’t live up to their name!

  12. raincoaster*

    As a lifelong Motivational Speaker skeptic, these are the kinds of posts I live for. Now my imagination is holding up headshots of motivational speakers and asking if it could be her.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      Fellow skeptic here: I have never figured out how a comedy show is supposed to motivate me to work harder.

      1. Wintermute*

        The point is usually to use humor to make the actually useful, actionable parts a little less preachy and to just lighten the mood.

        I’ve seen it done well, when going over something really really dry like company powerpoint deck expectations, a comedic spiel is going to go over far better than dry examples and lists of rules and guidelines. I saw one that had examples of “how not to do it” demonstrating a slide with too many bullet points with “*it *makes *you *sound *like you *are *reading through *a strobe light. –the term “bullet point” is –because –People will want to –shoot at you” or a section on overuse of charts that had pie charts, a photoshopped picture of a pie made into a chart, a pie chart of pies (23% apple, 17% banana, etc) and so on.

  13. Lucia Pacciola*

    I feel like we’ve somehow lost the art of the cocktail party. I’m pretty sure it used to be a basic social skill to show up to one of these things, get a little lubricated, but still keep it together in case you were called upon to make a good impression.

    1. Gerry Keay*

      Unfortunately, we continue to be a binge drinking culture when it comes to alcohol. (Thanks, prohibition!0

      1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

        Or even lose the attitude that if you choose not to drink alcohol then there’s something odd or wrong about your choice which others must ask or comment about! I’d LOVE to see that go the way of saddle shoes, corsets and bustles – it’s every bit as outdated as they are (not that it was EVER a good idea!)

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I’m seeing non-alcoholic bars popping up in major cities. I’d like to see parties where both options are available. As someone who can have one drink AND THEN STOP, I would like to have that option of making a work, or a semi-official social, event, more tolerable to me; without forcing everyone around me to follow suit.

    2. Anon Supervisor*

      Also not just binge drinking – at my company, when they were able to do thee anniversary celebratory dinner party, you had to get to the cocktail portion EARLY if you wanted to partake of any of the appetizers. People would pile the meats and cheeses on their little plates and that table would just be decimated within a half an hour.

  14. Bones*

    Okay, but this woman should be a stand-up comedian because y’all ain’t gonna look me in the face and tell me this line ain’t comedy gold:

    “That topic exhausted, she moved on to the three things she wanted them to balance in their lives: work, health, and sex. She then pointed at the female HR director and said, ‘and she should be in charge of all three!'”

    1. MsM*

      If I were the HR director, I wouldn’t have been terribly amused. Of course, I probably also would’ve stepped in and taken over the teambuilding activities for the rest of the retreat, so…

      1. Bones*

        No, probably not. But, as I’m not the HR director, I’m happy to indulge in a bit of schadenfreude. The world tends to be a circus most days, so I’ve found it helpful to enjoy the show when I can!

    2. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      My immediate thought as o rad the letter was that the person was an aspiring stabs up comic who did “motivational” gigs to pay the bills.

    1. Jan*

      Yep. I immediately thought of David Brent doing his motivational gig and making an idiot of himself. Even he didn’t get drunk, though!

  15. Emily*

    We once had a truly terrible motivational speaker (also a woman) and I’m kind of wondering if it’s her. She didn’t get drunk, but she was pretty bad sober. She spent the time she was supposed to be motivating (?) us telling us all kinds of self-aggrandizing stories, really nasty anecdotes about people she worked with in the past, bashing all those ‘educated’ people because she hadn’t even graduated high-school and look at her now! She made all kinds of poorly (or not at all) supported claims and some fairly racist remarks. Still a lot of others in the room seemed to like her and thought she was motivating!? It was very strange. I remember thinking she seemed like a female Trump. Some kind of brand of charisma that I cannot understand.

    1. miss chevious*

      We have one of those on staff as a trainer. Right out of the gate she came out with some very inappropriate stories, her emails to the team are always borderline taste levels (think including shots of bikini models, etc.), and she is constantly telling what she thinks are flattering but are really actually cringe-worthy stories about herself. And then her leader asks me why my team doesn’t attend any of her trainings. :D

    2. pancakes*

      That particular brand of “charisma” is racism and anti-intellectualism. People who are that way like it when other people are that way too.

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Honestly, OP’s speaker sounds miles better than this one. For sure, your speaker would not have made the “sold out” joke.

      Still a lot of others in the room seemed to like her and thought she was motivating!?

      And that is the one truly scary thing about the times we live in. 20-30 years ago, they wouldn’t at least have dared to say it out loud that they liked her and thought she was motivating, but here we are today.

