No Image Available

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

The presenting problem


Presentation skills, (un)realistic expectations and the runaway delegate: am I really that scary?

This Friday finds me a little confused.  I’ve been reflecting on something that happened recently and I’m not sure that I can make any sense of it; I’m hoping that by writing about it here, I might sort it out in my own head and entertain you briefly at the same time. Let’s see, shall we?

A while ago, I ran a two-day presentation skills course. It was for a dozen or so people, with mixed levels of experience, all of whom had chosen to be there.  I want to emphasise that last point: they had all chosen to be there. 

So, I start the workshop off and, as usual with a topic like this, there were some nerves in the room.  It’s understandable; whenever I train presentation skills, one of the things I try to reassure people about is the fact that nerves are not a bad thing.  Many people think that feeling nervous is a sign of not being a very good presenter but I think it’s quite the opposite.  Nerves are a perfectly healthy, perfectly normal reaction to standing up and speaking in front of a bunch of strangers and I would be more worried about the people who didn’t feel nervous.  

Despite being nervous, everyone stood up and did a short presentation in front of the group and the day proceeded as planned.  At the end of the day, I set a little homework: given that we had covered a lot of ground and that everyone had had some feedback on their presentation style, their homework was to prepare a presentation on a subject of their choice, lasting no more than five minutes or so, to be delivered the next morning.

The next morning, everyone turned up and we kicked off with a bit of a review; then it was time for the presentations to start.  I asked for volunteers to start and we got underway. At some point during the first or second presentation, one of the delegates slipped out of the room - to use the toilet, I assumed.  An hour later, he hadn’t returned and I was beginning to get concerned: perhaps he was ill. So, during the break, I asked one of his colleagues to check up on him.  

He had, it turned out, left the workshop.  Not just left the room, left the entire workshop.  No goodbyes, just gone.  He was, I was told subsequently, so nervous about doing his presentation, that he just did a runner.  

I was somewhat surprised. I mean, I was sympathetic, to a degree - I don’t want anyone to feel so stressed that they want to run away - but I also wondered what on earth he was doing on the workshop at all.  I would have thought that anyone, with an ounce of forethought, could have predicted that a presentation skills course would have included one or two, you know, presentations.  I can't think of a better way to teach the subject.  If you don’t want to do presentations, not going on a presentation skills course would seem like the sensible option; attending the course implies that you are prepared to present.  Am I being unreasonable in expecting that?

8 Responses

  1. Doing a Runner



    I don’t think you’re being unreasonable and I agree that the only way to improve your presentation skills is to do presentations.

    However, I can also see how it may have been a problem for your course participant.  I think he deserves to be commended for taking the brave step of actually attending a course if he was so nervous of delivering a presentation.  And I can imagine that between finishing the course on one day and starting the following day, knowing he was going to have to deliver another presentation, could have built up his nerves to an unbearable level.

    I think this guy needs a little empathy and encouragement from you right now so that he can approach his next attempts at presenting without feeling a complete failure.


  2. not that surprising…

    Although I do agree with you to an extent, I think sometimes people want to have some theory around a subject so that they can practice and become comfortable in their own time. Did you make it clear before the course started that they would be presenting in front of the group?

    The class room environment can sometimes be even more daunting than the real thing. If doing a presentation normally you would have control of the space and people would be listening to your content. In a class room not only has everyone else in the room been taught what you are supposed to be demonstrating, you are being judged on your content & delivery. Although I wouldn’t do it myself I can completely understand why that person did a runner!

  3. Running away from the training may be the only way to solve his/

    Let’s be open. Maybe, the person already has many worries on his mind before this training and since the training had been arranged sometime back, the easiest is to attend. When he attended, his nerves just can’t take it anymore on top of his other worries. Hence, he uses the simplest way to solve his problems and run.

    I once attended a training and had to leave mid-way as it is just too overwhelming with lots of work pile high back in the office and urgent deadline to meet, I just cannot concentrated on the training at all. Hence, I left. It was the best thing that I did.

    – Julie

  4. Presentation skills

    Your course and approach sound perfectly reasonable, but when you say everyone "wanted to be there" what does that mean? I’m assuming it means no-one was actually dragged kicking and screaming into the room, but maybe some people were encouraged to go, by their managers or peer group, while still having deep misgivings?? It could be a situation of knowing it will be "really good for me", but still dreading it. By the by, when I first started to do presentations, I was in a situation where I could present alongside someone else, and for me, that made it a lot easier and certainly gave me confidence to stand up alone in front of people. May be a thought for the first presentation in future training sessions?


