Youizsoboring I walked out of a 2–hour workshop last week. I actually really wanted to know the information that was to be presented, but the workshop facilitator did such a terrible job that I left after 35 minutes. My graduate assistant said the next day, “I heard you walked out on that workshop.” I replied, “Did you hear anything else about it?” She said, “Yeah, I heard it was pretty bad.”

I find myself having less and less patience for people who waste my time in unproductive meetings, boring presentations, workshops that don’t meet my needs, and so on. Even when I’m extremely interested in the topic, a facilitator’s structure and/or delivery can ruin it for me. I don’t leave right away. I try to stay mentally engaged and I give the facilitator a chance to right the ship. But if it’s clearly a lost cause, I’m usually out of there (if I can’t leave, then I start quietly checking my e-mail / surfing the Web).

I have worked very hard over the past few years to ramp up my presentation skills, both in terms of content and delivery. I try to apply that learning to the various aspects of my life, whether it be teaching, consulting, or just holding meetings. I ask myself questions like “Do we really need this meeting or activity?” and “What is my audience doing at this stage?” and “How are my students or participants feeling right about now?” In other words, I try my utmost to think intentionally and purposefully about the impact of what I do on others’ valuable time. Is it too much to expect others to do the same?

But, Scott, it’s rude to walk out on someone (or check your e-mail). Not any more rude than it is to fail to deliver a learning experience that meets the group’s needs rather than your own. It’s one thing to waste your own time. It’s another to waste the time of five to twenty to hundreds of others. Shame on you.

But, Scott, aren’t you worried about your reputation? I’m willing to stand up for quality presentations, meetings, and learning experiences. I think that collectively we would be better off if more of us left more often. We’re captive to our own ‘politeness’ (if that’s what we want to call it) and we suffer countless wasted hours as a result. If folks walk out of one of my presentations, that lets me know that their needs aren’t being met. Rather than taking it personally, I’m glad that they’re going somewhere else that is a better fit for them. If walk-outs happen in large numbers or on a frequent basis, that lets me know that I need to something differently.

But, Scott, maybe the facilitator didn’t know how to do any better. So? How is that my problem? Why shouldn’t the responsibility be on presenters, facilitators, and instructors to do a better job? Why should they get to waste our time rather than improve their skills? What’s their impetus for change if we passively acquiesce to their ineptitude?

P-12 students usually don’t have the chance to walk out of poor learning experiences (wouldn’t it be interesting if we gave every student a red ‘I’m disengaged’ card that she could lay on her desk every time she was turned off or tuned out?). But we adults do if we’re brave enough to stand up for quality learning experiences. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not investing my walk-out last week with any huge societal significance. But larger battles start one principled stand at a time… Care to join me?

Photo credit: Not my cat, but cute enough.

P.S. On a related note, my proposal submission to address the issue of bad academic PowerPoint got rejected by the reviewers for the annual educational leadership professors conference. Ugh.