  16. zutara*

    This reminds me of something that happened at my old job at a few years ago. They held an internal talent show for employees with a celebrity host and a celebrity judge that was a popular 90s hip-hop musician. As the show went on, the host got drunk on the alcohol they were serving him backstage and eventually just brought the glass with him while he was on the mic. He was visibly drunk and slurring and even commented on how he was too drunk to be up there but he was glad he was getting paid anyway. The show was supposed to run for about an hour and a half and dragged on for about 3 and a half hours. The celebrity judge made lewd comments to the women who performed. For example, a couple had finished performing a salsa dance and afterward he commented that every time she spun he was waiting for her dress to go higher so he could see what was under it. Corporate HR was in attendance as they were also competing.

    When the finals were on later that week, the celebrity host and judge had been axed and the show started with an apology from the department running the event about their deep regret for the inappropriate behavior caused by the guests from the first show. The rest of the night was uneventful. On Twitter, one of the finalists had asked celebrity judge why he didn’t come back for the finals and he said he couldn’t discuss it publicly. They normally keep a recording of these events on the company intranet so anyone who didn’t attend could watch, but the video from the first night was deliberately excluded from the archives.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      Yeah, still beats the Don’t be an Eeyore, Be a Tigger! From a few years back.

      Excuse me while I go destroy Rabbit’s garden, I guess?

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        …. Get high on cough syrup and pounce from cover on your unsuspecting coworkers?

        Was this person unfamiliar with the work of A.A. Milne?

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          One can only assume so. Thankfully, my company did not believe in paying for non-management staff to attend motivational speeches, so I only heard about it secondhand.

      2. Marzipan Shepherdess*

        Of course, while Rabbit was leading the others around in circles in the Hundred Acre Wood, Tigger was the one who actually found them!

  17. the cat's ass*

    OMG, so much cringe…first the drunk speaker, then the non-response from management, then the WEEK-LONG seminar in the middle of the fricking panini…

    My gratitude towards my job grows every time i refresh this page.

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        It’s a common internet joke to refer to the pandemic by other various p words. Panini, panorama, Panera, pan pizza, etc.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Each January I tell my spouse that his hopes of landing “Worst Manager of the Year” have already been dashed.

  18. Hip into wind as always*

    Let me preface that this occurred over 25 years ago and times were different. Past Master’s champion agrees to give a motivational speech at my company’s dinner. Speech is peppered with course language and as he’s finishing his unrehearsed “speech” he ends it with an incredibly sexist (and dirty) joke. Thankfully, most of the men at the dinner only politely laughed but there was a lot of eye rolling. Company big-wig comes racing up to myself and another woman (8 women out of close to 120 men at this dinner) apologizing if we were offended and what could he do to make it better. In those times a woman didn’t get ahead if she offended easily (at least at my company) so we made him do a shot of tequila as penance. No, two wrongs don’t make a right…

  19. Falling Diphthong*

    By keeping her around, the company was conveying, “We think this person is still a good choice [for this job].”

    It’s like a special highly concentrated weekend version of management keeping around a terrible coworker and wondering why morale is tanking and people are leaving.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Great scott. Despair dot com (source of demotivational posters) must be diversifying as the pandemic saps any remaining flecks of motivation.

  20. Falling Diphthong*

    A number of people with some authority should have stopped her sooner. But I can understand freezing in the moment, hoping that “wresting the microphone from the motivational speaker” would turn out to be in a different veep’s job description.

    Keeping her around after though–that really suggests a culture of management putting its head in the sand when there are problems. Which is not an encouraging takeaway for your employees on this retreat.

    Good MC-ing is an art and takes skill and practice. But perfectly-adequate-MC-ing-given-the-alternative could have been provided by most of the people there. “Good morning everyone. Frosting, Bagels, and Compliance has moved to room 203, and Modifying Llamas for Flight will start at 2:30 rather than 2:15. These mini-danishes are excellent and I recommend trying one.”

    1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      Spoiler alert: Frosting your bagels definitely does not meet compliance (but sounds delicious)

    2. freddy*

      I can’t stop laughing….can I Venmo you in exchange for more fake corporate leadership workshop titles????

      1. Candi*

        “Small Stout Teapots: Handles and Spouts”

        “Chocolate Teapots: Flavoring Dynamics”

        “Underwater Basket Weaving: Willow vs Rushes”

        1. Pikachu*

          “This Tea Tastes Bitter”: Managing Uncomfortable Conversations in the Tearoom

          Add More Sugar: A Mindful Approach to Palatability

          Disrupting the Tea Ritual for an Uncertain Economy

          K-Cups Are Dead: Coping with At-Home Coffee During the Pandemic

          Innovation and Imagination in Tech-Enabled Teapots

          Coasters vs. Saucers: A Panel Discussion on Tea-Related Furniture Preservation

  21. Rav*

    Oh Lord, I remember a local radio station had a music festival, and in the later years the transmission was always delayed for an hour. Someone asked why on live air, and one of the DJs answered that in previous years, they used to intertwine the regular shows and the live shows, until one day, when a quite infamous band took the stage. The band leader swore so much that it made sailors blush. The DJ ran to the operator demanding he take the transmission offline. The operator said something like, “But we don’t have a commercial break until 30 minutes more,” to which the DJ said, “we *have* a break now,” and pulled the plug literally. When the station managed to get online again, even the owners were giving apologies. I think they managed to get scotch free from most harsh consequences, but they had to lock down live transmissions like that.

