96 comments on “Why I walked out – but would you?

  1. I’m wondering what made you mad exactly? Were the kids encouraged to be disrespectful in their answers? Did they kids know ahead of time what Prensky would be asking them?

    I’m not criticising you… just really curious. I HAVE put kids in this position before, granted not in front of 700 adults. I told them what I would be asking them in advance, so they had time to think about what they would say. We also discussed how to appropriately disagree or voice a dissenting opinion without resorting to name-calling or something less civil. I also told them that their responses might bring about actual change, IF they were sincere in their responses. In my situation, I asked teenagers to tell their parents and teachers what they liked least about school and what they would do to make school a better learning experience for them. It was eye-opening for the adults! They were surprised that even the best students in the room were less than thrilled to go to school. That one opportunity created an open dialogue between students and adults… and some of the changes were considered. The kids felt empowered.

    Is that happening every day in my school district? No way. I wish it were though!

    Now, that was my experience, and it was a pretty controlled situation. I’m wondering what kind of situation you witnessed.

    • Hi Michelle,

      thank you so much for commenting and for putting a slightly different point of view.

      I am not unhappy about you criticizing me if you want to!! But your story is entirely different from what I witnessed. Your kids had time to think; time to prepare what they wanted to say – and to think about how that might be received. I would want to talk to them (discuss with them) how best to frame their words.

      But to ask them unscripted and in that forum? Not for me!

      Jeremy

  2. Jeremy,

    I probably wouldn’t have walked out. But I probably would’ve wanted to. I’m glad you did and think that more people should “vote with their feet” at presentations / conferences.

    I’ve seen the same thing done before and I wouldn’t get so angry about it. I don’t think it appropriate but many presenters just don’t have the experience working with teens to know better (by the way – in my workshops on teaching teens I use a great transcript of yours I found online, talking with a group of teachers about the challenges of teaching teens).

    The problem is that so often, the first 10 minutes of a presentation can be good. Then you are “stuck”. You just can’t get out without disturbing everyone. That’s the rub and myself, I guess I’m just too patient and too much “of mind” (meaning, I could kill 12 hours in an airport just sitting in one spot and thinking).

    But I do agree that it does everyone good to hear more about those courageous enough to walk out of poor or inappropriate presentations. Or how will they ever get better!

    Last year, I was giving the final presentation of the day to 2,000 tired teachers. Huge auditorium. Just before going on – the superintendent said that since the main “contest” was over, anyone who wished could go home! Half walked out before I said a word. I remember them all…..

  3. Dear Jeremy,

    I’m from Paraguay and I’m currently attending a Celta course in Sao Paulo. I’m a huge fan of yours and I’ll be attending your workshop and the plennary session as well on July 22nd and really hope to have the honor to meet you there. I’m a teacher who is slowly losing her enthusiasm…why? Because I’ve seen so many presenters ruining whatever was left inside a tired teacher’s heart. They just don’t realize how important is to be well informed and prepared for such an event -whatever might be. A convention or conference or workshop is like a class: don’t expect your students to stay in your class if you’re not willing to call their attention and make them stay.

    See you there Jeremy!

  4. I walk out when it becomes an act of mercy to do so: mercy on myself. Primarily I have done because I was bored to tears or because the interpreting was meaningless. If I disagree with what a speaker is saying, I have, in smaller audiences, voiced my objection. (Heckled) but that was in a political forum, not educational. Worse than walking out is talking to ones neighbor blatantly. I think it wrong to embarass a speaker in public so would have to be 1 thousand % sure my obsevations are accurate before I’d walk out.

    • Hi Rosie,

      yes, thanks for your comments. It IS wrong to embarrass a speaker gratuitously. Hence my nerves about what I did. But I agree that incessant talking or answering mobiles is just as bad (worse?)

      Jeremy

  5. Jeremy, thanks for raising this issue. I sympathise with your dilemma. But I think that walking out when you are offended is perfectly justified (and probably better than standing up and challenging the speaker, which usually serves only to exacerbate matters). Walking out when you discover that what was billed as a talk turns out to be a commercial presentation seems equally legitimate. But walking out just because you’re bored is bad manners. Sometimes people leave because they have to – they have a bus to catch or whatever – and I appreciate it when they forewarn me, so I don’t have to feel bad about it. But people who just wander in and out of talks as if they were zapping from one TV channel to the next need reminding that this can have a potentially devastating effect on a speaker.

    • Hi David,

      I am awash with empathy about your ‘final plenary’ story!!

