should I insist my employees get comfortable with public speaking?

A reader writes:

As a director, a large part of my role involves public speaking and training, which I enjoy and am good at.

Two junior people 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, 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?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 258 comments… read them below }

  1. Jenny*

    My concern is that the employee referenced “those of us who aren’t cut out for public speaking,” which is divorced from the issue of what the positions themselves require. In any reply (whether it turns out to be”public speaking is necessary from time to time” or “don’t worry about it”) I would reference the needs and functions of their positions.

    I have personally seen this type of issue when dealing with interns. One in particular comes to mind, who casually tried to say that she “wasn’t a super detail-oriented person” and was more “go with the flow,” and I had to explain to her that a big function of my department is spotting details to fix other people’s mistakes.

    1. KHB*

      Right. Not everyone has to be “cut out” for everything – but a corollary of that is that not everyone is cut out for every role. If you really don’t like doing something, it’s reasonable to seek out a job where you don’t have to do that thing. It’s not reasonable (at least, not always) to insist that whatever job you take adapt itself around you.

      If there’s a business need for people in this role to be able to do at least occasional public speaking, then it’s reasonable to ask that people in the role make themselves comfortable with at least occasional public speaking. But that’s separate from thinking that everyone needs to be comfortable with public speaking just because. So the boss here should do some thinking about disentangling those two lines of reasoning in her mind.

      1. Justin D*

        It was sort of a trendy management thing to focus on this. Like have everyone do Toastmasters. When in reality most people will not need to do more than occasionally running a meeting with a handful of people.

        1. Reluctant Mezzo*

          Not to mention most Toastmaster meetings tend to be 6:30 in the morning. Of course, I’d be too sleepy to be nervous…

          1. Timothy (TRiG)*

            Really? Ours have recently changed from 20:30 to 20:00, and got stricter about ending on time so we actually get home before 23:30.

      2. wordswords*

        Right! And it’s also relevant, I think, that the OP mentions that it’s inconvenient to be the only person willing to do public speaking in the department. For some roles, it’s not necessarily required that everybody in the department/position/etc be up for public speaking, but it is important that at least one or two people be available for it, and so a refusal that wouldn’t be a problem for any given person is a problem when everybody does it. I don’t know if that’s actually the case here or not — maybe someone in another department might be able to pinch-hit if needed, or maybe it’s just a nice-to-have asset they’ll look for next time they’re hiring — but it’s worth thinking about that too, and if that’s part of what’s frustrating OP into thinking that everybody needs to be comfortable with this just because.

        1. Warrior Princess Xena*

          I think it depends on what is meant by ‘public speaking’. If it means ‘be able to do a speech in front of a 500 person conference’, that’s a pretty high bar to clear and most employees won’t be doing that. But if it means ‘be able to talk about the problems we are having with step X of product Y at our 10-person weekly check-in meeting’, then it moves a lot more into job-necessary duties.

        2. Artemesia*

          And then these people need to know that their failure to develop these skills limits their career and that you will need to find and promote people who can do these important jobs.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, this–I am awful at public speaking, but my job doesn’t require it so it doesn’t matter. It would be a problem if I had my supervisor’s job, though, since she actually does have to give public presentations, etc. Sometimes the fact that you don’t like or aren’t naturally inclined to something can’t reasonably be used to get out of doing it.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Well, exactly, which is why I’m in one that doesn’t and would not accept a promotion to one that did.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      Yes, I think as their manager she should dig into their framing of a skill as a thing you’re either born knowing or can never manage. That will be very frustrating to those around them who are asked to repeatedly cover that shortfall, which those people will not view as impossible to overcome so why try. Most adults, if life requires them to use a specific skill, can practice that skill and become better at it. We may not be good at it, we may really hate it, but we can eke it out to the level required for getting things done.

      I don’t enjoy public presenting, but it’s something I can do if I have to. Which has a lot to do with being in the Peace Corps in my early 20s and having to do that in a different language–when I returned to the US any public presenting I had to do where I could at least speak English was so much easier than before.

      It’s also generally true for social anxiety–lots of people around their early 20s pushed themselves to go to social gatherings with the promise that it would be exactly 1 hour and then they could go home and eat a pint of ice cream while interacting with no one for 2 hours. And so at 30, they can chat in a new group if circumstances call for it. They don’t seek out those circumstances, but they don’t tell their SO “I can’t go to your awards ceremony, I have introversion.” Being willing to push yourself out of your comfort zone for the occasional good reason can be fully compatible with standing up for yourself and having healthy boundaries.

      1. Worldwalker*


        Throughout my life, there have been things I’ve needed to do for jobs that I wasn’t very good at. (this has included getting up at 4 am) I thought it was pretty normal, if there was something you need to do that you’re not good at, you work on it and get better at it. Anyone who wants to put in some effort can get better at public speaking, or handling overly-detailed paperwork (my personal bugaboo), or whatever you need to learn. Outside of actual physical limitations — like, despite the best efforts of my orthopedist, I’m not going to be capable of doing anything requiring functional knees — I’ve always believed that any skill that someone else can do, I can learn. I might not be *great* at it, but I can learn anything I need to *good enough* levels. So can anyone. I don’t know where this attitude of “I don’t know it now, so I never will” comes from. It’s trite, but there is some truth in the adage that people who say “I can” and people who say “I can’t” are both right.

        1. UKDancer*

          Yes. I’m not good at spreadsheets and interpreting statistics but it’s a thing that I sometimes need to do so I’ve learnt to do it and to check with someone who is better at it when I have issues. I don’t think it’s great to try and avoid doing the things you’re not good at. I mean I wouldn’t take a job interpreting statistics but if it’s something I have to do as a part of my work then I have to get on with it.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            Driving. A quite complicated skill that we still think it’s routine to expect almost everyone to learn.

            I don’t enjoy driving, except in the sense that it is a useful life skill that makes it easier for me to get many places.

            If we communicated solely by bassoon, we’d expect everyone to learn bassoon.

            1. Pipe Organ Guy*

              Bassoon? Hmmm. I went to a concert recently where the orchestra played a piece that called for THREE bassoons and the overgrown piece of plumbing called a contrabassoon. (Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, FWIW.)

              Improvisation is what I constantly have to work on, and the only way to work on it is by doing it. There are always spots in a church service where I need to fill with something, and it ends up being a whole lot easier to make up something on the fly (often based on a hymn tune being used in the service). I can do it now, trusting that I’m likely to make musical sense. But I’ve had to work at it.

        2. Felis alwayshungryis*

          “ I don’t know where this attitude of “I don’t know it now, so I never will” comes from.”

          I wonder if it’s because we’re so much more aware of neurodiversity, and accommodating it, that there’s more of an expectation that it ‘just is’ and is an immutable part of ourselves.

          It’s a great thing that people with ADHD and autism aren’t being forced as much into holes that don’t fit, but I’ve often wondered if people who self-diagnose on TikTok are missing out on opportunities for personal and professional development because they confuse neurodiversity with discomfort in conscious incompetence.

          1. Katy*

            I do think it’s connected. I’m a teacher, and I have more and more students asking to be excused from any kind of presenting in front of the class on the grounds that it makes them anxious. The thing is, doing a little skit with your classmates or reading off a poster for three minutes is part of how you get comfortable with talking to a group. It’s scary in the moment, but it’s part of a series of small steps that gradually expand your comfort zone. I worry that a lot of kids who could have eventually become comfortable with public speaking are cutting themselves off from it at an early age because they don’t understand that your comfort zone can grow.

        3. irritable vowel*

          Except this isn’t just a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” thing – for some people, public speaking invokes a physiological and psychological response that is not something you can just knuckle under and get past. Whereas no one has a phobia of getting up at 4 am – it sucks but you do it if you have to.

          1. allathian*

            Depends. Some people with inverted circadian rhythms have barely fallen asleep by then and would probably either ignore the alarm or mute it in their sleep. Some people with normal hearing can sleep through a *fire alarm* without waking up even if they don’t have any intoxicating substances or sleep medication in their system, people have died as a consequence.

            I mean, if the physiological response is severe enough that the person risks blacking out, or simply panics to the point that they can’t think of anything to say, that’s one thing. But if it’s a matter of some physical discomfort through ordinary nerves, that’s something that most people can, and should, work to overcome, IMO. Some people even take anti-anxiety medication as needed so that they can perform better when they need to speak in front of an audience.

            I think that in all jobs there are tasks that individual employees like and dislike doing, and that it’s a part of being an adult to be able to occasionally do tasks that you dislike without making a fuss about it. It’s another matter entirely to choose a career where your most hated task isn’t the key skill necessary to be able to do the job at all. Someone who hates public speaking probably shouldn’t aim to be the CEO of a large corporation or a politician, for example.

          2. LinuxSystemsGuy*

            I would argue that very, very few people have a debilitating fear of public speaking. Sure there might a base 1-2% of people for whom giving a presentation to a group of 20 people is a “worst nightmare” scenario, and trying to force those people to do it anyway is cruel and unnecessary. For most people though it’s just a matter of jitters over doing something you don’t do often.

            The Army is pretty big on “everybody has to be able to give presentations”. Every officer or NCO is expected to be able to address small to midsized groups, and the more senior you get, the larger the groups you’d be expected to address. Even junior enlisted are often called upon to do small group “hip pocket training” presentations. In my ten years in the Army dealing with quite literally thousands of soldiers, I don’t think I encountered more than 5-10 that just absolutely *couldn’t* do it.

            Some people hated it, some were terrible at it (at least at first), but almost everyone could do it when they had to. I’m not suggesting that every business needs to force everyone to do public speaking like the Army does, but I am suggesting that many more people *can* do public speaking than really think they can.

      2. Fishsticks*

        Yep. I am autistic, struggle with anxiety, and HATE public speaking. I LOATHE public speaking. But if I have to, I can walk up there, put on my mask, and do a great job. Because I’ve practiced it, worked hard on it, and I’m good at sort of mentally disconnecting from the audience in a way that protects me but doesn’t show outwardly.

        But once I’m done I need at least a couple of hours to just go sit somewhere in total silence or with headphones on to feel like a human again.

        1. Taylor*

          This. I’ve forced myself through many presentations for school and work in exactly this way.

          But just because I can do it, doesn’t mean that I should.

          In my current job I would definitely ask if I could write the content but have someone else do the presentation on my behalf. Or record a video of it ahead of time when I’m alone.

  2. ecnaseener*

    I would also say, re this part:

    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 get the sense LW included this part as evidence the employee might be overly-avoidant, but I hope they considered the suggestions with an open mind. Maybe those suggestions won’t work at all (like if you’re out sick and someone has to cover your scheduled presentation) but I bet some of them were workable.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      I know that for myself, if I hear it, I’ll never remember it. But if I read, I’ll retain it. I’ve been to too many presentations that lasted over an hour that could have just been the one-sheet summary they handed out at the end.

      1. ecnaseener*

        Yeah exactly lol – lots of people don’t like watching presentations and even fewer like to watch a presentation by someone who hates public speaking, would it be so bad to use a different format?

      2. Celeste*

        Me too – please just write it down for me! But I know it’s not the same for everyone.

      3. Fishsticks*

        Oof, yes. I had a meeting yesterday that lasted twenty minutes and really just needed to be a single two-paragraph email.

    2. DataSci*

      Yeah, this part made me wonder if it’s a “this meeting could have been an email” approach – that scheduled oral sharing of information is not the only way.

        1. Per my last email ....*

          I think most emails could be meetings! I hate getting stuck behind my computer all day reading and filing emails. Meetings give me nuance and I remember better visually and via interaction.

          1. Alternative Person*

            I go back and forth on this a lot because sometimes, yes, truly the e-mail could have been a meeting, but also the meeting could have been an e-mail. It’s pretty much no-win in my experience.

            (though I will say, some people have wildly unrealistic expectations both ends of the discussion)

      1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        …or if it’s a presentation or training, could it be a shared PowerPoint, or scripted and recorded video? Could a FAQ page be created on a website? Emails are IME a bad way of sharing information…too many people read only the first sentence and then TLDR the rest of the content…but there are other effective ways of sharing information that aren’t f-2-f or email.

        1. allathian*

          Ugh, public speaking’s bad enough, but recording it on video? Nope! I hate seeing myself on video. I can deal with the mirror image video of my face without any anxiety symptoms when I’m in a meeting, but that’s it.

          Live presentations/webinars are bad enough, but recorded ones are worse. I absolutely cannot focus on them, and I’ve resented every video training I’ve ever had to take. If I can get the same information by just reading the script and answering a quiz, I will. Thankfully this is easy to implement because the videos are generally scripted anyway, it’s just a matter of providing access to the script. I’ve been able to get what I need for mandatory trainings by framing it as the accessibility issue that it is. I’ve opted out of a few recommended but non-mandatory trainings because they didn’t provide the script.

          1. Timothy (TRiG)*

            I did Deaf Studies in college, and a lot of homework assignments were videos. I’m quite comfortable watching myself on video. But I’ve also videoed a couple of speeches, and found that I’m extremely uncomfortable listening to myself.

  3. Marketing Unicorn Ninja*

    I would encourage the manager to really stop and think about whether public speaking is a ‘nice-to-have’ or a ‘need-to-have’ in these roles. It sounds like OP really likes public speaking, which is great! But not everyone needs to be able to be a trainer.

    If these staffers are good at what they do, lean into their strengths and let them skip the public speaking.

