leaving a presentationIt’s every speaker’s nightmare: you’re delivering a speech and someone (or more than one person) gets up and walks out. Did you do something wrong or say the wrong thing? It’s possible that you did something to caused the person to get up and walk out (and you’ll most likely know what you did right away), but in many cases, the reason for someone walking out has nothing to do with the speaker or the presentation itself.

So I present to you “10 Reasons Someone Might Walk Out of Your Speech.” Please note that the first five are reasons that have nothing to do with the speaker. The remaining ones are fairly obvious and self-explanatory and can be prevented with a little research up front.

1. The person is in the wrong place:

In any situation where there are concurrent sessions (such as conference, expo, etc…) you run the risk of people ending up in the wrong place. It doesn’t mean that they’re not interested in you or your subject – another session is just a better match for their situation at that point in time. I frequently find myself in situations where there are two sessions that I’m highly interested in that are running concurrently and sometimes have to use a coin flip to decide which one to attend.

2. The person needs to use the restroom:

If food and/or drinks are present chances are some of your audience members may not be able to sit through the entire program without a break (especially with longer programs). Most people wait it out as long as they can (sometimes until only a few minutes before you’re about to end) looking for the best time to sneak out, while some will come and go as needed. Also, just because someone takes their belongings with them, doesn’t mean that they’re not returning. Women will almost always take their purses with them and many men will take their personal items with them, even if they plan on returning.

3. The person received an important call or message:

In this world of cell phones, Blackberries and other mobile devices, it’s not uncommon for your audience to be communicating with the outside world during your presentation. Yes, some people take it way too far and have social discussions when they should be paying attention to the speaker, but most of us will check our devices (which we should keep on vibrate) when a call is received. Again, the person may take their belongings with them regardless of whether or not they’re returning.

4. The person needed to leave early for another engagement:

It’s always nice when audience members tell you this up front – and a nice trend that I’m seeing is that people are doing this more frequently (some even say that they may receive an important call). We all have busy schedules and when you factor in fighting crowds and traffic, exiting even the most relevant and exciting presentation can sometimes be a no-brainer. We all have a lot to pack into our day so sometimes getting even a five minute jump on the crowds and/or traffic can make a world of difference. Also, if there are two sessions going on the same time that interest the person, they might attend the first half of one and the second half of the other (or jump back and forth between the two) so they can get the handouts and meet the presenters of both sessions.

5. The person just realized that they had forgotten to do something important:

This is a bit middle of the road as the speaker can often trigger this but it’s not the speaker’s fault. Maybe the person forgot to lock their car, check with the babysitter, contact their boss, etc…. They could have misplaced something and gone to look for it or realized that they were supposed to give their business card to someone before they left. As you can see, there’s a lot of random things that can happen and, yes, you can say something during your talk that can trigger them to remember.

6. You said something offensive:

Chances are that if you did this, you’ll know right away but your audience’s expression.

7. You used inappropriate humor or language:

Again, you can tell by the look on your audience member’s faces when this happens almost immediately. If you have to question whether or not it’s appropriate to use a certain word, then don’t use it.

8. You went over the time limit:

People expect an event to end at a certain time and when it doesn’t, they may just get up and walk out even if they’re interested. This is a common mistake made by many speakers and can quickly turn an audience hostile.

9. You said something out of line with the audience’s values:

The most prominent example of this is with musicians preaching their political opinions to the audience. A group of my relatives once attended a concert where the featured act broke into a political tirade causing half the audience to flee. Keep your presentation on target and don’t use it as a soapbox for your opinions and views.

10. You’re boring your audience:

I purposely saved this one for last because it’s the reason that most speakers think causes their audience members to walk out. Although this does happen, it happens less frequently than most people realize. Most people won’t be so rude as to get up and leave because they’re bored or disinterested but some will. The trouble with this reason is that it’s not always obvious (and very few audience members will ever admit to it).

So there you go – 10 reasons that someone might walk out of your speech. As you can see, it’s often not your fault as the speaker. So print this out and post it somewhere you can see so if people walk out of your next speech, you’ll be able to reassure yourself that it wasn’t your fault.

10 Reasons Why Someone Might Walk Out of Your Presentation
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4 thoughts on “10 Reasons Why Someone Might Walk Out of Your Presentation

  • Pingback:Best Public Speaking Articles [2008-12-13]

  • December 19, 2008 at 12:39 pm

    Thanks for this post, James. Speakers spend way too much time speculating on why an audience member got up and left, when most of the time, it’s nothing personal.

    However, if you’re the one leading the long program and you don’t give your audience members breaks to use the restroom, then it is indeed your fault if they have to get up in the middle of your presentation!

    In any presentation/training longer than 90 minutes, I give breaks, because 1) I don’t want them to miss something important by having to leave in the middle, and 2) I don’t want them to be distracted by having to “go” and wondering if they can make it till the end.

  • December 20, 2008 at 3:35 pm

    I left a presentation once because I became ill.

    It happens!

    Nothing personal. Absolutely nothing against the presenter. I wish I could have stayed.

    And I wish there was a polite way to simply vanish unobtrusively in just such an emergency!

  • January 5, 2009 at 6:25 pm

    I need to get nested comments working on this blog 🙂


    Very true about breaks. It seems like every time I attend training, the person leading (who is supposedly an experienced trainer) makes this mistake.


    Good point. When I suspect that I might leave early, I usually try to sit near the exit. If it’s a small group, I’ll warn the presenter. However, sometimes things happen unexpectedly so you can’t always plan, right?

    Great comments.


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