      I guess the reason I felt so mad was (a) not a single one of the TEACHERS in the audience would have asked the teens the question that Prensky did, and (b) his main ting at ELT conferences is to say he’s plugged in to the young generation and their IT identities. But that question appeared to show he doesn’t get them at all.

      Jeremy

    • Hi Scott,

      thanks for commenting! You figured (for the 2nd time) in my PK in Rio!

      I agree entirely that when people tell you they will have to leave it’s entirely acceptable – actually super polite. As for challenging the speaker? Well I had my reasons for not doing that (and I’ll reply to Ken about it), but it occurs to me that the sudden rush of blood to the head I experienced did not put me in the best frame of mind to issue a thoughtful intelligent challenge.

      As for people leaving…the speaker has to call on reserves of inner strength! Perhaps imaging? They must have had an emergency call from the family etc!!

      Jeremy

    • As Scott notes, there is a difference between walking out because the person has offended you and walking out because you’re bored.

      Most of us go to conference with agendas as to what kind of things we want to see. Bearing that in mind, I’ll probably end up seeing people regurgitate a lot of what I already know about the things I’m interested in. Nevertheless, and this is something I’d ask everyone to consider, in every presentation where you think you’ve heard it all before you have to look for 10% that’s new to you and make sure you leave at the end having made sure that you’ve absorbed that new knowledge. If you can do that, it’ll be worthwhile.

      On the other hand, what this person did was extremely insensitive. Would I have walked out? Yes, probably.

  6. Jeremy,

    Thanks for writing this. I also plead guilty of walking down on certain occasions. My reasons have been various, but if it all boiled down to one, I think I would reduce it to this: “I have walked out when I felt the speaker was showing lack of respect for their audience”

    Lack of respect can manifest itself in a variety of ways of course, and what you described above was just one. I fully agree with you for walking out – I would have too, most likely, especially with such pomposity in the self description – but you know being a pompous self promoter works well, especially in certain countries… Plenary speakerdom, as I understand it is a wild and dangerous country… and self marketeering seems to work – unfortunately.

    Lask of respect for the audience may also include

    – picking a fight with individual members of the audience
    – talking to the audience in a patronizing way
    – presenting content as if it was a just-found gem when it isn’t
    – undercover or even up front commercial flaunting of product or self as product (see Scott’s point above) posing as a professional presentation

    Tone of voice is very important to me – I guess being a musician has its drawbacks. I am much more likely to sit through a very boring talk than through one in which the speaker is being too smart for anyone’s good… hmm hmmm

    I guess this is a new era – those who claim to have fathered terms such digital natives/immigrants (and those who have not) will now have be more aware that this digital age means evaluations and judgements are much more likely to travel round the globe at the speed of lightning.

    Audiences are also that much more informed, that much more connected. And the grapevine has grown….

    Personally, when I have seen people walk out of my talks, I have always made the assumption that I was not doing well – as Scott suggests, this can have a pretty devastating effect on you so I do appreciate colleagues who forewarn. But even if they don’t, it does make me rethink and re-evaluate what I did and hopefully improve next time around.

    • Marisa,

      thank you so much for your thoughtful comments. I think I agree 100% that it’s disrespect that causes me to walk (on the 2 occasions I have done it).

      I think the least that a speaker can do is engage with an audience, do it with passion, and try and show that they know something about who they are (or are interested to find out).

      And not behave in a way that no right-thinking teachers would ever do.

      Jeremy

  7. I agree with Scott and Marisa : it is very good manners to forewarn if you know you must leave the conference before the end. I also agree with how wrong it is to disrespect the audience. But I strongly disagree about asking teens to criticize teachers in front of 700 teachers. I just think it is violent. Violent against the teachers there, and violent against the teenagers, who are asked to deal with an impossible situation, one they should not have to deal with. It also hurts the way I consider “constructive criticism”. This is such a delicate thing (and all the more so at a young age), either when being critique or being at the receiving end of it. First, to be constructive, a critique* must not be public*, IMHO. Humiliation cannot be part of a constructive critique. Then it must take into account every aspect of the work, and aknowledge it, and only *suggest* some kind of improvement, an *ask* about the person’s opinion : in my eyes contructive criticism should be a dialogue, not a prescription.

    • Hi Alice,

      I agree so much with what you have been saying. Well I would, wouldn’t I!

      I think feedback of the kind that Marc Prensky tried to elicit is a private one-to-one discussion etc. Not a public event.