    OP doesn’t say what their industry is, so it could very much be a case of ‘everyone needs to do this,’ but at my org, we really only need one person per department to present/train/speak publicly about things. If we have more, that’s great, and we’re delighted! But we don’t *need* that and we don’t actively screen/hire for it because it’s not an integral part of the job.

    Just because the OP likes doing it doesn’t mean everyone else has to like it, too. Just like there’s nothing WRONG with being introverted, despite the plethora of articles telling people how to overcome their introversion in order to be more extroverted because apparently extroversion is better.

    1. Employee No. 24601*

      I dislike the (somewhat common on this site) implication that this is an introversion vs. extroversion issue. Public speaking is a professional skill that can be learned on each side of the spectrum. It’s also a skill that can be disliked on each side of the spectrum. I know introverts who are incredibly capable speakers in work settings, that doesn’t change the fact that they don’t like loud crowded events in their off-time. And I know extroverts (myself included) who love to be around people but need extra decompressing after being “on” to speak for an event.

      1. Witch*

        Yeah I’m someone who has and easily can go give a speech to a crowd, and feel nothing at all. Then, afterwards, I want to skip socializing in groups and go lay in my bed reading manga quietly.

        With speech-giving you have control over everything; stopping and starting and keeping it moving. But just “hanging out” with people there’s a lot of back and forth that drains me like a sieve.

        1. Turquoisecow*

          One on one conversations terrify me a lot more than making a prepared speech to a large group. Signed, an introvert.

        2. JLP*

          With presentations, there are rules and roles to follow. Same with meetings. I’m totally comfortable giving a speech, facilitating a meeting, or any kind of interaction where there are rules.

          Group conversations? One-on-one networking conversations? I’m going to pass cause I don’t understand when it’s my turn to talk and I inevitably interrupt someone. Or I’ll monologue about some random thing I learned.

          But with either, I need some time to myself to just not for a while. Totally have a preference for introversion.

      2. Peanut Hamper*

        I think we will find that with introvertedness/extrovertedness (as with so many other things), it really isn’t a binary situation or even a one-dimensional spectrum, but a multi-dimensional spectrum. Which is one of the reasons I really don’t like labeling people, because those labels are always woefully inadequate.

        That said, I would really love to see a magazine article with the headline: “Extroverts: Ten Ways You Can Just Shut Up and Stop Talking!”

        1. Former Young Lady*

          I want to see an article titled “Introverts: for people who don’t like being the center of attention, you sure post a lot of memes about expecting the rest of the world to read your mind.” So it goes.

          1. RagingADHD*

            That’s because the introverts can post memes silently, while the extroverts are talking to people IRL.

            1. Peanut Hamper*

              Yes, it’s not like we’re going to get right in your face about it. Unlike extroverts, lol.

          2. coffee*

            Introvert Tells All: “An Extrovert said Hello to me this morning and I took 10 Points of Psychic Damage.”

        2. Chirpy*

          This. “Extroverts: if You Want Introverts to Come Out of Their Shell, Shut Up For Once and Make It More Comfortable For Them To Do So”

          I’m an introvert and I can do public speaking just fine…with adequate preparation (and backup where applicable).

        3. Robin*

          Like Former Young Lady, I would also like an article titled “Introverts: just because you like quiet doesn’t make you better than everyone else.” Alas.

          (and I am an introvert, I just really hate the pendulum that has swung to “extroverts are the devil and ruin everyone’s lives, introverts are god”)

          1. Nanny Ogg In Training*

            Yes, can we stop the “introverts are better than extroverts, no, extroverts are better than introverts” thing, please? It’s not helpful or kind. Thank you.

            1. amoeba*

              Yes, thank you. As an occasionally socially awkward extrovert who already spends *way too much time* thinking about whether people hate me because I said the wrong thing, this kind of meme/comment is actually incredibly hurtful.

      3. TechWorker*

        Whilst I agree with you, I think Marketing Unicorn Ninja was making a comparison rather than saying that public speaking willingness/skill is directly correlated to introversion or extroversion.

        1. Marketing Unicorn Ninja*

          Correct! I’m not saying you can’t be a good public speaker as an introvert, or be a bad public speaker as an extrovert.

          What I’m saying is you always see headlines about ‘how to overcome introversion’ like there’s something WRONG with being introverted, and that being extroverted is ‘normal’ or ‘expected’ while introversion is ‘abnormal.’

          This OP seems to think that the default for people should be ‘good at public speaking’ without giving a serious look at whether being good at public speaking is actually necessary for that role.

          1. AngryOctopus*

            Also, I’m introverted. But I’m more than happy to speak at meetings. I am spending time the next few weeks running meetings asking for feedback on certain things. I’m more than happy to present that feedback to our leadership team. I volunteered to speak at the next health and safety meeting. But I’ll also want to go home after all these things and spend time decompressing on the couch, only talking to the cats. Getting more comfortable with public speaking may be a skill this job could benefit from, but for sure OP needs to overcome the “I can do it so everyone should be able to do it, why won’t they do it???” mindset that they project in the letter. And I encourage OP to not even ask the whole introvert/extrovert question mess. Instead they should think about if public speaking is necessary, and if so, what has to be done and how many people need to be able to do it? What other ways can they get the message out? Can their non public speaking loving colleagues be in charge of making slides or summarizing the info to send out to people? There are many ways for all people to contribute in a valuable way, and they don’t all have to involve speaking.

          2. JustAnoning*

            Those headlines are more referring to social anxiety, which is not the same as introversion, although the two are often conflated.

            1. JustAnoning*

              I see a lot of people already said the same thing. I wasn’t intentionally copying you :) .

        2. Lulu*

          Quite a few professional speakers are, in fact, deeply introverted. While not a professional speaker, I am also profoundly introverted but quite enjoy public speaking and always have. I have no problem speaking from a stage to hundreds but am seriously uncomfortable to chat in small groups at the reception and need total alone time for a significant period after any presentation. There’s a purpose and framework to speaking that is comfortable for introverts in a way free ranging social interaction is not. Introversion and shyness are not at all the same, though frequently confused

      4. MsM*

        I don’t think people are linking introversion/extroversion to public speaking in this context. They’re just pointing it out as a similar way in which corporate culture tends to put forth a particular model as “the only/proper way of doing things” without pausing to consider different learning/interaction styles.

      5. Hlao-roo*

        I lean more introverted and I am very comfortable with public speaking. Once, in school, I even read a speech that my more-extroverted friend had written because she wasn’t comfortable reading it in front of a crowd.

      6. Freya*

        I actually agree. I am a natural introvert and absolutely hate public speaking. But I am in HR and frequently have to present to the entire company, conduct training, and present information to our management team.

        I get anxious and hate doing it in the moment, but it’s part of my job, and I’ve learned strategies to make it easier.

        I think of this as a similar issue in Gen Z and young millennials (which I am one of) who hate calling people on the phone. I try to limit it in my personal life, but I have to do it in my job. I’ve also worked for years as a receptionist. I just had to learn and battle the anxiety.

      7. CommanderBanana*

        Agreed. I’m extremely introverted, and public speaking has never bothered me. I’m also not shy and I worked two very people-facing jobs. People who meet me in passing would likely never describe me as an introvert. But introversion is a trait and shyness is a behavior.

        But all my hobbies are solitary, I dislike spending my free time with people other than a very small group of long-time friends, I greatly prefer having conversations with one person versus being in large groups, and being around large groups for too long exhausts me to the point that I will get flu-like symptoms without enough alone time to recharge, which often means literally staring at a wall in silence.

      8. Falling Diphthong*

        A good number of actors are apparently introverts. They can sparkle and charm when they need to for work reasons, and then they go home to read quietly by themselves just like less publicly visible introverts.

        1. Lorac*

          Yeah, introversion just means social activities drain you while extroverts are charged by it. You can be an introvert who loves being on stage to sparkle and shine, but you just need extra alone time to recover from it.

          I think people are just confusing introversion with social anxiety or misanthropy.

          1. House on the Rock*

            I’m very much the type of introvert who is drained by social interaction, but I’m an exceptional presenter/trainer/public speaker. And I really enjoy presenting – whether to small groups or to large audiences. I love the feeling of connecting with others, imparting information, and explaining things to all different types. I’ve walked out onto stages in front of hundreds of people with zero nervousness and, honestly, a lot of excitement.

            When I tell others I skew introvert they are shocked and almost always point to my skill at public speaking and ability to connect with others quickly. But guess what? It’s absolutely exhausting. I need a lot of decompression time afterwards. I also need this after more interactive meetings (my job averages about 4-6 hours of meetings a day). But I compare it to physical activity – long distance runners get all kinds of mental and physical benefits from running but they also need to warm up, cool down, and take restorative breaks in between.

          2. UKDancer*

            Oh yes. My father ran a bookshop and we often got visitors at home when they were on book tours and most of the actors and comedians who had written books were great in the book queues and performed to the crowds. Then they wanted to come home, have tea and hide in the spare room to recover.

          3. Falling Diphthong*

            I think people are just confusing introversion with social anxiety or misanthropy.
            I have really noticed this conflation a lot in the past several years.

            1. Irish Teacher*

              I think it’s part of a more general tendency for people to assume “anybody who doesn’t like what I do must be scared by it and really want to do it if they weren’t scared.” I think this goes double for introversion or even stuff like just not enjoying parties, because some people see that as a criticism of them, that introverts want to get away from them and be alone for a while.

              It seems like a lot of people find it hard to imagine somebody who is perfectly confident, socially adept, gets on well with people, but just…would rather stay in and watch TV than go to a party because they want some alone time or just…find parties really boring.

              I honestly think some people just find it hard to imagine anybody having different preferences to them so people who love socialising assume that anybody who doesn’t must just be anxious about it.

              And I think this relates back to the post, because I think the LW may also be assuming that the employees would like to have her job some day and that they need to learn to be comfortable with public speaking in order to have any hope of it when, for all she knows, they might be thinking she has an awful job and be glad they don’t have to do it.

      9. Selina Luna*

        Yeah, I’m pretty good at public speaking, and I am also an introvert. I find public speaking draining, but I can do it. I find “alone time” energizing, but this doesn’t prevent me from interacting with others when the situation calls for it.

        1. Worldwalker*

          I enjoy public speaking, but I prefer one-on-one conversations with people to large groups. In groups, I might come across as extroverted because a certain level of nervousness (I don’t really “get” people all that well) leads me to babble, but mostly, I’m just wishing I could get to a quiet spot with a good book for a while.

          I think it’s that that with public speaking, I only have to read the room for feedback, rather than directly interact with all those people. I’m there to do a presentation, answer questions about new products, whatever. I know how people are going to react, what kind of questions they’re going to ask … it’s all laid out. Groups of people are so *random* … and confusing. So the whole audience is essentially a single “person” to me.

          1. Selina Luna*

            I do public speaking every day–I’m a teacher. My “audience” is a bunch of teenagers. I get where you’re coming from because I don’t get “people” all that well, but teenagers are on my list of “not actually people yet” which helps me to be able to deliver information to them.

          2. Chirpy*

            This, sometimes it’s weirdly freeing to perform for an audience so large you can’t pick out individuals, versus a small group where people can ask questions.

            I find speaking/ performing things that I’m comfortable and knowledgeable about much easier, and under the right circumstances I can do that with short notice. I’ve even performed skills I learned earlier that day in front of very large groups (35,000!) – but by my own choice after the invitation to join the presenting group. But, if a work manager handed me a report I didn’t write and said “present this tomorrow” I’d freak out, even if it’s 10 people, if they were possibly going to quiz me on things I wasn’t confident knowing.

      10. Justme, The OG*

        I am an introvert and I am skilled at and enjoy public speaking. People just have to leave me alone for a while afterwards.

        1. House on the Rock*

          Ha same. And because I’m good at it, so many people want to “keep the conversation going” after I get done with a training or conversation and I sometimes have to make up reasons to escape.

      11. Butterfly Counter*

        Thank you!

        I am as introverted as they come and public speaking is a major part of my job that I love. It took a LONG time and a lot of practice for me to be good at, and oh my gosh does it take a lot out of me, but it’s become the highlight of my working days because it’s where I see myself making the biggest difference.

        This is why I hate when people say that public speaking is completely off the table for them while in environments when speaking to groups of people is expected. It can take work, trust me I know, but because you don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s not a necessary part of what is happening.

        *Include here all the caveats of jobs where it truly isn’t needed, people with actual phobias and anxiety disorders, and also having access to a number of different communication modalities.*

      12. Hannah Lee*

        Agreed – I’m probably way over on the end of the “introversion” scale in that I prefer to work independently, need lots of downtime after being in groups, prefer time to absorb new info before responding to it, and a dozen other “introversion” characteristics.

        I’m also a really good public speaker, and typically get good results and receive lots kudos when leading training sessions, facilitating group working sessions, managing and participating in Q and As and making presentations in a variety of settings, crowd sizes.

        “Introversion” has nothing to do with one’s ability to speak publicly or present information to a group. It may influence how one prepares for a presentation or how many sessions someone prefers to schedule for the same week, etc or it may impact how “natural” it seems to speak in front of a crowd when you’re first doing it, but it’s not like “oh, I’m introverted, keep me away from podiums”

      13. WantonSeedStitch*

        Yeah, performing (in any way) for an audience and interacting in a conversational setting are VERY different things. I know lots of artistic performers (actors, dancers, singers) who are highly introverted, and who feel exhausted by social activity. I happen to be an extrovert who also enjoys performing, but the two aren’t necessarily conjoined characteristics. (FWIW, I’m also shy. I’m the person who goes to parties and desperately wants to join in conversations I hear going on, but is afraid of being seen as butting in if I don’t already know the people involved well.)