  5. Doing a Runner


    No you are not being unreasonable as such, but might you have made
    (unchecked) assumptions that did not serve you or your delegate(s).

    For example, when you say,
    "one of the things I try to reassure people about is the fact that nerves are not a bad thing."
     I wonder if, how, and whether you checked that your ‘trying’ had the desired effect?

    Others have pointed out the possibility of a potential gap between being there ‘by choice’
    and being truly committed.

    Something I do (which might be interesting if not useful) is start with a little announcement along the lines of:
    "three kinds of people tend to turn up for training: Prisoners, Vacationers and Students.
    "Prisoners are people who don’t want to be here, perhaps because they’ve been sent, and they resent it.
    "Perhaps because they’ve still got their heads in the in-tray, which means their mind is elsewhere while their bodies are in the room, which means neither they nor their colleagues will get anything from the opportunity for professional and personal growth.

    "The ‘good thing’ about that, for them, is that no-one will know they got and gave nothing because, when they return to the workplace, they will behave exactly as they always have.
    The ‘not so good thing about that is that what keeps most people in Prisoner mode is a mind set (in concrete), so they are likely to resist any change that ‘threatens’ self-awareness.
    Prisoners often don’t want other people e.g. their boss, to know that they don’t want to be here, so they send their bodies along.

    I also elaborate on the Vacationer and Student type of delegates, emphasising that, whether people attend under duress, arrive simmering with resentment, or are looking for a game of ‘Kill-The-Leader’ They are making choices.

    I believe, and state briefly and clearly, "I can teach you nothing!" [significant pause as I look briefly into each delegate’s eyes], then I ask what they think I mean by that statement. This usually generates interesting discussion, although rarely does anyone give the answer that I have in mind;  "Because each of you is personally responsible for your learning; all I can do is teach to the best of my ability and hopefully create plenty of opportunities for you to choose to learn, to be a student. Making the most of being here because you’re here anyway (all your problems and your in-tray will still be waiting for you whether or not you spend the whole time yearning to get back to it! Or decide to be here NOW!"

    I also share my belief that when any two people are engaged in one-to-one communication, each is 50% responsible for what they contribute to the dynamic and the outcome. I look at and point to every person in the room (unless the group’s too big) saying, "Me and you 50/50, me and you50/50.

    I give examples to ensure that they understand the 50/50 principle, and there’s usually another discussion because it is absolutely NOT what most people believe, which is why there are so many interpersonal problems in professional and personal arenas where all parties deceive themselves that others are totally to blame whereas they are in The Right and unjustly wronged.

    I don’t necessarily do the above all at once, but always with humour, a lightness of touch and in a non-blaming way.  Many people take it on board immediately, others take a litttle longer, most get there by the first break, and I might spend a little one-on-one time coaching those who remain prisoners.

     happy to answer questions

    Go well

    Crafty Conversations for personal and professional development
    es! (a positive attitude)

  6. Doing A Runner

    Hi Steve

    I would totally agree with your expectations, presenting means doing presentations!

    As an alternative view, while you could applaud the persons courage for leaving if they felt that uncomfortable, it would have been better if the courage had extended to actually letting you know they were leaving. As developers we ,hopefully, show our participants respect in all circumstances, even in some extreme cases!!

    As I say an alternative view.




  7. Wow

    Thanks, everybody, for your comments – I’ve never had such a response to something I’ve written.

    Truth be told, I felt terrible when I found that he’d "done a runner" and, while I didn’t really make the point very strongly in the piece itself, I was very concerned for him. I felt, like some of you mentioned, that he had been very brave to turn up in the first place, if presenting was so nerve wracking, and felt that I’d failed a little in my objectives, if he felt that just leaving was his only option. I try to reassure people that I’m not going to force them to do something they don’t want to do (how could I?) but I failed to create an environment where he felt safe enough either to opt out publicly (although someone else did) or speak to me in private.

    Thanks for the tips, too: rest assured that I will use them all and pass them off as my own…

    Have a great day


  8. Runaway Presentation trainees

     No your not that scary. I have been running presentation courses for years and my experince is that you will get people dropping out on a regular basis. Everyone is different and for some people standing up and talking in front of others triggers acute anxiety that they are unable to control. Some people pay to do parachute jumps but when it comes to it they just can’t do it.  For some people it really is that bad.  I wouldn’t say that attending shows an intention to present, just an attempt to overcome the anxiety. All you can do is show empathy as they need much more than a course with numerous participants can offer and just accept that you will get people making a run for it from time to time. They’ve paid their money and they take their choice.

No Image Available

Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.


Thank you!