      Jeremy

  8. Jeremy,

    I don’t walk out of performances, though I have been sorely tempted over the years. Looking back, though, I see that those times have been few and far between. Scott’s point about commercial ambushes is a good one – I hate going to a talk which bills itself as something other than that and then having to sit through photocopies from someone’s latest tome. Scott and I once sat through a talk in Dublin at IATEFL… it promised so much, but we found ourselves in a small, hot and sunny room and we watched the presenter lower his head and read about 30 A4 pages of notes word for word…. that’s one I would have walked out of…

    Conversely, I don’t mind people walking out of mine, and that probably comes from my days of stand-up comedy where the audience were always (traditionally) adversarial – people had a few beers, folded their arms and almost seemed to be saying “Come on then, make me laugh if you can”. Such was the nature of comedy in the eighties…. you sort of went as an audience member to challenge the comedian. I think (as far as I’m concerned) that I would rather someone left than sat there bored for an hour… though again I agree with Scott that flitting between simultaneous talks is rude.

    At one IATEFL I remember a guy who got up, headed for the door and left. He did so quietly, but the talk was quiet, everyone was focused and it was noticed. Five minutes later the same guy came out of the cleaning cupboard he’d inadvertently walked into, walked the length of the room and out of the main door. Had it been me, I would have been sitting in the broom cupboard until the end of the talk…

    Having not been there, I’m not sure what I would have done with the Prensky talk, but from your description I find the idea both rude and gimmicky and I certainly wouldn’t have enjoyed it. Challenging the speaker seems wrong to me, so if you feel really strongly then I think quietly slipping out is really the only sensible option.

    Gavin

    • Hi Gavin,

      it’s refreshing to hear a ‘thick skin’ talking – with your standup comedy background. I am still ridiculously sensitive to the exits as if everyone should be so transfixed they wouldn’t even think of it!!

      Of course we go on when people walk (unless a trickle becomes a stream) and usually, soon, it all goes away and we are back where we were, hoping the leaver had some other reason apart from disapproval!

      Jeremy

  9. Jeremy, I know we’ve already talked about this (because I was at the same round table session), but I thought I’d chip in here too, and I can actually answer your question about why that one person walked out of your session, with 100% accuracy (as I know who it was) and I was sitting next to him…but I’ll add that at the end of my comment to keep you guessing🙂

    First of all, I’m glad you’ve written this, as it’s well worth bringing to people’s attention. The teenagers were, as you say, hardly representative of either those studying at Culturas, or of Brazilian teenagers in general. For one, they were hand-picked by a teacher and specifically chosen because of their high level of English and confidence. Not every teenager would to be able to speak in front of 800+ teachers.

    Although they were not representative, I wasn’t against the idea of inviting them to speak at the conference. For one, they are teenagers who study at Culturas. One point he was trying to make here, and in his plenary earlier in the day, is that teachers should talk to their students and find out what they think. Well, here he was showing people what he thought they should be doing in their classrooms – modeling the kind of questions he thinks the teachers should be asking. I am also happy to see students invited to voice their ideas at a conference – I found it interesting, and still think it’s a valid thing to do.

    I do, however, feel there were several aspects to the event that I observed that are worth mentioning. The first was in the choice of questions. I completely agree with you that he should not have asked the students to criticise their teachers in public, and started squirming in my seat when he asked the question and then pressed the students to answer. The teachers I was next to reacted negatively to this, and some obviously felt very uncomfortable. It also went against what his (presumed) aim of the session was – to encourage teachers to talk to their students. I’m sure some of the teachers who might have been persuaded to do so at the beginning of the panel discussion , after this question, will have dropped the idea in indignation for what followed.

    The other thing I felt was that his questions were leading, and very much aimed at proving a point. He didn’t want to hear much about how some of the kids stressed the importance of reading and books, at one point (maybe this was after you had left, Jeremy) and was disappointed when all of them said they never or hardly ever texted. Finally, for me, I think Prensky revealed a very US-centric attitude and a lack of understanding of (or willingness to find out about) the Brazilian context. He couldn’t understand, for example, when all of the teens answered that they didn’t have a Facebook account. It took an audience member to point out that, in Brazil, Orkut is the social network of choice by a long shot.

    So, I don’t blame you for walking out. In fact, I’m surprised that none of the Culturas teachers walked out (maybe some of them did?). I don’t think he’d have gotten away with it in other countries / contexts, and I wish you’d stayed and heckled. Had you stood up and voiced your disagreement, others may well have followed your lead.

    Oh, and as for the teacher who walked out, who was sitting next to me. It wasn’t half-way through, it was ten minutes before the scheduled end of the plenary. And he really wanted to hear you speak, and enjoyed your plenary, but was giving his talk directly afterwards, and there was no break as the next sessions followed on directly after the plenary ended. In retrospect, I think he should have sat at the back and slipped out rather than in the middle, where you can’t walk out without everyone noticing. But, fear not, he enjoyed the plenary (as I did) immensely and was sorry he couldn’t stay until the end.