      14. Dust Bunny*

        Seconding this.

        I’m a hardcore introvert but I used to do open-mic nights all the time. I’m fine with those because the focus is less on me and more on the instrument/music.

        Also, if I were in a job that I really wanted and did not want to leave but that needed good public speaking skills, I’d suck it up and learn them. Or at least learn to fake them better. Sometimes there are things you don’t like in a job that you otherwise love.

      15. Random Bystander*

        Yes–I am a maximum introvert (we once had a formal thing at work with professional MBTI presenters … I hit the max of 30 on the I). Yet, public speaking is something that I can do quite well … I’m not actually interacting with the 100s of people who are present. In fact, I am one of the regular lectors at my parish and I have been told by a number of people that they could never do that because they would just completely freeze (but by the same token, many of these are hospitality ministers who are greeting every individual who comes through their door–east or west–and the idea of doing their ministry makes me queasy. And back in high school, I was actually on the speech team and did pretty well.

        As far as speaking in front of a group in a work setting–I can do that, and do it very well. Need someone to make a speech to present a project, sure, not a problem. Ask me to spend time at a happy hour with the same number of people present as were at that speech? Please, no … I’d rather chew glass.

      16. Overit*

        Agreed. My husband is an introvert who is am excellent public speaker. It was a requirement of every position he ever had in his field. In fact, introversion is far more common in his profession than extroversion and yet public speaking is a nearly universal requirement.

      17. allathian*

        Yeah, this.

        Speaking up at meetings, even our 100+ person town halls, has never bothered me. Before started my current career I did market research, and presenting the results of a project that I was so familiar with that I could ad lib most of it for a small group of marketers and executives who’d paid for me to be there and who asked intelligent questions in the Q&A afterwards was great, and something I did rather well if I say so myself. Even if I had bouts of anxiety before the presentation itself, that went away as soon as I started talking. It was also a completely different experience from the presentations in junior high or high school to an audience that was at best indifferent and at worst downright hostile to me and not at all receptive to what I was saying.

        I’m a chatty introvert. I find being around large groups of people draining, even if I’m not required to interact with them much. I’m one of those introverts who does better in smallish groups of 10 people or less. Many people don’t believe me when I say I’m an introvert because when I’m at the office, I enjoy small talk with my coworkers, always greet people in the morning, and I smile a lot when I talk to people, at least as long as the subject’s reasonably cheerful, I’m not going to smile if someone tells me their dog just died, obviously. I’m also not particularly worried about taking up space in a room.

        But all of my hobbies are solitary or things you do with a few people at most. I enjoy streaming shows and movies, listening to music, hanging out online, playing games on my cellphone, reading, and solitary walks in the park. I also enjoy seeing my friends either 1:1 or in small groups. I enjoy seeing my friends, but I also enjoy weekends when my husband and son are out of the house all day and I can enjoy the peace and quiet. I do enjoy the occasional trip to the movies and going to rock concerts. The crowds don’t bother me during the movie or concert itself, even if I admit that I don’t particularly enjoy queuing to get in (or out), but thankfully that usually doesn’t last long.

    2. Common Taters on the Ax*

      Agree. I do think the OP needs to get away from the idea that all employees need to be like them. It seems clear the job doesn’t require true public speaking on a regular basis, unless the job description was a terrible one, because if it was mentioned there, they wouldn’t have applied.

      On the other hand, if they are shy even about speaking up in a smallish meeting, and their vocal input really is needed, I can say from personal experience (as one who used to avoid any form of public speaking at all costs and no longer does, although I still don’t like it), the best approach would probably be to start them small and in a comfortable setting. For example, ask everyone in an eight-person meeting to regularly deliver a sentence or two about a project status, or something like that. Or even start by asking them about unchallenging things in a similarly small meeting (even something like the weather and whether they have pets, if that would fly on your team.)

      I would strongly urge you not to insist that people who hate public speaking present trainings. There is nothing worse than a training delivered by someone who hates being there. Look for the people who are good at it.

      And again, understand that not everyone is you. Good public speaking is a valuable skill, but it’s not necessary for success in every field.

    3. lilsheba*

      I would be one of those people refusing to do public speaking. Don’t like it, never did like it, never want to do it. And it’s an introverted thing for me, definitely.

  4. the cat ears*

    I think if public speaking truly is a requirement to perform this job fully, it should go in the job description/posting, and interviewers should ask about it. I’m guessing it was seen as a “soft skill” that “everyone should have” so it wasn’t asked about. It really should be.

    1. doreen*

      I think that depends on the job and the type of public speaking – there are plenty of jobs where you should just sort of assume public speaking will be involved to some extent. I might apply for a position as a trainer without expecting to speak in front of an audience of 500 – but I probably shouldn’t apply for that job if I don’t want to speak in front of 10 people.

    2. KHB*

      Conversely, if someone is so averse to public speaking that they refuse to do it ever, they should also be asking about that in the interview. It’s not always possible for a job description to cover every single possible task that you might conceivably be asked to do.

      1. Yorick*

        Agreed. Some level of public speaking (LW mentions presenting to more than a small meeting, which does not sound like giving a speech to me) is really normal in a LOT of jobs.

        1. amoeba*

          Yeah, I don’t think I’ve ever had any job where that was not a regular and expected part. I mean, does everybody have to be voluntold to chair the inter-department meeting with 100 participants? No. Does everybody have to be able to present and discuss their results to the extended project team? Absolutely. Does it have to be perfect speaking skills? No, not at all, as long as the information comes across.

          But expecting to get an exception from that would just cause so many problems that you’d really need a very, very good reason for it (and “just not cut out for it” wouldn’t count!)

    3. JustAnotherKate*

      Agree so hard — and it would be helpful to have some description of the kind of speaking/audiences as well. For me, I’m a strong public speaker with a friendly crowd of any size, but with any hostile questioning I freeze or say the wrong thing. It’s actually the #1 reason I’m not an attorney anymore!*

      I switched to nonprofit development and didn’t have issues for years — there was plenty of speaking, but all to friendly groups. At my current job, though, some funding requires appearances at hearings and community meetings that can get heated. We prefer to be represented by senior leadership, so I’m generally second-chairing anyway, and the few times I’ve gone alone haven’t been awful. That said, it’s definitely something I never thought to ask about in previous nonprofit jobs — but I’ll sure ask about it now.

      *You might wonder why someone who can’t handle hostile questioning became an attorney. Answer: I didn’t know! I’d always been OK with speaking, and I was fine in moot court where it was hypothetical. Get me in a situation where a split-second wrong answer could sink a client’s case (or a $5 million funding award), however, and I’m a deer in the headlights.

      1. TomatoSoup*

        I get it because that’s part of the reason I left being an attorney. It was something I didn’t know about myself until it happened. Also, I have some days where I can handle it and some when I just don’t. It doesn’t help that law school did a real number on my self-confidence.

    4. ScruffyInternHerder*

      Especially with what type of public speaking it is:

      I can interact extremely well one on one or in small groups – easily up to 10-15 people, with interaction.

      Do not expect me to do anything besides freeze in front of larger group when there is no interaction back from which I can gauge/respond. If you need me to do a presentation, I’m using cue cards or writing out, and that’s the best you’re getting.

    5. Antilles*

      That really depends on the role. If it’s a key and critical aspect of your role, something the role really needs you to do regularly and succeed at? Sure, they should be making that clear and probably quizzing candidates about it.

      But there’s plenty of skills that you only need fairly infrequently and at a “good enough” level – and you can’t practically list all of them, nor does it make sense to try to filter out candidates for something you have to do like, once a year.

      Asking someone to do “public speaking” as a public representative of a government department, where every word could potentially be viewed as making (or implying) policy changes? Yes, absolutely ask about that and screen in detail to make sure they can handle that. Asking someone to present 2-3 slides explaining their job function in a couple minutes, at an internal meeting where you don’t really need it to be perfectly polished? I would indeed expect that “everyone” would be able to more or less muddle through that – maybe a little awkwardly, but meh, good enough.

      1. UKDancer*

        This so much. I mean most everyone in my company needs to be able to speak in meetings. We don’t require long presentations from everyone but it’s a pretty standard requirement to be able to participate in discussions. For example Merry, Pippin and Sam from my team went to a Llama grooming show last week. I asked Pippin (junior team member) to feedback to the staff meeting on what they’d seen, grooming techniques and any innovations in Llama shampoo. He fed back for about 5 mins and took a couple of questions about whether we should change the brand of Llama shampoo we use. It doesn’t need to be a perfect, polish performance but I’d expect all my team to be able to do that without making it a formal job criterion.

        I don’t expect all of them to do formal lengthy presentations, although the more senior you get, the more that’s expected. So when we have the great big Llama and Alpaca conference in summer my team leaders Arwen and Gimli are giving presentations. If Pippin wanted to make the presentation, I’d probably support him learning how to and maybe do one jointly with Arwen as a development experience.

  5. HonorBox*

    While I don’t disagree that sometimes people don’t NEED to be public speakers, and I agree with Alison that it is worth examining this situation to figure out if the LW is interested in pursuing this because they THINK it is necessary or if it is ACTUALLY necessary, I do have some concern that the employees are brought to tears over the idea of public speaking.

    It is definitely worth pointing out to the employees that while it isn’t something they absolutely must love, it could definitely be limiting to their career progression if they’re so opposed to public speaking that they are left in tears when presented with the situation.

    1. the cat ears*

      right, I do think there’s a risk of limiting themselves and “identifying as” someone who can’t do public speaking when in fact it’s a skill they could develop. (I say this because I have clinical anxiety and in the past I’ve definitely pigeonholed myself into thinking I could never do something, when in fact I needed to approach it differently in order to become comfortable with it.) But if the manager is looking out for their career progression rather than addressing a business need, I think suggesting resources for getting more comfortable with it may be a better approach than just telling them they need to start doing it whether they’re comfortable or not.

      1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

        Yes, agreed. If this is an industry in which being unable to speak in front of even small groups (which is pretty mild as far as public speaking is concerned) would limit career opportunities, it would make sense for the LW to point that out generally and offer resources as a professional development option.

        I probably wouldn’t do it in the initial response to the employees, though. If LW has set times where they address professional development, maybe that’s the place to do it. Divorce it from the anxiety apparently caused by a concrete request to present.

      1. Warrior Princess Xena*

        I am definitely a person who doesn’t like public speaking (in both the small- and large-group formats) and was driven to tears by it before. I can also say it’s a learnable skill. It’s not a FUN skill for me – if you give me the option of ‘publically present’ or ‘clean toilets’, I’ll go for the toilets 10/10 times. But I can and will do it.

    2. Bit o' Brit*

      As someone who would absolutely cry and have a panic attack over public speaking: it’s not anywhere close to the top of my list of “issues to solve”, and anyone suggesting I need to will never be taken seriously by me again. As Alison says, it’s one of an infinite list of potentially career-limiting decisions, and that will depend on what that career actually is.

    3. Ari*

      Maybe they’re being brought to tears because someone was rude to them the one time they did a presentation. Years ago I had a senior exec completely cut me off mid-sentence to move to the next topic in a very bored tone. I still get mad thinking about that, though I’ve given many presentations before and after. But I can easily see where some people might become too terrified after a bad experience to even want to try again.

      OP, if you really want them to learn public speaking, maybe suggest that they join an organization that helps with such things (Toastmasters comes to mind). They might be more comfortable learning that skill outside of their work environment.

      Also, I’ve had employees over the years who has no desire to move up or switch careers or be anything other than a teapot designer. By all means, let them know that public speaking may limit their career options, but you may have to accept that not everyone cares about being more.

    4. Ari*

      Maybe they’re being brought to tears because someone was rude to them the one time they did a presentation. Years ago I had a senior exec completely cut me off mid-sentence to move to the next topic in a very bored tone. I still get mad thinking about that, though I’ve given many presentations before and after. But I can easily see where some people might become too terrified after a bad experience to even want to try again.

      OP, if you really want them to learn speaking, maybe suggest that they join a local organization that helps with such things.

    5. Mayati*

      If they’re crying at the prospect of public speaking, they may very well have an anxiety disorder or other disability. If so, they may be entitled to reasonable accommodations, and forcing them to face their fears (as opposed to providing them with resources and letting them choose whether to use them) will probably be counterproductive. Our culture has this idea that the way you defeat a phobia or other serious aversion is by immersing yourself in the thing that terrifies you, and that pushing someone to overcome their fears is good for them, but what really helps is voluntary, gradual exposure in a safe setting where you’re the one in control.

    6. Quake*

      I find this concern about “career limiting” a bit strange. I never want a job that involves public speaking. “But you’re limiting yourself!” Yes, yes, I am. I will never be in consideration for a job I never, ever want. All is good.

      1. DocVonMitte*

        I had the same thought. There are a ton of things I “refuse” to do for a job. (Public speaking is one for me personally). I’m aware it is limiting, it is limiting by design. Why would I want to do a job that regularly includes a task I hate?

  6. Green Tea*

    I’m curious what the other ways to communicate the employee suggested were, and if OP considered whether they could work for the kind of role that person was in.

