ATD Links Archive
Issue Map
ATD Links Archive
ATD Links

Avoid These 10 Phrases Participants Dread

Children will tell you what they think. They are open in that way. Adults, often, will not. Instead, their faces veil over with feigned interest.

This article will pull back that veil and offer the phrases those participants are likely thinking in response. After each facilitator phrase, we will share what participants might actually be thinking. We will then follow up with some suggestions for a more successful facilitator delivery.

What the facilitator says: “As the next slide indicates …”

What the participant thinks: “Don’t you know what is on your slides? Do they matter more than me? Are you in love with them? They’re not a Picasso. They’re not even a Thomas Kincaid.”

How to avoid that phrase: Slides are a vehicle for communicating information, not works of art we must stare at for the entire event. Set your laptop up so you can glance at it without turning your head towards the screen. Better yet, memorize your material so you don’t have to rely on the slide for what to say next.

What the facilitator says: “That slide is out of date. What it really should say is.…”

What the participant thinks: “You mean you didn’t update your material before we started?”

How to avoid that phrase: If the slides are out of date, change them. If you do not have the power to change them, complain to whoever does. If you are stuck with inaccurate slides, hide them or find an artful way to teach the correct information without calling attention to the inaccuracies.

What the facilitator says: “It’s my first time teaching this subject.”

What the participant thinks: “Great. I’m stuck with an amateur.”

How to avoid that phrase: The participants do not know what you have taught before. Whatever you do will look like the way it’s supposed to be as long as you do it with confidence.

What the facilitator says: “But first, my history. I started out 25 years ago….”

What the participant thinks: “I know you have experience. I get it. Can we move on to something important?”

How to avoid that phrase: You are in charge. This suggests you are the expert. Your participants will likely accept your knowledge at face value. You don’t need to convince them. If for some reason there is reluctance or resentment directed at you, explanations of how experienced you are won’t matter. The best way to demonstrate your expertise is to deliver a stellar presentation.

What the facilitator says: “Boy was the last group bad.”

What the participant thinks: “What will you say about me to the next group?”

How to avoid that phrase: It is never appropriate to gossip about your co-facilitators, your boss, your company, and especially, your participants.


What the facilitator says: “One more thing you should know before you go….”

What the participant thinks: “I was inches away from a clean getaway.” (As said by Jack Nicholson in the movie Terms of Endearment.)

How to avoid that phrase: This phrase is usually uttered as brain-dead participants are positioning themselves to run for the door. The end of a program is not the time to bring up new material. It’s too late. No one will listen.

What the facilitator says: “I don’t know why we’re supposed to say this. It doesn’t really work that way.”

What the participant thinks: “Exactly what way does it work? You and your boss need to get your act together.”

How to avoid that phrase: Do not argue with your bosses or the program designer. If you disagree with what you are supposed to teach, find a way to subtle way to deliver your own take.

What the facilitator says: “Anyhow, that’s how we used to do it. But what we do now is….”

What the participant thinks: “So, why the heck did you spend all that time telling useless information?”

How to avoid that phrase: Learning transfer is difficult enough without teaching information irrelevant to the current situation. If you teach past practices, you run the risk of participants remembering antiquated behaviors rather than the current ones you wish them to know.

What the facilitator says: “Let’s start with an icebreaker.”

What the participant thinks: “Oh no. This is going to be a waste of time.”

How to avoid that phrase: Many participants hate icebreakers. Besides, shouldn’t you melt, not break, the ice? Design your opening activity so that it emerges organically from the content. That way, there will be nothing to announce.

What the facilitator says: “I need two volunteers for a role play.”

What the participant thinks: “Don’t pick me. Please don’t pick me.”

How to avoid that phrase: Most participants dread role plays. They don’t like being put on the spot and fear exposing their own lack of information. Role plays are, nevertheless, extremely helpful teaching tools. The trick is to begin your role play in a nonthreatening manner. I usually do this by asking two people to read some prewritten lines for me. I then ask the participants what could have been done differently. Whoever responds gets to act their solution out. In this way, you slide into the role play without ever announcing it and, most importantly, without putting anyone on the spot.

Do you use any of these 10 phrases participants dread? If so, it’s time to stop. Your participants may face you with a veil of acceptance, but inwardly they will likely groan. Strip away that veil and get them to cheer instead.

Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

© 2018 ATD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.

About the Author
Lenn Millbower is a Disney speaker, presentation skills trainer, and author. He received his bachelor’s degree from Berklee College of Music and his master’s from Webster University. Millbower was honored by the Walt Disney Company with the prestigious Partner’s In Excellence lifetime achievement award. This internal employee award was granted in recognition of his training and leadership accomplishments as a member of the opening training team for Disney’s Animal Kingdom. He is a national board member of the International Alliance for Learning and the Contract Trainer’s Association, and a member of the National Speaker’s Association and ASTD.
Sign In to Post a Comment
Excellent tips and solutions! Thanks for sharing!
Sorry! Something went wrong on our end. Please try again later.
This is probably the best presentation advice I've seen in a while. I can't count the number of times I heard this phrase (and yes, I'm a little guilty also). I have a presentation next week, so this is surely on-time delivered information.
Sorry! Something went wrong on our end. Please try again later.
This was excellent. All of this occurs on a daily basis within my organization and I'm sure many others. Old habits are hard to break and the only way to break them is to get feedback when it happens and hold people accountable for working to change.
Sorry! Something went wrong on our end. Please try again later.
Sorry! Something went wrong on our end. Please try again later.