    • Graham,

      thank you so much for your kind and thoughtful comments.

      I DO understand the charm and interest of listening to teenage voices. They were great kids. I have said to the teacher who was on the stage with them what a credit they were (how old fashioned that sounds) to their teachers etc.

      But as to standing up and challenging Prensky at that point – well I think I’ll answer Ken (below) in full about that.

      I have enjoyed this conference and your tweeting has been exemplary, I think.

      Jeremy

  10. Mr. Harmer,

    Responding to your question, I would not have walked out of the conference. When facing a similar uneasiness, I regularly voice my opinion during the Q&A period if I have the opportunity. If it does not occur, I can still discuss it with someone else or keep my comments to myself; yet my stance on the issue will be the same. Be it Twitter or any other readily available means, I always find a way to vent the annoyance out.

    Now if you ask whether it was right to walk out or not, I would not be able to provide a conclusive answer. What I do believe is that our personality regularly dictates our behaviour. Some people would feel the urge to take dire action before displeasing circumstances… others will not allow the turmoil in their heads to be unleashed. The answer to your question will thus be driven by the same idiosyncrasy to which I previously refer.

    Just as Mr. Dudeney would not mind people walking out of his talks, others would find it discorteous. I reckon I have a membership for the latter group, for I would begin wondering why someone has to leave in the middle of my talk. Is this person disagreeing with me? Would it be a ‘loo break’? Sometimes it is neither: I have attended a couple of conferences where some people seemed more interested in getting to be the first ones in the line for appetisers and coffee; but that is another story.

    Greetings from Yucatán, México!

    • Hi Erik,

      yes, I’m not sure I have Gavin’s thick skin. You do find yourself checking (even as you are in the middle of talking) if the leavers are taking all their things with them – cause if they are not it may be just a loo break or a phone call!)

      Jeremy

  11. Hi Jeremy,

    Thanks for posting this and putting your tweets from yesterday into a bit more context.

    Following what was going on via Twitter made me flinch a bit at times if I’m honest, and I agree that it was inappropriate and disrespectful to have put the Cultura students and teachers in that position.

    Difficult to say what I’d do if I found myself in a similar situation… I’d probably be very tempted to leave but suspect I wouldn’t, unless I was standing very close to the door and could sneak out fairly unobtrusively.

    Having said that, I think it’s perfectly fine to walk out if you feel offended, or if a talk turns out to be something completely different than the abstract led you to expect.

    Sue

    • Hi Sue,

      thanks for commenting.

      I now suddenly feel a bit guilty. Not because I walked out but because I tweeted so negatively. Tweets out of talks are usually informative and positive, but I sent a furious couple of messages. Was that worse than walking out?
      Dunno.

      Jeremy

      • Please don’t feel guilty, Jeremy.

        It seems to me that what you tweeted at the time was perfectly reasonable and in keeping with what you have posted here.

        I don’t really see it as a case of one thing being either better or worse than the other, really. You had a valid point to make on something you felt strongly about and you used twitter as the means of expressing it; that’s all.

        Sue

  12. I’m completely with you as to your reason for walking out, but I think it was the wrong thing to do.

    I think Graham’s explanation of why his neighbour walked out of your talk + your own negative perception of the same event tells us something – the reasons for walking out are never clear. If dear old Mr Prensky is thick-skinned, he may have just thought you needed the loo or something. If that was the case, walking out would have had no effect at all.

    Why didn’t you just stand up at the end and make your feelings clear about what was bothering you? That would probably have been more helpful to the 700 CI teachers there, many of whom probably had mixed feelings about what they had seen and heard.

    Don’t walk out – stay and make your point.

    I agree with Marisa about reasons why one may WANT to walk out on a speaker, although I must also say that when speakers ‘pick a fight with individual members of the audience’, the results can be very memorable. It must be getting on for 20 years since Luke Prodromou and Michael Lewis had a set-to at TESOL Spain, but no one who was there has ever forgotten it!

  13. Hi Ken,

    ah yes, Luke and Michael! One of the most extraordinary events I have witnessed. And it is instructive in this case.

    Back then I agreed with Luke (for those who weren’t there, he was objecting to Michael Lewis’ attempt to trash all previous grammarians), but profoundly objected to the way in which he tried to hijack someone else’s talk.