    I don’t turn down requests for presentations as long as I have a couple of days notice to prepare, but one thing I have noticed that that many orgs’ leadership is very extrovert-heavy, to their detriment. The decision-makers put a lot of stock into speaking up in meetings, public speaking, and in-person collaboration, and tend to care much less about skills like clear, easy-to-understand writing and effective listening in meetings (knowing when your voice/opinion actually doesn’t add value). These disproportionate value ratings hamper actual effective collaboration and learning, and also lead to policies like insisting on in-office time for roles where it doesn’t make sense.

    I’d love to see more diversity of personality types in leadership roles, to help create a professional ecosystem that allows more people to thrive than just the loudest of the bunch.

    1. Grace Poole*

      Something we saw a lot starting with more WFH and reliance on video calls, is that a lot of people were more comfortable dropping a comment or question in the chat rather than raising their hand to be called on and saying it out loud. Or going back and forth in a Slack channel about a project rather than having a real meeting about it. As someone who might not bother asking a question in a meeting, those venues allowed me to participate a lot more fully than before.

    2. DocVonMitte*

      As an autistic person who cannot process spoken stuff nearly as well as written… I feel this in my bones.

  7. Harried HR*

    Public Speaking is a huge fear for many people and if the job does not require it why push this issue ? Personally I would be looking for another job if my current one insisted that public speaking was a requirement.

    1. Yorick*

      I think some people are imagining “public speaking” as giving a long, formal presentation. But the way LW makes it sound is that they won’t agree to be on the agenda to talk about something in a meeting unless the meeting is very small. They’re in tears over the idea! While a lot of people would feel nervous about doing that, it’s a very normal part of many (if not most) jobs and most people would be able to do it.

      1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

        I’d probably be in tears too. I can only speak in meetings if my input is very important. If you need the straight poop on how the llama has been pooping, ok, you want me to do team building exercises? ( foams at the mouth)

    2. theguvnah*

      is talking at a team meeting really public speaking though? Sounds like a pretty basic thing anyone should be able to do…

  8. CSRoadWarrior*

    I know if you are a politician, recruiter, or teacher, public speaking is a must. These are just three such examples. But many other jobs do not truly require it. I am one such person that doesn’t like public speaking. I would do it if I had to, but if I don’t have to I would rather not. In fact, in grade school, presentations were the bane of my existence. By college, I was better, but I still felt nervous standing in front of the whole class.

    And luckily my field doesn’t require it all too often. But it may be inevitable at some point in my career and I am prepared for that. However, I know I will still get nervous and stutter occasionally since I still don’t really like it.

  9. Kate*

    Are there really jobs where you *aren’t* expected to be able to cover for your boss in a meeting?

    To me there is a fundamental difference between expecting your staff to be able to do a TED Talk and expecting them to be able to give a presentation at a team meeting.

    The first? Rarely essential. The second? I would have thought that was a bare minimum expectation is almost any industry.

    1. Memily*

      I was just thinking this. Giving a presentation or a speech is very different than speaking with colleagues (even several teams of colleagues) in a collaborative meeting. I’d be interested in knowing which exactly this is. All-staff could be quite a large number of people in some organizations and a small number in others.

    2. Green Tea*

      It frankly depends on the role. I am absolutely expected to cover for my direct manager on presentations, in a programmatic role where she and I are the two who know the content best. When I was in an administrative role? That would never have been an expectation, and I wouldn’t have been looped in enough to the content my manager was leading to fill in.

      Our graphic designer on staff reports to a program manager, but public speaking isn’t her role, and the program is not her area of expertise; graphic design is. It would be inappropriate to ask her to step in on a day her manager was sick, and she wouldn’t be equipped with the content knowledge to do it, even if she was a great public speaker.

      1. Yorick*

        But if the manager was going to present on some aspect of the graphic designing work, the graphic designer would absolutely be expected to fill in on that part of the manager’s update.

        1. Underrated Pear*

          Right; my spouse is a graphic designer, and they are frequently required to present during client meetings in order to explain the design concept and strategy.

          There are also plenty of graphic designers out there who absolutely do not and will not do that, but that’s a career-limiting choice in that field. Which, again, is okay! But it’s a trade-off people should be aware of. The point is that while not everyone has to be a “public speaker,” there are many jobs that require the ability to speak with a degree of polish and clarity in front of a group, even when that’s not obviously inherent in the role.

        2. Green Tea*

          At my org, we’d never have the program manager speak about graphic design in the first place, because they don’t know about it. That would be really strange. The graphic designer would be the one tapped to speak to that from the start.

          I wasn’t saying graphic designers never do public speaking, I was saying many roles are not and should not be expected to fill in for their manager for a presentation if their manager isn’t available, because their expertise and knowledge don’t overlap.

    3. Peanut Hamper*

      Frequency also plays a role. I’m not much of a public speaker, but I have to present every once in a while to my team, which is manageable. But if I had to do it several times a month or several times a week, I would be looking for another job post-haste.

    4. Username Unknown*

      I agree completely. I think you should be able to give a department update to a group of your colleagues. It’s not the same as hosting a public forum or something. Collaborating with different departments is a basic part of most jobs. Also, they aren’t doing the updates often. It’s only to cover for the boss when need be. They may not like it, but “will you cover the department update at the staff meeting since I’ll be out Thursday?” seems like a pretty reasonable request to me.

      1. RussianInTexas*

        I can give an update as “this is what is happening with contract YYYY”. This is not a presentation of any kind. It’s literally a Teams meeting of 3 coworkers.
        I work for a small privately owned company, and we don’t have meetings with other departments, or presentations, or anything of the sort. In fact, I have not heard from most other departments since 2020. We have e-mails to work with, but we don’t talk or see each other.

      2. MsM*

        I feel like people are overlooking the part where the example OP gave was a presentation of the departmental strategic plan to the wider organization. If I’m a junior staffer, I don’t necessarily have the context my boss does for why certain decisions were made, or whether I’m going to get weirdly hostile pushback from another department on account of office politics several levels above my head. So while I realize OP wasn’t actually going to be absent, and that someone who wants her job someday will probably need to be prepared to handle that kind of scenario eventually, sometimes the best solution to “well, what if I’m not available?” might genuinely be “let’s just reschedule for when you are.”

        1. RussianInTexas*

          Right, this isn’t something that is just an update on a process, project or whatever.
          A high level presenter is unavailable – meetings get rescheduled.

    5. RussianInTexas*

      I have never in my life of working in a white collar office setting for 20 years had to do a presentation. Literally, not once. Or present anything to anyone, haven’t done it since college.
      I have never been expected to cover for my boss in a meeting even when I took over some of his responsibilities when he was out either. We just wouldn’t have meetings.

      1. RussianInTexas*

        I would be expected to cover some duties, but not lead a meeting nor a presentation.

    6. sofar*

      Thinking the same thing. Are we talking a stage with a microphone and professional lighting? Or are these employees balking at “can you present these slides in an all-hands meeting?” It’s a super normal expectation at a LOT of jobs to be able to present result slides you collected data for plans for a project you’re involved with.

      I think LW should delegate this stuff to his directs, but in a matter-of-fact way. “Will you present with me?” invites the option to say no and makes it seem like “I am asking you to take this big step.” Maybe say, “Hey, there are two slides showing the results of that testing you were in charge of. I’ll pass those to you at the next All Hands so you can brief everyone. We’ve got 20 minutes for our team overall. So please spend up to 2 minutes on your slides — let me know if you need help finessing.” That might get someone more comfortable. Or, at the very least, it shows them they’re the best person to ‘present.’

      … I also have had issues getting employees new to the workforce comfortable with reaching out to a person who is “new” to them and requesting info/data/feedback. Not everyone is comfortable reaching out to strangers, but that’s a necessary skill in the workforce (I can’t be the go-between for my employees in every interaction across teams). And I’d say walking through a few slides, even to a bigger group, is the equivalent of that, in terms of “reasonable to expect a professional to do.”

    7. wordswords*

      Yes? I’ve never been expected to be able to cover for my boss in a meeting, nor asked to do it. In previous jobs, my boss had a very different job than I did, and no one expected us to have overlapping skill sets, although I was asked to attend a meeting and take notes for a boss a couple of times. In my current job, most of the meeting my boss has are either specific to their role as a manager (and not mine) or specific to their personal knowledge and involvement in processes and committees that I’m not on. And all of these are white collar office jobs.

      This is, I think, extremely industry- and job-dependent.

    8. AthenaC*

      Often when I “push” junior colleagues to lead meetings, it’s typically in the situation where there’s an agenda and lots of senior people with opinions. So all the junior person has to do is say hello, thank everyone for their time, read an agenda bullet point, and then the senior people all talk until they’re done. Then the junior person reads the next bullet point, senior people talk until they’re done, rinse and repeat.

      By the time we get to the end of the agenda, one of the senior people will usually close it out and thank everyone again.

      So the junior person is usually very nervous ahead of time, but finds out it’s not that bad to lead meetings this way. And then they get just a little more comfortable for future meetings.

      But in my field it absolutely IS a requirement to be able to do some limited public speaking for groups of a handful of people or so, which is why I do coach people to do this.

    9. PsychNurse*

      Definitely. I’m a nurse, which is a job that essentially requires zero public speaking. But I HAVE been asked to present a few slides at a large meeting, when my boss was out with Covid. It would have been very disruptive to refuse to do it.

    10. Falling Diphthong*

      I think this is a good distinction. Being able to present your work to a small group seems like something that falls into “normal human skill” rather than “unusual demand that should be explicitly spelled out in job ads and interviews.”

      This comes up a lot in the sciences, where it turns out that the ability to explain what you are doing to other people is an essential part of doing that work–you can’t just hunker silently in the corner and wonder why no one is figuring out what you meant. As an undergrad my daughter was assigned to develop three different elevator pitches for her senior research (basically depending on how many words in the thesis title the audience understood). And this was a general assignment in the department, an aspect of “doing science” that it was the university department’s job to teach all the undergrads majoring in that department.

    11. DrSalty*

      Yes agreed. I think the scale in question is missing here and really important. Is an all staff meeting 20 people? 50 people? 500 people?

    12. Captain Swan*

      The OP indicates that these employees seem to be OK with presenting in small meetings. So that would cover the team meeting portion. I am betting the OP is thinking more of higher level strategic presentations or speeches to large groups.

    13. Miette*

      I have to agree. I don’t think I’d define presenting on aspects of the team’s plan to an all-staff meeting as public speaking. These are colleagues not hundreds/thousands of attendees at a conference.

      1. Green Tea*

        I mean, it really, really depends on the org. Our all-staff meetings are several hundred people, usually two to three hundred people in person and another three hundred people remote. And there are lights, mics, etc. for speakers; it is a really big deal.

    14. HB*

      Yeah, this. This isn’t something where the LW is saying “My team members have randomly mentioned they don’t like public speaking, HOW CAN I HELP?” But rather: “I have asked them to help present our team’s strategy and they declined – is that a real problem or am I off base in my thinking?”

      Also, refusing a reasonable request with “anger and sometimes tears” is… a bit extreme.

      Maybe the earlier requests weren’t really natural extensions of the employees’ jobs and the LW offered them as more stretch/visibility opportunities, but there’s a big difference between “I don’t like doing this and will refuse to do it unless it is an emergency, and I am okay if it limits my growth” versus “I refuse to do this under any and all circumstances.”

    15. Yorick*

      That’s what I’m thinking too. I think a lot of commenters are imagining more on the TED talk end of the spectrum, while LW’s employees are visibly upset at the idea of speaking in a medium-sized meeting.

    16. amoeba*

      Yeah, for us it’s not even “stepping in for your boss”, but “presenting your results” (I’m a scientist). That’s a very integral part of our job and I really cannot imagine running a department or company without it. On the other hand, people definitely know that’s expected/aren’t used to it because there’s absolutely no way anybody gets through their PhD without doing that on a very regular basis.

      Being the person chosen to do a pitch for an all-company townhall (which could easily be several thousand people in our field), on the other hand, is of course not something we’d expect of everybody, we’d chose somebody who’s interested in it and feels comfortable (or would like to learn). That’s not a common occurrence though. But not being able to speak in a team meeting would actually be a huge problem.

  10. redflagday701*

    There was a senior vice president (briefly) in charge of my old department who wanted everybody on our team to practice giving presentations over the course of a few weeks — which was fine, because all of us had roles where it would be useful. But I went second, and my colleague who’d gone first warned me that he’d told her he hated it when someone opened by apologizing in advance for not doing a great job or preemptively undercut themselves in some fashion.

    I totally understand why you should avoid doing that (and lots of people do it!), so I was careful not to. Afterward, he complimented me in front of the group for not doing it, and I confessed that my co-worker had given me a heads-up.

    And then he got really annoyed! Because apparently, he would have liked the chance to catch me doing it and then publicly shame me for it. I said I thought it was probably more important that I had learned not to do the thing he didn’t want us to do, but he basically said I had cheated and didn’t deserve the praise he’d given me a minute earlier.

    1. Sheila*

      What a weirdo! I hope you warned everyone else not to apologize OR admit they were warned not to apologize.

      1. redflagday701*

        They were all there when it went down! So sadly, he didn’t get to trap anybody and instead had to settle for all of us learning something he said was really important. Yep, real weirdo.

    2. Artemesia*

      LOL. Too bad you mentioned it. There are people who revel in this. When I was doing some work in Kuwait the person who met me at the airport told me that the director loved to reprimand westerners on their poor business card etiquette. I knew the proper drill BUT was not experienced with it and if he had not reminded me I might not have remembered to do it just right. So when I met and he offered his card, I took it with both hands and carefully looked at it before stowing it and then offered him mine, also with two hands. And he was visibly disappointed that he didn’t get to give me ‘the lesson.’

