Sunday, October 02, 2016

Do I Have to Give Presentations?

I received the following email this week from a reader:

I'm writing to get some advice from you and your readers on a small issue I'm having at work. I work at a large university in the enrollment division. I am a content writer, in charge of content marketing for the departments in my division. I update websites, write press releases, create newsy blog posts, write emails to prospective students, and write and review hard copy publications like brochures. I do not actively recruit students for the university. I am behind the scenes. This type of work pretty much exactly suits my personality. I'm an introvert. Shy in some situations, but not all. I like to write. I do not like leading meetings, but will if I have to, and I do a good job of seeming personable. My problem is that some of the people in my department are on call to give presentations to visiting prospective students from time to time (when there are no admission counselors available to give them). My boss has hinted twice (but not outright asked or told me) that she'd like me to give a presentation once in a while. Which terrifies me because I am not a confident public speaker. Especially when I'm essentially pitching the university (like a sales pitch). Should I ask her if she'd like me to start giving presentations and, if so, voice my concerns to her? Or should I continue to do my job per my job description and hope she stops hinting?
Dear Reader:

I too am an introvert. Growing up I was also painfully shy. So much so, that when I ran into an old classmate from high school he said the thing he remembered most about me was how shy I had been. During my entire 12 years of undergraduate education and most likely my entire college education too, I never once spoke voluntarily in a class setting. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to overcome this shyness and reluctance to speak in public. Now I routinely share my ideas in meetings and ask questions during seminars and presentations, but I still am and always will be an introvert. Please see my post Why Can't I Think on My Feet? Also, if you haven’t read Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking read it now.


How did I overcome my reluctance to speak in public?

I became active in my professional organization. For three years, I introduced the speakers at our monthly meetings. The first few times, I dreaded those introductions and had that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach just like I did during my former public speaking classes in high school and college. Then I realized that by practicing – for me five times was key – I felt prepared enough to make it through the introductions without embarrassing myself. Slowly I started asking questions during the presentations and during our meetings. The more successes I had the more confident I became.

Your boss is a weakling:
I actually think your boss is at fault for not being more frank. Hinting or guilting an employee into doing something they could be afraid to do is not a healthy management strategy. Meeting with prospective students should have been part of your job description. Since it was not, she should have formally discussed this with you. Since she did not…

What should you do?
I think you should bring this up with your boss sooner rather than later. Another thing I’ve learned over the years is to not spend a lot of time worrying about things my boss may want me to do. I now come right out and ask him – “do you want me to do X?” You could wait until you have a formal performance review or bring it up during a discussion about your work load or your job duties, but I wouldn’t wait too long or lose too much sleep over this one.

If your boss insists this is something she would like you to do, I would provide your reservations and tell her you don’t think quick on your feet. Ask to practice first. See if you can observe the admissions department give a tour, have them observe you during a presentation and interject if you struggle. At the very least she should be providing you with a sample script you could read through ahead of time. She can’t just spring this on you and expect you to do a good job and not be flustered.

It is also possible once she hears your reservations she may say you don’t have to do give these presentations. There have been board members in my organization who never give a speech at a major event. They are not comfortable speaking in public and since we want to give a good impression we have a more seasoned speaker fill in for them. There is also a manager at my company who had a panic attack a few days before a presentation that resulted in a visit to the emergency room. His presentation ended up going very well and he and our company received industry recognition for it. Afterwards when our President heard about the emergency room incident he said despite the good results he would never “insist” my co-worker give a presentation again.

Readers – what do you think? Should our reader talk to her boss or continue to hope she stops hinting?

Please note I am an Amazon affiliate.


  1. I guess it depends how strong your aversion is. For me, speaking is also terrifying and it's something that is such a weakness for me and that I have no drive to rectify, that I am building my career in a way that I will never have to do it. I would personally tell my boss how uncomfortable I was! But if it IS something you are interested in improving, and are up for challenging yourself, then...

  2. I totally agree that Reader should approach it first with the boss. It might be that the boss would back down if told in that is is not a skill that Reader feels comfortable with. That said, if Boss continues to push this, then Reader should ask if her job description is going to be updated with this added responsibility AND with additional pay. If no change to the JD and no addition to pay, then will there be a bonus for doing this "extra work"? Those two questions might stop this in its tracks.

    Overall, i think the strategy you followed was a sound one, but it was something that you chose to do to strengthen your own skills. If Reader is not at a point where she wishes to develop this particular skill, then she should not be forced to. It sounds like her employer has done a good job of matching her with the original job. The Boss would be foolish to push away a good employer by trying to make her into something different. Sound of us love to speak (or give our opinions!), but no everyone.

  3. I'm an introvert, too, but there are very few jobs where you can get away with no public speaking. (I had to regularly give orientation talks to new hires in my next to last position, and cold call in my last one. Neither was in the job description.)

    This is an important work skill to develop.

    I do think the reader should discuss this issue with her boss, but with an eye to working up to the presentations, maybe by working with some smaller groups. As I recall, most of these admissions tours are pretty relaxed (they were always led by students in the 90s.) It's not a bad venue for getting a bit more comfortable, because you're mostly responding to questions.

  4. I think you gave great advice. I like the idea of bringing it up in a performance review, because it would give you the opportunity to negotiate higher pay for the additional responsibilities. Also, I'm totally going to check out that book.