    And so in this case. If I had intervened I would have done so in anger and intemperately. I would have attracted an unfair amount of attention by virtue of being one of the plenary speakers. And furthermore I had an instant sense of concern that if I HAD said something, the teenagers on the stage might have thought that I was in some sense criticising them. The one positive thing from the event as a whole is that people obviously liked these kids; dissent might have taken that away from them.

    But yes, people walk out for many reasons and it is not always dissatisfaction with the speaker. But having once seen the devastating effect of a mass walkout on a speaker, I am very sensitive about this.

    Plus horribly horribly vain!

    Jeremy

  14. I witnessed the same situation. ( : And I did feel bad.
    I talked to teachers about the teenagers’ attitude and that they were totally lost.
    Mark really couldn’t get them into prove that technology does any good to learning. Well, technology itself cannot do much, but the right tools and the right PEOPLE.

    Anyway, it was good for us to perceive how students feel and how much work we as teachers have in reflecting upon TEACHING and LEARNING.

    It was great to have met such an incredible, well-known, enthusiastic professional as you are.
    Where do you post about your up coming events?

    http://www.getenglishlessons.com/919/jeremy-harmer-thoughts-on-motivation/

    • Hi Graziela,

      thanks for commenting!

      I completely agree with you about technology. What it is doesn’t matter at all, it’s how you use it that counts!Actually I think the ELT world is beginning to respond very creatively to the challenges (and more importantly opportunities) that new technology has to offer.

      By the way, I do think those teenagers sounded great!

      (thanks for the weblink)

      Jeremy

  15. I have come back to this after reading all the discussion and the varied and very interesting answers and it seems to me that a lot of people, including myself and the writer of this blog post, operate under a protocol which suggests that no matter how dire the talk or objectionable the speaker’s content or attitude, you stay and suffer

    You stay and suffer even more, if the presenter happens to be a big name.

    You stay, you suffer and remain quiet, lest you should draw attention on yourself.

    And the better known you are, the more likely it is that people might think you ARE doing this to draw attention to yourself.

    The less known you are, the more likely it is for a renown speaker to put you down and the less confident about your English…

    … and so on and so on…

    There are rules of politeness which it is unforgivable to breach, but are we not perhaps overdoing it by obeying this unspoken rule that it is bad manners to walk out?

    Surely, it should be our prerrogative to walk out of a bad theatre performance for which we have paid?

    Surely, it should be our prerrogative to walk out of a bad talk? If you have spent a considerable amount of money to go to a conference and there are just so many talks you can attend, I don’t see why we should stay and suffer.

    I know I do it myself (stay and suffer) but I am just talking myself out of this strange mindset here.

    I think Gavin’s attitude is cool. But would HE walk out? I would really like to know.

    • Marisa,

      Like I said, I really don’t mind if people walk out of a talk of mine – if it’s not for them then I’d rather they found something better to do with their precious time. However, at the same time, I know it can put people off, or upset them, so I don’t do it myself. It’s a weird combination, but it works for me.

      Gavin

      • That just about hits the nail on the head, doesn’t it, Gavin.

        I am impressed by your sang-froid! I am always unsettled, but years of doing this kind of thing allows you to keep going usually.😦

    • Hi Marisa,

      yes that’s the point isn’t it. I know quite a few serial ‘walkers’and the more prominent they are the more ‘visible they are.

      But Jeff (below) argues convincingly that we have the right to leave.

      We do. But like you I hardly ever do which is why I thought it worth raising the subject for the blog.

      Jeremy

  16. What would I do?
    If I was a respected ELT presenter and leader of opinion with a large blog following attending a large prestigious conference and was unfortunate enough to be watching someone I believed was arrogant and conducting interviews with teenage students for no apparant reason. (After all why elicit feedback from teenage students in an open forum where everyone can hear the views and has an opportunity to respond to them). Infuriating! I would undoubtedly walk out and slag the presenter off on my blog.
    I would not stay to the end to see how the interview is conducted and how the feedback untilised – feedback from teenage students in such a context is worthless. I would not confront the speaker with my views. He may have good reasons to counteract my objections and besides my views may not be shared by the audience as a whole who after all have more investment in the feedback from students as they worked in these schools and I am a mere outsider. I would not share my anger with others as they may not share my views either. Indeed I assume they couldn’t have otherwise why would it just be me who walks out in indignation.
    No. The most professional and honest course of action is to write up the sorry spetacle on my blog. I would specifically name the presnter and the conference so there is no doubt about the sacrificial victim and then to describe the incident in a one sided manner on my blog emphasising the presenter’s pretentiousness and elicit sympathy and empathy from my blog followers most of whom would agee with my course of action even though they have no previous knwoledge of the unfortunate Marc Prensky and did not attend his presentation.
    However having slagged Mr Prensky off on my blog my anger has abated somewhat and it is great to see from the above comments that nearly everyone agrees with me as usual. It also comforts me to know that if Mr Prensky ever discovers this critique of his presentation in public view on the internet he would be suitably mortified – but no more than he deserves. Let it be a warning to presenters everywhere!
    Yes Jeremy I would have done exactly what you did. Indeed I am so convinced that this is the best way to deal with sub standard presenters I am going to write my own blog: “Jeremy Harmer slagged off my presentation on his blog – but would you?”