      When someone gives you a warning like this, don’t blow their cover.

      1. redflagday701*

        My co-worker wasn’t upset. She too was under the impression that what mattered was learning the lesson. He looked like kind of an ass, and since he was kind of an ass, I feel just fine about having mentioned it.

  11. Robin*

    You say in your letter “two of” your junior members; does that mean that there are more of them? If so, I would just depend on the other members and cut the two refusers out of speaking entirely. Maybe this will solve the problem; maybe they will get jealous of whatever opportunities the others are getting and take steps to get into public speaking. Either way, it’s no longer your issue.

    If this isn’t the case, then you’re going to need to take a look and see what exactly they would need to do for public speaking in their roles, and be firm but fair with them about what it entails, what support they could use behind the scenes etc. And hey–at least you’re not that manager whose staff refused to speak at all in any meeting ever. These people talk in smaller meetings! That’s genuinely super good!

    1. Here for the $$$*

      The only issue here is that the employees who ARE willing always have to do the Thing, and that’s not equitable either.

      1. Yorick*

        Totally agree. Lots of people don’t like speaking in front of others, but manage to do it anyway.

      2. Bit o' Brit*

        Is it detrimental to the employees who have to do the speaking or is it detrimental the the employees who refuse? It’s a bit ridiculous to say it’s career-limiting to refuse and also imply that others will be disadvantaged to have to do it.

  12. Davis*

    I wish this blog would tell us which posts were pay walled at the TOP of the post instead of at the bottom. I feel like the writer here is trying to manipulate us into paying for an Inc subscription. I think transparency is required here to be ethical.

    1. Hlao-roo*

      The only posts that ever link to pay-walled sites are the ones posted at 12:30pm Eastern Time. Sometimes the 12:30 ET posts are updates or non-pay-walled posts, but you can avoid 100% of the paywalls by avoiding the 12:30 ET post.

    2. Peanut Hamper*

      I don’t view this as a lack of either transparency or ethics. And I’m not sure what difference putting it at the top versus putting it at the bottom would make.

      1. Davis*

        If it was at the top I could skip reading the letter. As it is now, people read the letter and are ready for the response but now they have to pay to read the answer. The author knows this will result in more people paying for a subscription. This blog already has quote intrusive ads.

        1. redflagday701*

          The ads here are not at all intrusive compared to most of the web, and you sound ridiculous.

    3. redflagday701*

      I would imagine that Inc. pays for Alison’s content and that, yes, part of the reason they do so is because they want to attract subscribers. It’s quite a stretch to suggest it’s unethical not to mention that a different publication might have a paywall.

      1. Davis*

        I feel like y’all are deliberately misunderstanding my complaint. I’m saying it should be made clear at the very beginning of the post that the letter is being answered elsewhere.

    4. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      Posting on the paywalled sites is part of her income. She has plenty of non-paywalled content to enjoy.

    5. Marketing Unicorn Ninja*

      Alison gives us an amazing amount of content FOR FREE and you’re bitching that she links to content where she gets paid?

      No one is making you pay for an Inc subscription if you don’t want to. You can just scroll on by.

      Also, Alison is perfectly transparent that she gets paid for content that appears on other sites (Inc., Slate, NY Magazine, etc.) You’re just complaining.

    6. whistle*

      What is manipulative about being paid for your work? What transparency is needed? It’s not like Inc autocharges you when you click the link. You click the link, and then you can decide if you want to pay or not.

      Go somewhere else and demand free content to your specifications.

    7. Parenthesis Guy*

      Alison gives us a large number of articles for free, and you’re complaining because some of the answers are sort of paywalled? You may be on the wrong side of this one.

    8. Gracely*

      If you’re a regular reader, you’d know that the Inc. posts are always paywalled. And it’s not like it doesn’t say at all. It’s perfectly ethical.

      Plus, you can always go back to the original and see what Alison replied with originally. Other sites don’t usually have that option.

  13. Kasee Laster*

    As a university lecturer, I am seeing a higher and higher percentage of students each year who absolutely will do anything to avoid presenting to the class (I don’t teach speech comm, so students probably don’t know they’re signing up for a class that requires some presentations). I know it’s a very common fear, but anecdotally, I’m convinced it is getting more common.

    As someone who, like the OP, just never had that fear, it’s hard for me to know how to coach them. I did have a job on the student services side for a few years where I supervised an excellent advisor – one of the best people one-on-one with students I have ever seen – who hated speaking to groups, particularly prospective students since their parents (the employee’s age group peers, ie, “other adults”) would be with them.

    What I told this employee, and s/he told me later that it really did help, was to think of speaking as a service to the audience. It’s not about you – it’s about them, and the information they need, that you have. It’s not about showing off – it’s about humble (but confidently) giving the audience something they need.

    Another tip from academia that might help in at least some office situations and if there is time – have someone practice the talk first to one other person, then three others, then a dozen or so.

    1. NeedRain*

      I wonder if it’s getting more common, or if it’s just more required now. I was in college in the early 1990s and there was zero formal presenting to a large group required. Had there been, I’m not sure what I would have done, as my social anxiety was untreated and way worse at age 20. I would have lied and cheated to get out of it.
      I worked at a large university from 2000-2016 and it seems like some kind of public speaking stuff is required. IDK if it’s required in high schools. It made me panic every time in grad school, I essentially dissociated during my first presentation.
      It’s a high anxiety situation for nearly everyone, not just people with diagnosed anxiety disorders. If they want people to be able in speak in public, it needs to be a skill they teach gradually, not just one we’re expected to get up and do.

      1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

        OTOH, I was also in college in the 90s and did a fair bit of presenting! Probably depends on the types of classes.

        In my current role, few people in my 2000-person company could expect to be totally off the hook for speaking, even if most won’t actually have to. It’s a client and project- based environment and anyone could be asked to present ideas or share out work — they can opt out but it’s a career limiter if they can’t be visible in this way. I realize that’s not true of many environments but it’s definitely a thing in mine.

        I know of a small K-8 school that requires every single 8th grader to speak at graduation. That sounds horrifying, but they spend years leading up to that goal and all of them do an amazing job. It’s only possible because the class has like 25 kids and they are so kind to each other and build each other up, but what a gift to develop speaking confidence at that age!

        1. lisa franklin habit*

          Another data point – I started undergrad in the late 90s, and my university had gotten feedback from employers that they wanted graduates they hired to have public speaking skills. The University then implemented a program requiring every single class to have a public speaking component. I remember it being enforced even in math classes.

        2. Cedrus Libani*

          I went to high school in the early 2000s, and did infinity-billion class presentations – I guess it was the pedagogical trend of the moment, though from talking to others my age, my high school was unusually enthusiastic about it. I am completely desensitized. It’s great. The main downside is that, in contexts where a polished talk is expected, I’d still be totally fine with going up there and winging it…so I have to make sure that I’ve actually set aside time to polish the talk!

    2. PsychNurse*

      Nobody asked, but I am going to say it anyway: I work professionally in the field of anxiety disorders. So I am very aware of anxiety diagnoses and treatments for them. Professionals are almost never going to prescribe “avoid the thing that makes you anxious” as a treatment. Sometimes I encounter university students who don’t understand this: They want me to write a letter excusing them from class presentations because they have an anxiety disorder. I might do that very temporarily– such as asking a professor for an extension so that the student can get some more therapy sessions under their belt– but the treatment involves learning to do the anxiety-producing task, not avoiding it forever.

      1. Alternative Person*

        So much this.

        I’m a teacher and I really feel for students when their fears and anxieties get in their way of doing various tasks, but sooner or later they have to at least start the process of overcoming them, or they’ll never achieve what they’re there to achieve. I’m happy to break everything down, step by step, piece by piece and build up to the appropriate standard slowly, but ultimately they have to learn to manage their issues and do the thing (or at the very least, get closer).

    3. I Teach Speech*

      I do teach speech comm! And I agree that it seems to help when we frame speaking as something that is not About You (the speaker) so much as it is For Them (the audience)!

      I don’t think “public speaking” as such is a 100% necessary job skill for all positions, but I do think that being able to explain your area of expertise, being able to describe the reasoning behind your decisions, being able to train a colleague on a process–these are the kinds of moments that come up at work all the time, and all of them rely upon being able to organize your thoughts and articulate them clearly. And it’s secretly the same skillset as public speaking, in the end.

      If I were giving the advice, I would recommend that the manager in question low-key train their employees by making little moments happen: taking opportunities to assign one employee to cross-train another; assigning employees to document their own procedures so that new employees can get up to speed quickly; casually involving employees present in meetings to take a moment to explain to the group what they did/are doing/will do on a project, and why, and how; things like that.

      DON’T call it “public speaking”, don’t make a big production about it, *definitely* don’t call it “expository discourse” or “critical thinking skills” or “teaching training” (though it is secretly all those things). DO reassure your employees that they have expertise you value, and which they should share!

    4. Em*

      As someone who used to be terrified of speaking to groups, and now does it all the time — what helped me was pretending it wasn’t me doing it.

      I joined a community theatre group, which helped me frame myself as an actress.

      When I give presentations/trainings or run meetings, I put myself into character as “Em Who Is Great At Giving Presentations”. If I can play someone totally unlike myself when someone else has written the script, I can play someone totally unlike myself when I’m writing the script. I’ve gotten comfortable enough with the character of Professional Presenter Em that I can now improv as her.

      1. Em*

        (Forgot to mention — this has worked well enough that it is now The Thing I Am Good At At Work, and I train groups and lead meetings all the time and really enjoy it.)

      2. Distracted Librarian*

        I did the same – pretended I was playing a role (and I’ve never done any actual acting). It got me through till the fear eased up. Now I can get up in front of just about any audience with minimal nerves.

    5. Nobby Nobbs*

      I wonder if it’s one of those problems that’s being exacerbated or caused by the rise of social media. Today’s kids are living under a microscope, screwing up very publicly, and getting harshly punished for it, and the resulting anxiety is coming out in really squirrelly ways.

  14. NeedRain*

    I think you can encourage them to work on their skills, and at the same time not push them too far out of their comfort zone (is there another employee you trust who would be comfortable presenting?)
    Are the reluctant people able to speak in or to small group meetings? Maybe start there.

  15. anonlet*

    As someone with a lot of anxiety who “isn’t cut out for public speaking” myself…I’d say it is important to help early-career juniors understand that even if their current position doesn’t require it, some positions they might want in the future will call for making larger-scale presentations. I’ve made my peace with that and I’m not ambitious for any career that calls for making big presentations, but even so I think it’s very useful to build up a bit of comfort in that area. Sometimes you need to step in and cover for someone else! Hopefully these employees would welcome any resources or support for developing these skills.

    But yeah–are there alternatives? What kind of alternatives? Some of the suggestions they gave might be truly useful!

    1. PsychNurse*

      Right! Nobody has to take a job that involves daily huge speeches. But almost everyone is going to have to occasionally do a bit of it– like cover for someone who is out sick, or unexpectedly get called on during a large meeting. You can’t easily go through a career with a blanket policy of “I don’t speak to more than 6 people at a time.”

  16. I'm Just Here for the Cats!!*

    One thing to remember is if soeone is really scared of public speaking and they are forced to do it they are going to do it badly. I’m sure most people remember having a classmate (either in highschool or in college) who had to give a presentation and was visibly not ok. Sweaty, slured or stuttering, quiet talking or talking too fast. Do you want that to be your team or company’s image. Especially to stakeholders or clients.

    The OP mentions that there ate 2 specific junior people who don’t want to do public speaking. Why would you have them do speeches with you if it’s not part of their job. If they are the CFO and you are reporting about finance then it would make sense. But if these are ‘junior’ employees and they don’t have any bigger roles in the presentation there really isn’t a need for them to present, except that you maybe want to teach them too like presenting.

    The OP also mentions having someone present for them if they were out sick. That shouldn’t fall on a lower employee. That should be the assistant director or someone higher up. It would make sense for someone in a higher position but not these junior employees.

    1. TechWorker*

      I don’t think it’s a universal truth that the senior person should always present if someone is out sick – in some places/roles yes their manager should cover; but in others the team members will be better placed to cover the material and answer questions and/or that senior manager might already have conflicting responsibilities at the presentation time. (I try not to drop a meeting on my team at short notice, but if I *am* out sick, my own manager is likely already in more important meetings…)

      1. I'm Just Here for the Cats!!*

        I guess it really depends on how junior people are. I’m thinking that there is like hierarchy

        OP (director)
        assistant director or other higher levels ?
        managers/ supervisors
        juniors (2 of which don’t like public speaking)

        I don’t see why someone at the bottom of the hierarchy would be the one to take over for the director for a presentation. They may have taken the job because there was little speaking and feel like they are being asked to do more than what their job descriptions (and possibly pay) is.

        But if these are junior managers then I could possibly see them doing more public speaking. But I still think that it sounds like its not part of the actual job and its something the OP just WANT everyone to do.

  17. No Soup for You*

    I will forever be grateful to my previous manager for pushing me to be more comfortable speaking in public. But I was totally on board with this, which is why it worked.

  18. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    Have these younger staff members seen you present?

    I could certainly imagine that someone new to the business world who is seeing a polished professional “doing public speaking” may believe that it is something that just naturally flows from them.