    1. Poppy*

      That DJ is an absolute star. Quick thinking, practical action, standing up to (even minor) authority. Brilliant.

  22. justanobody*

    I think the speaker got drunk and then forgot that she was NOT doing a stand up routine. Which is her ‘other’ job. I’d normally say “don’t quit your day job” but maybe she should quit both!

  23. Lobsterman*

    I dunno, I’d appreciate the company’s heads-up that literally no level of deviance could possibly get me fired.

  24. Lady Pomona*

    Or even lose the attitude that if you choose not to drink alcohol then there’s something odd or wrong about your choice which others must ask or comment about! I’d LOVE to see that go the way of saddle shoes, corsets and bustles – it’s every bit as outdated as they are (not that it was EVER a good idea!)

  25. SyFyGeek*

    A few years ago, I typed the speech for a gentleman to give an annual conference. He was the Keynote speaker, and when I say I typed his speech, that’s all I did- double spaced, 20pt font, and insert page numbers. This is a huge annual event, and many of the attendees are “old people with old money” especially for the opening dinner. Academics, professionals, celebrities (if you were into what the conference was about) made up the rest of the attendees.

    I did not work for this gentleman, but he was a huge donor, and if he needed something typed, I typed it. The Monday following the event, my boss calls me into his office and wants to know how in the hell I let something like that (the speech) go out without giving anyone a heads up. It was vulgar, rude, named names, spilled secrets, etc.. I went and grabbed my copy (kept a copy in case I needed to fax or email it the gentleman) and gave it to my boss.

    I was safe because my copy of the speech was clean. The version delivered by the gentleman (who was very drunk when he got on stage) called out the President of the location and his wife, various “celebrities”, references to rest area bathrooms and broke back mountain featured heavily, as did comments about viagra- him using it, his partner loving it when he used it, and all those grey haired ladies in the audience who wished their husbands used it.

    Gentleman never did see that his talk was off in anyway, but he did get banned from that annual event, and I think any other events being held there. He was able to finish his speech because nobody wanted to be the one to cut him off for fear he’d start spilling their secrets.

  26. Not a punk rock singer*

    My partner went to a military academy. One year the school invited a very well known punk rock singer to perform. The cadets (naturally) FREAKED OUT- singing, dancing, throwing parts of their uniform in the air. The singer was allowed to finish her set, but the students all got in a lot of trouble- lots of push-ups and cleaning bathrooms with toothbrushes for the next few weeks.

    The funny part is they invited her back the following year. And hen they were surprised when the EXACT SAME THING HAPPENED.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Define insanity: continuing to do the same action while expecting a different outcome.

  27. NervousNellie*

    Oh my god, we had someone similar as a marketing consultant at my company a few years ago. Her go-to analogy was to to talk about how she’d parlayed all of her marketing experience into being a successful cougar at her local bars, and how she had a bunch of boytoys. I so wanted to say that being desperate and underdressed (yes, she talked about what she wore to seal the deal) at college bars at closing time was not a difficult sale to horny barflies.

    Even worse, no one cut her off when she launched into it for a second time. For someone who is not into cringe, it was possibly one of the most uncomfortable days at the office. I think certain people feel the loss of their youthful looks and easy sexuality very keenly and it brings about inappropriate behaviors in nearly any venue.

  28. Dancing Otter*

    I don’t know – seems as though she may have “brought people together” in horror at her behavior.

    1. Rosacoletti*

      Totally agree – having something hilarious like that in common is great for a retreat, surely?

  29. Aggretsuko*

    This kind of reminds me of in college when they brought in an alumni working in “the field” to motivate us, and he ended up bursting out into tears and saying he wished he’d become a chef. Then they tried to find a more cheerful alumni to motivate us, and while she was dry eyed and perky, it became clear that she quit because she was fed up with “the industry” too.

    I note that I never ended up working in “the industry.”

    1. Squidlet*

      “bursting out into tears and saying he wished he’d become a chef” – OMG I can’t stop laughing at this. Poor guy though.

      It reminds me a bit of my first job interview. They asked where I saw myself in 5 years and I said “I want to be an architect.” The job was for software development. They didn’t invite me back for a 2nd interview.

  30. Rosacoletti*

    Uncomfortable and soured the tone of the whole retreat? I think it sounds hilarious and thought it would have had the opposite effect.