    • Hi Tom,

      you make your point very clearly, I think. Not unnaturally I have a somewhat different view! That, of course, does not matter, but I should perhaps explain why I wrote the blog post I did and respond to things which I think you are wrong about.

      First of all, this blog (my blog) is mostly about presenting and issues to do with presentations. The issue of whether to walk out of presentations (and what it feels like to be walked out on) seems to fit in completely appropriately in such an environment. As you will see from some of the comments here both presenters and audiences have responded to the questions I tried to raise.

      You will have seen that I did not seek to glorify my actions. My questions (would you walk out/do you walk out/should I have walked out?) are genuine ones. I fully expected some disagreement – even disapproval such as yours. That is why my post is not a statement, it is a question.

      Now to Marc Prensky. Well I do not think he will be mortified if he comes across this blog. I suspect he will either ignore it or issue a very robust response. He certainly knows about it. But, as I am sure you know, this is 100% NOT a case of a well-known speaker savaging a less well-known teacher/presenter. If the ‘status’ relationship was like that I would not have talked about him by name. However he has a world-wide reputation far beyond the reach of insular ELT, is extremely unlikely to have registered even who I am, and, I am persuaded, will not feel threatened by this minnow biting at his gills. Furthermore – and this, for me is the point – he is an ‘expert’ on what the young are all about and yet seemed to me to be inexpert in what I saw. But – and this is crucial, Tom – I may be entirely wrong about that. That’s the point of a blog. That is why (forgive me for repeating myself) my blog is a question not a statement.

      Nor was I seeking to ‘slag him off’. However, in the session of his to which I refer I did indeed send out some tweets communicating my anger at what was happening. This is not something I usually do ( my tweets of other people’s talks are usually extremely supportive). But the tweets from that session were done on the spur of the moment. Perhaps carelessly. It seemed to me, therefore, that once having sent them I needed to explain myself.

      So I think your reading of this is off-target. I was/am not seeking to ‘elicit sympathy/empathy’. On the contrary, something happened, and I reacted to it slightly more publicly than, perhaps, I should have done, and more decisively that I usually do. It concerned me. Was I being a complete prat, I wondered later.

      Walking out is an issue that confronts all presenters and their audiences. It seemed worth airing even though it ran the risk of having boiling oil, like yours, poured all over it!

      Jeremy

  17. Hi Jeremy
    Unfortunately I didn’t actually attend the Prensky talk – there was subsequently much debate about around at the ABCI conference though. From what I understand of what went on, though, I see no problem with you walking out.
    You’ll know that I sometimes do so. Indeed I might be the ELT author you refer to in the blog, I don’t know. You might remember I walked out of a closing plenary one time in Santiago a few years ago – a plenary which I felt to be insulting on many levels, apart from being very poorly delivered – as we talked about it afterwards. I also walked out of a plenary many years ago in Sao Paulo, when a presenter I shan’t of course name appeared basically to be drunk, or at least was so out of control that even OHP transparencies weren’t being shown properly.
    I don’t leave ranting and raving and am sure you didn’t either – to do so would be awful. But like some others here, I feel I have the right to leave, just as I can leave a film of a play if I no longer wish to stay.
    I can see where Ken is coming from with ‘stay and make your point’ but is that really an option? Plenaries don’t have space at the end for Q/A or comments, and who really wants to make a public display?
    Didn’t see the tweet so can’t comment.
    I’m not sure if I added anything to the discussion here but these are my thoughts, for what they’re worth.
    Best
    Jeff

    • Hi Jeff,

      no, I wasn’t referring to you, actually!

      I think that teachers absolutely ‘have the right to leave’. Yet we rarely do (especially those of us who present I think) out of a sense of wishing to be supportive. And also out of a knowledge of what it is like when it happens.

      (and once you have seen a colleague completely ripped to pieces by a mass walkout – as I did once – you never get to your feet lightly, I think!)

      I completely agree with you about not really being able to ‘take on’ a plenary speaker in the kind of public way we are both envisaging I think.