    In fact, presenting is a multi-layered process that takes hours longer than the actual standing up part.

    Getting the junior staffers involved with creating the power points — including drafting the script and running times — could help them see that a lot goes on behind the scenes which prepares the person for the actual presentation.

    Even if you don’t need a lot of prep time for most of the presentations you give, it may be a valuable assignment to have them help you. They can get used to running the presentation and flipping slides. They can be the person who assists with questions from the group, either by reading the submitted questions, or even answering a few of the basic ones.

    You can show them that a good slide deck is gold. Show them

    I bet you’re not asking them to do other “senior” level tasks on their own. You can mentor them through this — if it’s relevant to the work that they do.

    1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

      Like many talents, we tend to assume someone is born with “it” and that holds a lot of people back from believing they it’s a skill they can learn.

      People praise me as a great presenter, and I don’t think they have any idea how much work i put into finding/crafting a story and rehearsing! Years ago I’d have said it was my perfectionism and anxiety that led to my endless rehearsing but knowing I’m AuDHD there’s more to it than that. Now i know why I’m much better at a one-way presentation — it’s pretty easy to throw me off when my script is interrupted — and why I always want to speak first, because I can’t pay attention well until I get my words out.

    2. TX_Trucker*

      My boss is one of the most polished public speakers I have ever seen. I used to think that it was natural charisma until I helped him prepare a presentation one year. I lost count of how many revisions he asked me to make to the PowerPoint. I hear his rehearsal speech so many times, I think I could of given the presentation myself. This experience helped me get over my fear of public speaking. I used to think that if I wasn’t perfect the first time it was hopeless. But now that I know extensive preparation is okay, I feel much more comfortable speaking to large groups.

  19. The Person from the Resume*

    I can’t come down on either side with what we know from the letter. ** And also this is a revived older letter so there’s now Zoom/Teams/teleconferencing that did not exist before.

    What level of public speaking / meeting are we talking? If the junior employees can’t talk, present, communicate in relatively small meetings within the company, I’d be concerned. On my teams, people need to talk, communicate, and coordinate to get nearly all the work done.

    Once we get to standing in front of medium to large groups that becomes something different and more nerve-racking and is worth considering if these employees really need to do it.

    1. I'm Just Here for the Cats!!*

      Per the letter ” if asked to present to a crowd larger than a small meeting, they react with refusal, anger, and sometimes tears.”

      To me, it sounds like they are ok in smaller meetings, like their immediate team. But the problem is larger meetings, like the all staff meeting the director was asked to present at.

      1. amoeba*

        Yeah, but it’s hard to say which dimensions those actually are. I mean, in my company a “small team meeting” would probably be no more than 5 people. People still regularly have to present at extended project meetings etc., which are probably more like 20-30 people. If that was already a problem, it would indeed severely limit people. (Note that nobody expects any fancy speeches, just clear and understandable PowerPoint slides and getting your information across!)

        “Whole company” might be several hundred or more people, and sure, that’s a different dimension again and I don’t think it would be a problem for most people to avoid that completely if they’re not comfortable with it. That’s something you’d have to volunteer/be picked specially for, not a normal part of people’s duties.

  20. CheeryO*

    This is hard to answer without knowing the field. It seems unusual that early-career folks would be expected to fill in for director-level staff when they’re out. Isn’t there a middle layer of management or experienced staff that you could lean on?

    Some people who do badly with public speaking just need more practice, but if it rises to a phobia level, I think you need to have a conversation with them about their career goals and whether it’s truly necessary to put them so far outside of their comfort zone for the sake of growth. Maybe they are totally fine with having their careers limited if it means avoiding something they truly hate.

    1. TechWorker*

      I do think ‘director’ can mean quite different things at different sized companies. In a small company the director of x might fully own that function, but only have a small team with no middle management layers, whereas in a larger company where a director has multiple layers of management below them and tens or hundreds of people reporting into them.. yes totally agreed a junior level employee shouldn’t need to fill in for that role!

      1. amoeba*

        Yeah, I read it more like a small company where the junior employees are just kind of new/young, but not actually many levels removed from the director?

    2. I'm Just Here for the Cats!!*

      That’s what I thought too. Even if this was a small company with a small team for the OP why would you have junior members of staff do presentations if you were away.

  21. AthenaC*

    Totally acknowledge I’m looking at this through my own personal public accounting / auditing perspective, but here are some things to consider:

    1) Is there an expectation that your junior team members will be “promotion-ready” at some point and that speaking will be part of their new responsibilities? If so, then I think you should be 100% clear (if you haven’t already) that their chosen trade-off will basically keep them entry-level indefinitely.

    2) Is it workable that you (manager) take on most of the general presenting but expect to be able to have your junior team members chime in, upon request, with detailed information you might not have top of mind? If so, then I totally agree you need to insist they figure out how to speak in a group for at least that limited purpose. “Other ways of sharing information” doesn’t cut it in a verbal meeting.

    3) If your junior team members do more presenting, is it likely to lead to positive medium-term impacts such as access to more interesting projects? Random phone calls from other teams with interesting questions? For example, because the other team remembers “Oh I saw Jane’s team present something on this, I’ll give them a call.” If you have concrete things like this to point out, that might be relevant to their tradeoff.

    Overall, this reads to me like some junior team members need to toughen up a little bit and understand that work isn’t always fun; that’s why they pay us to show up and do it anyway. Like the OP, I am also good at and enjoy public speaking, but I wasn’t born that way; I got that way through lots of practice, lots of experience, and working through my nerves. I didn’t just throw my hands up and say I’m “not cut out for public speaking”; I put in the work and got good at it. Just like the OP (probably) and like many people here, I assume.

    1. I'm Just Here for the Cats!!*

      ” Overall, this reads to me like some junior team members need to toughen up a little bit and understand that work isn’t always fun; that’s why they pay us to show up and do it anyway.”

      what if this was one of those junior employees writing in stating their boss wants them to take on all of this extra work for presenting without compensation when it’s not part of their job.

  22. Lily Potter*

    I wish that the LW gave more detail about her company and the functions her team does within it. She mentions her junior reports being afraid to speak at an “all company” function. There is quite a difference between asking a 20-something to speak in front of 50 people or 500 people (or 5,000 for that matter!) And as others have said, it really does depend on what the junior report’s job function. But overall – I’m of the opinion that if your boss tells you to figure out how to speak in front of others, you need to figure out how to do it or find another position (or possibly, industry). You don’t just push back on your boss and say “I’m uncomfortable doing this, therefore I shouldn’t have to do it.”

    It falls under the same umbrella as people who “dislike” talking on the phone, even though it’s a company norm, and email everything instead. At some point, you have to do as your boss directs, not what’s “comfortable” for you.

    1. PsychNurse*

      This is where I come down, too. Bosses have often told me to do things that I absolutely hate and give me massive anxiety. But I can’t really just say, “Dealing with XYZ makes me miserable and tearful, so don’t make me do it.” I have to either find a way to do it, or find a different job.

    2. Bunny Lake Is Found*

      Disagree. I think it is fine to push back if something makes you really uncomfortable. Now, your boss could say “do it anyway” but if I wouldn’t actually want my reports to do something that is actively distressing for them if there are alternatives. Sometimes there aren’t alternatives, but if three people can do a task, why would I ever want to assign it to the one of them who is going to be miserable doing the task and likely perform the task less well than the other two?

      1. ThisIsTodaysName*

        I’m not sure anyone has a right or privilege to ALWAYS be 100% “comfortable” with everything they’re asked to do AT WORK. It is WORK not a good time. Now if it’s a real, true anxiety issue that causes physical symptoms *not just sweating and blushing–we all do that* but actual like faintness, shortness of breath, etc… that is VERY different. But I think it’s a very slippery slope to say nobody should be asked to do things that make them uncomfortable at work. The first time I was told to create a presentation, I was VERY uncomfortable; I’d never done it. PowerPoint was a nightmare to learn. But I had to do it. It was my job to prepare this brief. Should I have been able to say “ohhhh I’m not comfy using PowerPoint. Please ask Sue to do it”?

        1. MissElizaTudor*

          Saying that it’s okay to push back on things that make you really uncomfortable isn’t equivalent to saying no one should ever be asked to do anything uncomfortable at work. Something can be okay to ask someone to do and it can also be okay for them to push back on that request.

          Should you have been able to ask that? Absolutely, although the way you phrased it here (so you could belittle the idea of pushing back on uncomfortable task) would be a weird way to actually phrase a work question. And you should have been able to ask it without repurcussions for your means of survival (unrealistic, but you asked about shoulds). And then the answer would have been “No, sorry, this is an essential part of your job.” because it sounds like that was the reality.

        2. Sharon*

          Right. I think there are a core set of “office skills” that office workers are expected to possess. Workers without at least a basic level of competency in all of these areas will find their opportunities limited, so I think workers should try to develop these skills so they can use them when required, even if that’s infrequent and not their preference.

    3. Late to the party*

      I think this unfair. For some of us, public speaking isn’t just about “disliking” it. For me it triggers my anxiety to an extreme degree. When forced to perform anyway, I turned into the worst version of myself – rambling, hyper, loud, spacey, and sweaty. Finding yourself giving a presentation in front of a group and knowing that not only are you failing to communicate what needs to be communicated, but you are also looking like a total idiot who only has the barest grasp of professional language (did I just say “Get back funky cat”?) is not fun for anyone – the audience or the speaker. I can speak in my team meetings and I work excellently in small groups but a larger group of strangers? I start losing sleep and my blood pressure skyrockets well before the actual event. The physical reactions (heart racing, sweaty, cold, hyperactive, tingling hands, etc) are a trip as I’m usually an easygoing and mellow person. After the last fiasco, I got an accommodation with support of my doctor. No more public speaking for me! I wish I could just toughen up or practice more or whatever people think helps – but it’s not just that simple. (It’s possible I could go on medication for this, but I’m not willing to do that and ultimately public speaking is not a crucial part of my job so I don’t have to try every possible solution.)

  23. Diziet*

    I have become a confident public speaker through practice and training. Early in my career it terrified me and made me sick with anxiety.

    It never occurred to me to tell my boss I couldn’t do it, refuse or suggest alternatives. As it’s a critical skill in my industry that would have been very career limiting for me. If it’s an industry critical skill then I think you need to push them to practice and develop, if it’s not then don’t.

    However overall work often involves doing things you’re not comfortable/confident with and I think people sometimes need support to build their tolerance of discomfort, not an excusal from a challenging task or skill. ( where it is necessary for the work ofc.)

    1. ThisIsTodaysName*

      Exactly. Very few people are like “oooh public speaking! I’m in; let’s DO this thing!” But REFUSING to do briefings, speak up in meetings, etc… is just .. alien to me. Sure some people may have a legitimate anxiety disorder, but that is NOT the same as “I’m uncomfortable doing this thing you’ve asked of me so I’m not going to,” and I increasingly hear/see of people saying exactly this and even invoking ADA because “it makes me uncomfortable,” and THAT makes ME uncomfortable.

  24. PsychNurse*

    Definitely is field-specific, right?? I’m a nurse, and in most nursing roles, nobody cares if you can speak publicly or not.

    1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      Don’t you have to speak up in rounds sometime in a hospital setting, or do discussions during professional development? Both of those require speaking to groups – but you aren’t standing behind a dais and using a microphone. I think sometimes people introduce a false dichotomy between “talking to a bunch of people” and “public speaking”.

      1. ThisIsTodaysName*

        Right. I don’t think these kids are being asked to give TED talks; but they need to be able to speak up in a meeting, to brief their section of a project, to answer questions about some research or work they’re doing etc… “I’m not comfortable doing X” is not the same as “I have severe physical anxiety that actually prevents me from doing X” but lately, it seems all one has to say is that “X makes me uncomfortable/out of my comfort zone/nervous” and they are exempted from it. I took public speaking in school. I joined the debate team etc… to get over my fear of speaking in front of others. It was HARD. I actually got hysterical laryngitis more than once and I still often lose my voice some when I have to brief senior (military) leadership, but … I do it. It’ll never be something I am THRILLED to do, but practice helps. Classes help. Toastmasters helps, etc..

        1. I'm Just Here for the Cats!!*

          But it sounds like they ARE speaking in smaller settings. The problem is the larger settings.

          1. amoeba*

            The question really is how small the “smaller settings” are. If only the immediate team of 3 people is OK and anything beyond that (department, multiple teams, etc.) is already out, I’d still consider it a problem.

  25. LTR FTW*

    My teenaged kids don’t like making phone calls, they say it makes them anxious because they don’t know what to say. But it’s really because up to this point, they never *had* to make phone calls and it’s out of their comfort zone. I know that they are going to have to make phone calls in life, either for work or to make appointments or reservations or whatever… so it’s my job to help them learn to do it through low stakes practice. I’d suggest that OP’s reports would benefit from some low stakes opportunities to present information publicly, because that’s really just part of work.

    1. Somehow_I_Manage*

      There have been similar comments and letters regarding dealing with staff that will avoid phone calls. The feedback is similar, first, discern, is it actually part of their job, and who is the arbiter of that? Generally, the reasonable expectation is that *some* capability is reasonably required.

      I am with you that one reason they are paid is because sometimes they have to do things that they’d prefer not to. And I am similarly of the belief that the reward for pushing through some discomfort can be very valuable. Improving skill at using the phone or presenting in public IS possible, can be incredibly fulfilling, and will open doors.