    1. Little Bobby Tables*

      I know, it could have been a lot worse – they could have had a regular motivational speaker.

      1. Wake Me Up Laughing*

        Hah! Little Bobby Tables, even with all the well deserved kudos delivered to other commenters, you were my literal LOL

  31. MissDisplaced*

    Oh. My.
    This definitely falls into the somebody drank too much and whoops! bad things ensued category.

    Ideally, someone should have cut her off at the mic sooner, but I suppose it was such a shocker it took a minute to register. Yikes!
    After that, I’m frankly surprised they kept her around if she was scheduled to play such a big part. I think it would’ve been better to ask the person to leave because… awkwardville!
    While I find this story funny, I hope this “motivational” speaker gets some help, because it’s not good to do any drinking if you’re slated to speak publicly like this.

  32. staceyizme*

    I agree! HR should have stepped in as soon as she got rolling. Or- at least by the time of that unfortunate remark directed at her! If the company insisted on retaining her despite her disastrous initial “motivational speech”, it would have been difficult to resist trolling her for the remainder of the event. “”Oh, tell us again what she should be in charge of…? And what did you say about sell-outs?”. You wouldn’t have to be really persistent about it, but it would, indeed, have been hard to resist the temptation.

  33. Candi*

    Besides everything else, why weren’t they questioning her professionalism?

    It’s not professional to drink so much you knock out of alignment or lose your filters. If she’s been around a while, hopefully she knows how much is too much and keeps it under that, even if it means going dry at was a work event.

    And if, when your filters are knocked askew, you become the kind of person who combines the worst parts of motivational speaking, roasting, and insulting comedy acts, shouldn’t you do something to one, make sure your filters don’t go askew, and two, work on why you go down that path when you drink too much?

    Seriously, that level of unprofessionalism, however it was displayed, should have led to a bounce.

  34. Beth II*

    To be honest, I would enjoy this so much and it would be such a good story.

    Unless the person is doing motivation from lived experiences, I’m probably just rolling my eyes anyway. I probably would be rolling my eyes at any kind of corporate retreat.

    Now everyone can tell it when they meet up every year at this thing.

  35. Marzipan Shepherdess*

    Did anyone film / record her drunken rant? And did your company engage her through an agency? Because unless she’s self-employed, someone in a position to find gigs for her should know about this ASAP! And if she IS self-employed, then she should see / sit through a recording of her rant so that she’ll know exactly how she came across. It’s entirely possible that she doesn’t realize just HOW off-the-rails she was and that a good dose of reality would be just what she needs! Because it’s no favor to HER to cover this up or smooth it over.

  36. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    I once worked in a place where a director gave a speech to all his subordinates – since we were in remote locations around the world, we were connected via speakerphone.

    He let out a few remarks that some found highly offensive. Many of us were horrified. Myself included.

    He didn’t last long.

  37. Three Goblins in a Trench Coat*

    I can’t help but remember that one of my previous dysfunctional employers would have absolutely LOVED this. They regularly rewarded drunken, bad behavior by both employees and management. By regularly rewarded, I mean LITERALLY there was a reward (called The Beaver) given to the person who misbehaved the most publicly on the annual company trip. One year it was one by the CEO who forced himself onstage during a poolside performance the company was paying good money for, pushed the MC in the pool, and started stripping and singing. We were not invited back to that resort (but it wasn’t the only one that blacklisted us).

  38. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    You know, blue humor is a strange thing. Many comedians shy away from it …. some embrace it.

    You will get a cheap laugh if you cross the line, but you will lose ethos (respect). Especially in a business situation.

    I’m reminded of the late Buddy Hackett. He was a famous comedian, brought up in the Borscht Belt. When he was on broadcast television, where he couldn’t be dirty, many found him to be outrageously funny. Myself included. You may remember him from Carson, or Letterman, or others.

    OTOH – his NIGHTCLUB revue – which was carried on a premium cable channel – I can’t recall if it was Showtime, or HBO, one of those – was completely different. Shock and awe. And, people who went to his shows in Las Vegas were also shocked, horrified, and OFFENDED because they were expecting to see the shtik they saw on the Tonight Show. Sure, he had an audience that liked that flavor of humor, but he also ticked off a lot of people.

  39. TG*

    Wow – this reminds me of when we had a Vp start and while sober he proceeded to deliver a speech on his crazy ex wife who loved her dogs like children, and his two kids he talked about – when there were three kids we found out later – and generally proceeded to shock and repel everyone working for him. He lasted 6 months I think?

  40. Princesss Sparklepony*

    I’m wondering if after that debacle of a motivational speaker if the attendees were able to bond because of going through that… some sort of reverse double boomerang. It was so bad that we all had fun being outraged by it for years and it brought us even closer together. New hires get bummed that they were not that to witness the drunken meltdown type of thing…

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