      But perhaps naming Marc Prensky in the blog was too public in the same way? That’s what Tom from Turkey thinks! I thought I had to so the situation was clear.

      Jeremy

  18. I walk out.

    I pay money to attend conferences and even if I don’t – well, both my time and my money are valuable to me.

    If someone doesn’t have respect for these issues and abuses them by either not preparing properly; by not having the decency to provide me with real training; if someone has the audacity to lie on the program about the focus of a talk in order to get my butt in the room to hear his sales pitch; if someone does not respect my culture or worst, the culture of the room’s participants then I walk and I let it be noticed that I am walking so that that poor presenter learns his lesson.

    No mollycoddling, apple-polishing and all the things which simply perpetuate in finitum, in the selection process of conference presentations.

    K

    (**p.s.- there are times however when I have had to leave for personal or schedule reasons and I agree, notice of this pre- post- always a good polite idea).

    **p.s2 – re commercial presentations – I really don’t have a problem with these when they are billed as such. There is absolutely nothing wrong with pitching and presenting a book or material or service, and maybe I (sometimes I have gone to find out more…) but it just has to be my choice to attend these – I do really wish the publishers would stop encouraging the smoke screen approach to getting their “product” seen…

  19. Jeremy I take your point that Marc Prensky is unlikely to be worried by a public slagging. But does that make it appropriate? Am I alone in worrying that there is a double standard here? We are discussing the sensitivities of walking out of a presentation and the possible negative effect it may have while at the same time discussing in a public forum a specific presenter and presentation. Surely this public critique of a presenter is far more open to abuse and potential damage than simply walking out of a presentation? In my opinion the more interesting question you need to ask is not whether ‘walking out’ is an appropriate response but whether tweeting and blogging your anger is.

  20. Once again you make your point well.

    There is, of course, an innate contradiction in the topic of this blog and the fact that I said who I was referring to. I plead guilty to engendering that contradiction. In a sense, therefore, this blog is the equivalent of standing up and heckling. The difference between the heckle and this, however, is that it is much easier for people – you, Marc Prensky etc – to come back at me in this space, and there is no risk to the teenagers involved (the reason I didn’t get involved in the session).

    Appropriate response? Well that is, of course, for you and others to judge – and I have no way of influencing your opinion one way of the other. But (because this is the first time – I think – that I have been publicly critical of someone named in this way) the whole blog makes no sense unless you know that (a) it involved kids, (b) it was run by a very ‘famous’ presenter, (c) the presenter, when he intersects with my world, spends a lot of time telling teachers that they need to understand kids and their world, (d) the same presenter put 4 kids in public danger and (e) the twittersphere/blogosphere would know who it was anyway.

    Enough for the moment.

    Jeremy

  21. I just want to throw my two cents in again see that the discussion has turned towards, “appropriateness”.

    I think this post VERY appropriate. Let’s air these things. If the post had been about how amazing Marc Prensky is, how astounding and mind blowing the presentation – nobody would be complaining. However the world is balanced and we do need more than just cheerleading and ra ra, way to gos.

    David Nunan gave a horrible plenary last year in Korea. Inappropriate and disparaging remarks about “backpacking” teachers too (comparing teachers to surgeons – saying, you wouldn’t want an unqualified surgeon operating on you, would you?). I was livid and regret not walking out. I wish someone with an audience had blogged about it. I blogged and about 20 people read it — not really world changing. But I considered my post totally appropriate.

    If you are in the public realm, expect to be applauded to the nines for your wonderful contributions but also to be socked if you hit a bad note.

    David

    • David,

      I’ve been saying this for some time now – the eternal lovefest needs to stop because otherwise people are not going to be able to judge from a distance what is good and what isn’t, who to see at conferences and who not to see. It seems to be a given that one really shouldn’t criticise anything on blogs or Twitter for fear of offending (maybe it’s to do with reader numbers or hits or whatever) – one has to like every speaker, every presentation, every country, every blog post…

      If we lose our critical faculties or put them in thrall to our ‘community’, we do nobody any good. We’re living a lie, and those people who might consider us influential are being short-changed and badly-advised.

      I keep digging up this clip, but I think this video on Noel Gallagher (the intelligent one of the two Oasis brothers) is quite relevant. Gallagher had been criticised for saying Jay-Z and rap were not suitable for Glastonbury and in this press scrum he takes everyone to task for not permitting criticism, turning the whole thing around to sarcastically declare everything and everyone to be amazing:

      I have been disappointed at talks, and have seen some ‘big names’ do terrible plenaries which were ill-prepared, ill-thought-out and delivered with an insouciance that was, frankly, offensive to the people who had paid good money to see them.