  26. The Other Side of the Rainbow*

    As someone who is both introverted and a skilled presenter, I would not be happy about my boss asking me to “help them present”. I hate collaborating with others on a presentation – it’s far more difficult than a solo presentation, as there are so many things that are out of my control.

    If OP is going to insist her team members present, it would be best to start small and then build up to group presentations, maybe.

    I’ve spoken at large and small community events, been a guest lecturer, and part of a panel on television, and interviewed for both tv and newspaper pieces.

  27. BBB*

    I can’t see Alison’s response but I would question if these roles truly require public speaking or not? are you pushing this because it’s necessary for their role? or just because you personally think it’s important?
    there are plenty of jobs that genuinely require public speaking so refusal to do so would be career limiting…. in those fields. but people who hate public speaking generally aren’t perusing those fields for that very reason. I chose my college based on which one didn’t require a public speaking class. I chose a career field because it doesn’t require public speaking. some people (aka me) are very serious about not doing public speaking. I’m not good at it, I don’t enjoy it and I never will. the level of anxiety and stress it brings is not worth it to me. so I prefer to lean into my strengths instead of wasting all my energy improving on my weakness. why force myself to do public speaking, a thing that I hate and am not good at, when I can do something that I enjoy, that I am good at and that will show off my strengths and abilities?
    so as someone who also hates public speaking, a boss pushing me to ‘work on my fear’ would push me to work on my resume.

  28. Marna Nightingale*

    I think if the first step is working out how necessary the public speaking is, the second step is sitting down with them and having a discussion about whether they’re willing to accept the limitation or whether working on it is an option.

    But the zeroeth step is accepting that the limit is a limit, at least for now. You cannot make them speak in public. All you can do is make them FAIL at speaking in public.

    Either they do not have the skills they need, and they know it, and fixing that will fix the problem, or they have a significant psychological block, or, probably, both.

    All you’re going to do by putting them on the spot is have the presentation be a disaster and reinforce their conviction that they cannot do this because, look, you just made them try and sure enough, they cannot do this.

    Look, I cannot sing in public. Not will not. If you somehow were foolish enough to back me into a corner all you would get would be the human version of that silent meow cats do. After which you do NOT want to be between me and the exit.

    So, as Alison says, it may be career limiting, but that doesn’t make it fixable.

  29. raymondholt*

    I want to weigh in a someone who is brought to organizations to provide presentation coaching. I frame it as coaching, not training, because presentation / public speaking is a skill that many need coaching for and I want to meet people where they are in terms of skill, comfort, and situation (are you speaking at a conference, pitching to clients, etc). What I find is that I can offer overall communication skill development as well as guidance on “stage presence” and insight into how to develop a compelling presentation. In doing so I help participants find their voice and look at their material as an opportunity to tell a story. Often I am brought in to work with groups that are client facing, meaning they need to bring in work, develop client relationships and often negotiate with clients so these are roles with a fair amount of presenting as an expectation. And it is career-limiting if you refuse to present.

    I’m sharing this because when I work with groups and reframe the workshops I offer around a broader set of communication skills, some of which are traditional public speaking skills, there’s a big mental shift and willingness to try. In those groups I’m also focused on the team dynamics and how teams support each other in building these skills since they are often presenting together.

  30. Parenthesis Guy*

    I think the more experience you have in your field, the easier it is for you to present. When you’re just starting out, it’s intimidating to talk to all the experienced people. It’s hard to know whether you know enough about what you’re talking about, or what’s important to touch on. I don’t think I so much got better at public speaking as more comfortable with my skills.

    So, when junior level people say that they want to present, it may mean that they’re not in a stage of their career when they’re ready. The answer isn’t to ask these people to present right then, but make sure there’s a senior level person on your team that can actually do that.

    Of course, as always, this depends on the role of the employee.

    1. WantonSeedStitch*

      This is why I think it’s great to start out people early in their career with small, low-stakes opportunities for presenting information to other people: giving brief updates on what they’ve been working on at a small team meeting, for example. Then work up to stuff like presenting about a larger project in which they’ve been heavily involved, to a larger group (say, the office or department). Or training groups of new employees on a task with which they feel very comfortable.

      1. UKDancer*

        Yes. That’s why I get my junior team members to speak in meetings and give feedback, because it gets them comfortable with talking and expressing an opinion or explaining an issue. That way they feel less intimidated about having to speak more formally.

  31. Donkey Hotey*

    When I was in college, it was a graduation requirement to take one of a short list of classes, the most common was a public speaking class. I mention this because on the first day, the prof pointed out that speaking before a group is the second most common fear in America. The only more common fear is death by fire.

    So I empathize with the employees and agree that if it was a mandated requirement, the job posting should have said so, instead of assuming.

    Of course, when the prof asked us all why we were in his class, a voice that sounded a lot like mine did, “Self Immolation 101 was full.”

    1. JoJo*

      Donkey Hotey… I would have wanted to give you an “A” on the spot for two reasons very much related to Public Speaking… the ability to think quickly and cleverly on your feet and having the bravery to say what was on your mind in an honest discussion about why you were there. =)
      But, that’s the way I teach Public Speaking… by providing a safe environment for people to develop their skills and not be afraid of letting me know when this isn’t their thing/need help to get through it.
      For the manager that wrote in… I do want to share some food for thought as someone who has taught people public speaking for 30 years:
      -There is an ENORMOUS difference in the communication skill set needed to communicate in a “small meeting” and a “crowd larger than a small meeting”… it takes A LOT of training to do “crowd” and like Alison, I wonder if that’s really needed here. Your energy would likely be better spent finding someone to cover you when you are sick than trying to bring in the time and resources it would take to level people up in this way.
      -Even with my own level of public speaking experience, I really took pause on asking people to help with “present[ing] the strategy for our team at an all-staff meeting.” Do they even have that kind of experience, background, access to information, and expertise to speak to team strategy? I’m am guessing not. And it’s really asking them to do the work outside their role. (Also going to come back to the 1st point that it’s WAY different presenting within one’s team vs. a presumably much larger and diverse audience of an all-staff meeting).
      -“suggesting other ways that staff members can share information”… ASK THEM ABOUT THIS! I don’t just teach Public Speaking, but communication and there are LOTS of great ways to communicate! Ask them what they have in mind… you might actually expand YOUR own communication repertoire by discovering that they have some pretty good ideas for sharing information with others that don’t require public speaking =)
      -which leads me to something that also matters a lot in communication and relationships… that by taking a moment to be willing to learn yourself about who they are, what their strengths are, what they bring to the table (letting them teach you)… you will be seen as more approachable, easier to collaborate with, flexible, which in turn may actually help them warm up to your help in supporting them in learning new communication skills
      -one a last note, please set “inability to do this specific thing reflect badly on them, or on me as a manager” aside; I never, ever want my communication apprehensive students to believe for one second that being new to a skill reflects badly on them! And most new students are hyper aware of what others’ think, so they can’t make this about you, either. Re-frame this. If you actually do determine that there is no other option than public speaking even after reading Alison’s advice, then for the sake of your employees please approach this as a cooperative learning experience where it’s OK to learn in progressive steps, receive positive feedback along the way, be OK with things not being perfect, but giving resources to improve when they aren’t perfect.

  32. Sheila*

    My job does require public speaking once you get to a certain level! I was nervous about public speaking to start with, but got tasked with leading a huge low-stakes daily meeting (think 70 people every morning for 10 minutes with a clear-cut simple agenda.) It was hard to mess up, and if I did, no one cared and I had to get right back up there and do it again tomorrow. It helped me get over my fear of speaking in front of big groups pretty quickly.

    I mentor two junior employees now…that big meeting doesn’t happen anymore but I’ve had both of them present in smaller team meetings a few times and it’s good experience. They do not need to speak publicly in their current roles, but they would need to if they wanted to move up at all, and if they refused public speaking opportunities, they’d get fewer interesting assignments and work experiences, because we only have so many of those, and we see them as growth opportunities for people who want to move up in our field.

  33. Zellie*

    I was the person who thought they just couldn’t get up and speak in front of others. Right out of college, first job and I had to present as part of new manager’s orientation. No mollycoddling by my manager as it was part of the job, though not very often. I was also able to attend a class for effective presenting (which also scared me), which turned out to be wonderful and which I still draw on to this day.

    Years later, I still feel like I’m going to be sick before presenting, but once I get up and get going I’m fine. Their job right now might not require presenting, but who knows where they’ll be in 5, 10, or 15 years. This is a good skill to have and they should be doing it if it’s appropriate. I wouldn’t give them the option to opt out.

    I will forever be grateful to the manager who made me do it. Yes, it was part of my job, but as the years have gone on, I’ve gotten better at speaking in front of small and large groups. It is a skill that has served me well as my career has changed and I’ve moved up the ladder.

  34. ID in AZ*

    My manager at my old job held my “poor presentation skills” against me. I deliberately left teaching because my strengths really are behind the scenes, and they knew that from the beginning. When I was hired, this manager did not make it clear that presenting to large/high-stakes groups would be part of my job. (As a comparison, I never need to make formal presentations at my current job with other very similar duties, so I think their expectation was not realistic.)
    When the time came to pitch a big project to our stakeholders, I was still a very junior member of the team, completely new to the industry, and still very unfamiliar with the business practices we would be developing training for. I was asked to present a small portion of the overall, which I had no qualms about doing. What I was utterly unprepared for was the fact that they would be asking questions. I knew nothing about the topics they were asking and looked like a complete fool as I tried to bluff my way through. I was humiliated.
    In other settings, I can dominate a room when there is a topic I know well and am passionate about. I’m also the front person for my band, so it’s not like I don’t ever volunteer to face a crowd.
    All this to say, being good at public speaking is VERY situational. I hope you can recognize this with your employees. It’s not reasonable to throw them into the fire. As their manager, I would say it’s part of your role to help them develop this skill over time. Give them small topics they can speak confidently about with smaller groups. Maybe don’t even let on that you are actively coaching them, just let them realize one day that they just pulled off a major presentation.
    Give them time to prepare. Tell them to rehearse. Help them anticipate questions.
    And think back to a time before spoke in front of groups. Did you start out as polished as you are now? What are some lessons learned that you can share with them?

  35. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

    I wouldn’t insist, but if your office has the flexibility you could offer to allow them to join Toastmasters – many chapters have lunch time or early evening meetings but one company I worked for allowed that to be on company time.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      I have heard nothing but good things about Toastmasters! I really need to look into that someday.

  36. ILoveLlamas*

    I am a long-time, former Toastmaster and was in b-2-b sales for decades, so I have done a lot of presentations both large and small, formal and informal. I was also involved in a Gavel Club (form of Toastmasters) in a prison. The purpose of Toastmasters is to make a person a better communicator – speeches are only a small part. The inmates in the Gavel Club had the clear goal of wanting to learn to communicate better for when they stood in front of the Parole Board. They were completely outside their comfort zone. I’m fortunate because I have always been comfortable speaking, but Toastmasters still helped me improve my communication skills immensely.

    I think/hope that is what the LW is looking for — having these folks learn how to handle speaking roles but starting small and building up. The Toastmasters path is about taking different roles and learning how to lead effective meetings in addition to public speaking. Learning how to do small presentations (2-3 minutes with a small group) or being able to coordinate a meeting or answer an impromptu question in a meeting is helpful for most people’s career.

    Sometimes it is easier to say “No” or “I’m not comfortable with that” instead of pushing yourself a little. Like another commenter said, it doesn’t have to be a TedTalk right out of the gate. I have managers who have a different person lead the weekly team meeting so everyone has a chance to learn how to do it and bring up the topics they want to address. That’s a good start. Build from there…

  37. ijustworkhere*

    Not everyone needs to be at the level of a ‘presenter’ or a ‘trainer’ but it’s reasonable to expect most employees in a professional position to have effective basic verbal communication skills.

    I have seen employees–knowledgeable and good employees–whose verbal communication skills are so limited that they cannot do even this. They ramble, they can’t finish a thought, or answer a simple question without going far off into the weeds and off topic. They are so fearful that they sometimes fumble for words.

    As managers, we can coach and help these employees. They don’t have to be great orators, just able to clearly communicate a thought. If they can practice doing that with one person, it gets easier to do it with two, or ten, or a hundred.

    So many higher level roles require good presentation skills so giving someone a safe space to practice is an investment in their future.

  38. Manders*

    My heart rate went up just reading this letter. I’ve tried everything (yes, including medication and just forcing myself to speak in very low-stakes settings) and I just cannot present in front of a group. It’s the reason I took forever to finish my Master’s degree, and why I’m in the career I’m in, for which I’m very well-suited. But my anxiety goes through the roof when I have to present in front of more than a couple of people.

  39. blink14*

    What many people don’t realize, or dismiss the severity of, is that for someone who is afraid of or “hates” public speaking they can often have physical reactions to it. I am a person who has always avoided public speaking as much as possible. Not only do I hate having that attention on me, but more critically, I have physical reactions that I often cannot control. This can be increased asthma symptoms, skin flushing, hand or voice shaking, and sometimes my eyes will close involuntarily.

    Over the years I’ve found ways of dealing with speaking at meetings – I don’t like it, but I’ll do it when needed. And I’ve gotten better at controlling the physical reactions, but sometimes they just aren’t controllable. I’ll feel pretty confident while speaking and the eye closing thing will happen, or my face will go red.

    I think something to remember is that every person is different. Their “weaknesses” are going to vary. And the approach to getting better at something is going to vary as well. Maybe start with presenting in a very small group of 3-4 people. And then going up from there. Have round robin style meetings where every person you manage does a quick update on their tasks.

    But ultimately, some of us really aren’t cut out for public speaking, and we often gravitate towards positions that don’t require that. I can understand the fear and how that translates to total refusal. There is a medium ground in there when approached correctly.

    1. Manders*

      After any time I’ve had to speak in public, I get a lot of comments like “do you have any idea how red you are right now?” or “wow, your entire neck/shoulders/arms are so red and blotchy!” or similar. I CANNOT control it, even with beta blockers. I’ve really, really tried. It’s not for me, and my boss totally understands. I would never be in a position to fill in for him if he couldn’t make it – it’s not the nature of my position. So, yes, there are some jobs where you don’t have to, and I will always seek those out.

      1. allathian*

        I’m sorry your audiences have been so horrible. Don’t comment on another person’s body applies here too.

        In general, though, anxiety symptoms are rarely as visible to others as those experiencing them think.

        I agree that there are lots of jobs, even office jobs, where you can opt out of presentations for large audiences. But most individual contributors need to be able to contribute to meetings in some way, and many ICs and all managers need to be able to lead a meeting to do their job effectively.

  40. ThisIsTodaysName*

    I am conflicted about this letter and the answer to it. I’m a little fatigued with the whole idea that ANYTHING that makes someone uncomfortable is an automatic pass. I feel like there’s an increasing misuse of “anxiety” to include literally anything the least bit out of one’s comfort zone. If part of a job requires speaking to the public, or briefing leadership or giving training sessions, since when does one get to simply say, “No, that’s not comfy for me”? I HATE public speaking. I get sweaty and I honestly feel like I black out because afterwards I remember NONE of it. But, it’s something I need to do periodically –I have to brief Colonels and Generals and talk about being intimidated and uncomfortable, but I’d never for a moment think that I’m permitted to say “No, you do it or you have someone else do it,” just because I’m sweaty and nervous.

    1. WhyAreThereSoManyBadManagers*

      Panic disorder is an actual diagnose-able mental health condition. Mental health is health. “Just sweaty and nervous” is the least of it for so many people who have life-limiting panic disorder. Many times it’s rooted in severe trauma from earlier in life or a life threatening incident. People with these issues can and should be accommodated (through legal ADA routes) so that they don’t have to exacerbate and worsen their health conditions. The law is there to protect them from managers who think “it’s not that bad, just do it.”

      1. ThisIsTodaysName*

        And if you’d actually READ my comment rather than automatically going into defensive mode, you’d have noticed that I was very clear about referring to things just being “uncomfortable”. “Panic disorder” is a very different thing than “I’m not comfortable doing XYZ thing because it’s new, or unfamiliar, or I get nervous.” Labeling ALL discomfort as an “anxiety disorder” though, diminishes it for those for whom it is a genuine problem.

  41. WhyAreThereSoManyBadManagers*

    Severe anxiety can be eligible for ADA accommodations, especially if that anxiety is accompanied by extreme physical symptoms and panic disorder. Some people can faint from their panic disorder brought on by the anxiety of having to speak in public to a group, other people end up in the ER because it causes extreme heart palpitations and arrhythmias. Are you willing as a manager to die on the hill that makes other people feel like they’re dying? If someone tells you they have extreme fear and panic around doing something, your job is not to exacerbate that fear and panic for your own selfish managerial expectations. That’s cruel and exploitative IMO.

    1. Lily Potter*

      If the LW pushes her reports to do more public speaking, and one comes back with a medical accommodation request against it, I’m all in favor of the LW accommodating them and letting them “out” of public speaking duties. However, I suspect the number of people with diagnosed anxiety vs the number of “public speaking is kinda scary and I don’t like scary” is extremely low.

      I doubt that the LW is trying to push her reports into this for personal kicks. She needs her people to develop these skills and I suspect that her people need the skills to be effective in the future too. As someone upthread says, it’s not like she’s asking them to do a Ted Talk in front of millions on the internet. It’s totally fair for the LW to make her employees speak up at meetings and present to small groups of people.

      1. Little Dog*

        LW wrote in about two specific people on her team. The number of people with disabling anxiety vs the number of people with ordinary anxiety is not relevant. The condition of these two specific people is relevant, and one of them cries at the thought of public speaking. Why require these two specific employees to jump through hoops to get out of public speaking? Just take them at their word. There are other people who LW can ask to be their back up if LW is sick. Give the public speaking opportunities to people who want them.

  42. RussianInTexas*

    I am not afraid to speak in public. I talk to customers one on one all the time, and I talk to people in my department in departmental meetings all the times. Including updates on the current projects and issues.
    I don’t consider it a “presentation”. It’s a pretty informal conversation usually.
    I do not want a job that would require for me to make actual presentations and talk to more than few people at a time. I’ve done just fine in college, presenting to the class, presenting to the panel, etc. High marks, no anxiety, don’t want to do it again.
    I have a pretty noticeable accent. I am aware there will be people who will not understand me, and those who will think of me as stupid due to my accent. I don’t want to hear questions “where is your accent from?”.
    I don’t have pretty teeth and I am fat. I don’t want to be talking in public with everyone looking at ME and my MOUTH all the time.

  43. Quickbeam*

    Oh, this hit home. I just retired from a job in which the role required a ton of public speaking from each team member. It was in the essential functions of the job. Our team of 6 licensed professional had a legitimate reason to be doing this much public speaking.

    I was the only one who came from a public speaking background. What ended up happening was that six jobs worth of public speaking fell to me in addition to my regular work load. My colleagues would call out sick or feign vomiting in the bathroom. My manager felt she couldn’t push the other 5. If they did actually show up, they’d do a terrible job, hoping to never be asked again.

    My manager told me she knew she should push the others but it was just easier if I did it all. In my opinion this was a management failure.

  44. Lifelong student*

    I listened to a speaker on CNBC the other day who said “you know” about 50 times in a 3 minute interview. I didn’t want to hear the opinion expressed- or take any value from it- because the annoying speech pattern was more noticeable than the information. I wish company’s would not offer presenters who are incapable of such things. It detracts from the message! If your people need training- there are places for that- or don’t send them to be the face of your company. Please!!!

  45. Irish Teacher*

    I would say it depends whether their role requires public speaking or not. If it does, then yes, they probably need to get comfortable with it. If not, then they don’t.

    Anything a person dislikes, fears or isn’t interested in is career limiting. I have a terror of heights which would prevent me from being a firefighter or window cleaner or probably even stuff like a builder. But generally, people aren’t going to want jobs that include things they hate. If your role requires a lot of public speaking, then people who dislike public speaking are unlikely to want your job and that’s just fine.

    I would definitely say that not everybody in an office needs to be good at public speaking. There are many roles that are unlikely to require it. Our school secretary for example has no need to speak in public. Nor does the person in charge of accounts.

  46. nnn*

    One thing to think about: why they the best person to be presenting this material? How does having them do it (rather than someone else) serve the material and the audience?

    As a shy, awkward person with no charisma or stage presence, I find that public speaking isn’t actually difficult when I’m the right person for the job, by which I mean I know the material better than anyone else and genuinely have information to convey.

    If I’m just being a mouthpiece for someone else’s message, it’s difficult and terrifying. If I had to study up on the subject matter in order to put together the presentation, it’s difficult and terrifying. But if I genuinely have expertise that everyone else genuinely needs, it’s just a conversation, albeit with an outline and a script to keep myself organized.

    Analogy: think about doing public speaking in school. Remember how terrifying it was having to present a speech in front of your class with everyone staring at you? Now think about doing show and tell in school. Remember how it was just…no big deal? Because with show and tell, you were the genuine expert. It was your own life experience, so you were the right person to convey the information. With public speaking, you weren’t actually an expert and instead had to research something and pretend to be an expert. The teacher, or another adult, or a youtube video, or maybe even some of your classmates, would be a better person for the job.

    So, given that these are junior people, why them? Why not someone with more expertise? If they are the person with the most expertise, do they know this?

  47. nodramalama*

    This one is so dependent on the job. Like in mine, you probably don’t need to be comfortable in doing a formal presentation to 30 people, but its pretty imperative to, for example, report back on your matter in a meeting with 10-15 people in attendance, or to brief upwards to a group of 5 people, or to be able to answer questions about your matter in client meetings. And that is required of people of all levels.

    If people weren’t comfortable doing that, it would be a serious issue.

  48. Kindred Spirit*

    I dislike being the focus of attention, and I am fine not taking roles where presenting would be expected of me/part of the job.

    I have taken the corporate-sponsored presentation workshops, and I have practiced. When I have had to speak to a customer group, for example, I put a lot of mental energy into my delivery and anticipating what they might ask and what the correct corporate spin answer should be. I tend to just answer questions honestly, and struggle to come up with the PR version. I find it pretty stressful. No thanks.

  49. soon to be retired corporate trainer after 40+ years*

    Ah! Time management, facilitate a meeting, and public speaking are three skills that I feel everyone should try their best to do somewhat well if they work in an office environment. Even if your current job doesn’t “require” it.

    The reason being is that even if you aren’t good at it, and many people might understand – it CAN do wonders for your job prospects in a company if someone notices that you ran a meeting very smoothly and kept everyone on topic. It CAN do wonders for your job prospects if someone notices that you gave a presentation and it came across that you are articulate and can present ideas in a clear fashion. Time management is somewhat more required because people will notice if you are missing deadlines, late for meetings, etc.

    While running a meeting and giving speeches might not be required and might not hold you back in your current position; there might come a day when there is another position posted that you might really like to apply for. But, what if the hiring manager for that job saw (and remembers how badly you did) running a meeting or giving a poorly articulated presentation. You might have just killed that promotion without even knowing why.

    Over the course of my career I have seen many managers who are great managers; but, they are terrible at giving presentations to large groups. While those of us who knew them didn’t think any less of them; those who didn’t know them wondered how did they get that management job? Seriously, at one place we had the CFO, who was a great guy and VERY smart; but, he would mumble and look at his feet while speaking to the company at large meetings. One-on-one he was great, and even in small meetings he was great. Over time, he did get better because he hired a speaking coach who helped him a lot. But, man when new hires heard him for the first time giving a speech they would always look dumbfounded – like who is this guy and what kind of company did I just sign up with?!

    As for the excuse “those of us who aren’t cut out for public speaking” I would ask if they would also use an excuse to avoid writing a report by saying “those of us who aren’t good at writing” or “those of us who aren’t good at math”?

    As a trainer I would say they don’t have to excel at public speaking; but, they should be able to do it passably if they might need to fill in for you.

    This is a cliche – but still true: “Learning is a lifelong commitment and you often learn more when you are out of your comfort zone.”

  50. Jessica Fletcher*

    LW obviously didn’t think public speaking was a requirement when she interviewed and hired these employees. It also sounds like she asks them to present at the last minute, so they don’t have any opportunity to prepare.

    Public speaking gives me panic attacks. I’ve never had a manager who has any understanding of that. It’s not a matter of “believing in myself” or whatever. I visibly shake, sweat, and stutter, not to mention the invisible reaction, feeling like I’m having a heart attack. LW is just another oblivious manager.

  51. Commenter*

    This question feels impossible to answer without inserting one’s own personal bias about public speaking, but Alison did a really great job here! I do wish there would have been specific language or suggestions included for the LW to take if they did come to the conclusion that public speaking is in fact required for this job.

    Would a workshop be appropriate in this scenario? I remember when I took public speaking courses, everyone always picked their own topic to present on for persuasive, informative, etc. type speeches. I wonder if a required monthly workshop where employees present to a small group on a topic they’re interested, or a project they’re working on in the office, would be appropriate as “practice” to help these employees get comfortable.

    Also, LW, these employees have actually cried in front of you because you asked them to do a presentation? I don’t want to be insensitive, but literally crying because your boss simply asked you to do anything seems bizarre and extreme, especially something that’s a pretty normal function of office work. But that’s possibly my own personal bias–I actually somewhat enjoy public speaking (though I wouldn’t call myself exceptionally great at it).

  52. Bored Chair*

    One board I sit on has the staff present using pre-recorded PowerPoints, so their face appears in the corner, narrating the PP slides (this is easy to do in PP under the “record presentation” tab or in Google Slides using Screencast.) This eases the burden for those with presentation anxiety, ensuring that they can do retakes and edits and convey the info exactly as they wish, and still preserves the “live” nature of the oral report. Presenters are there, in person, while the presentation is shown, and therefore available for questions. I love it, because the quality of the presentation is higher and unencumbered by watching someone struggle with a fear of public speaking. For meetings which are half Zoom, half in person, it works better for everyone since everyone sees exactly the same thing. Highly recommend.

  53. Mad Mac*

    As a person who stutters who spent five years in a role where public speaking became part of my duties…. yes, the “opportunity” and stepping waaaay outside my comfort zone helped me grow, and it forced me to learn how to embrace disclosure, talk about my speech impediment in a professional setting, and be a better advocate for myself.

    That being said, no, it was not worth it because the anxiety preceding each engagement severely affected my quality of life. I absolutely hated and deeply resented my boss for not listening to how miserable it made me.

  54. Sheila*

    I was a horrible public speaker and needed to improve. However, I HATED public speaking. So, my boss had me take over any presentation or training that he wasn’t mandated to do. Now, I could stand up in front of anyone and talk about whatever.

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