      I saw an awful plenary in Dubai earlier this year – obviously thrown together the night before (poor layout and design, plenty of spelling mistakes), full of content that I thought could have been gleaned from a quick read of relevant literature, delivered in a way that made me think the speaker’s mind was probably elsewhere… perhaps on the golf course or the swimming pool. Should I name that speaker?

      The problem, of course, is what if s/he were simply having a bad day that day – do I make that day worse by blogging about it, or do I let it go and assume that a person of his/her reputation isn’t normally like that and will be better, better-prepared and more caring next time?

      Jermey’s post brings up loads of issues here – I’m glad it was written…

      Gavin

      • Hi Gavin,

        thank you so much for that Noel Gallagher clip. It was, er, amazing!! Seriously, it was totally apposite. I enjoyed watching it and, for the first time, think that one of the Gallagher brothers really has a point.

        BUT

        I think replying to David helped me think a bit.

        I was at the same plenary as you in Dubai, and thought, like you that it was pretty lame. We discussed it, you and I and a number of people. But I didn’t walk out. That would have been public. Nor do I feel like naming the speaker in a critical blog.

        I think that’s because the fact that some gives a rubbish talk is not really worth commenting on publicly. It would be – in Tom’s terms above – just slagging people off.

        But when you profoundly disagree with a point that is made, or something that is done, then it may be altogether different.

        Of course it depends who they are. As I said earlier I would never dream of naming a younger speaker for whom my comments might be professionally or personally damaging (unless I thought they were dangerously wrong). But public ‘names’? That’s a bit different, isn’t it?

        Or is it? The point of blog writing and the comments that follow is to try and investigate something that wasn’t clear before. That’s what I’m trying to do anyway.

        But overall, everything is, well, amazing!!

        Jeremy

      • Erm, perhaps that plenary speaker was thinking of the golf course, or the swimming pool – or perhaps he just found a rather inane and somewhat patronizing recap of Piaget and Vygotsky a nice change from rubbishing *backpacker* teachers in NE Asia (while at the same time – surprise surprise – spruiking the absolute crappers out of a new MA TESOL program in the States he is leading).

        Then again, perhaps I haven;t lined up the dots correctly and we are talking about different plenary speakers here…

    • Hi David,

      i wonder if you are on to something here. If a presentation is bad just because it’s, well, bad, then maybe saying that and naming the person is not the right thing to do. But if a speaker says something that you disagree with profoundly then perhaps it IS OK?

      Jeremy

      • Jeremy,

        I agree we should keep the focus on “clearing things up” and not just slagging someone – whether a big name or not. However, like life, it is a messy issue I think. No absolute rule can be applied and it depends on many things – many you and others have mentioned.

        Gavin’s remarks I echo. I think too, if a presenter didn’t do a great job and was paid handsomely to do it, they should be criticized. But for me the key is that the criticism be exact and about the presentation, not personal. Jeremy, you did that in addressing Prensky’s presentation. If the presenter had a bad day or are inexperienced, or there were technical glitches or or or…then no criticism needed.

        Jason, I’ll reply in full on your blog but I DO think it very inappropriate to promote/parade your financial interests in front of an audience, how Nunan did. Though, I bet my bottom dollar not a person on the conf. committee said a thing about it. A mention by Nunan would have sufficed.

  22. Just out of curiosity, Jeremy, if Marc had framed his prompt to the kids differently (along the lines of “So what do you think could be improved? What would you like to see added to the program to make it better?”), do you think this would have come across better (and kept your bottom on your seat)?

    Other than that, I don’t particularly mind when people walk in and out of my presentations, whether they be plenaries or workshops. There are often hundreds of reasons for doing so, as I myself know.

    My pet hates are when people try to hijack a presentation and twist it to their own agenda, or when they slag off or otherwise attack another participant for whatever reason. I’m pretty quick to react to both of those! Admittedly it hasn’t happened very often, but the times it has have left poignant (and unpleasant) memories.

    And for commercial presentations, I love it when rival publishers send their “spies” in to watch. When that happens, I have instant fodder for humour in the presentation!

    • Hi Jason,

      yes, I dislike people hijacking someone else’s presentation. I did it once when I was considerably younger and every time I remember it I feel pretty miserable! (see also my reply to Ken above)

      I might have stayed in my seat if Marc Prensky had phrased his question differently – but I still think it pretty amazing that kids should be asked to comment on their teachers in front of 700 of those teachers. I wouldn’t ask adults to do it. Would you?

      Jeremy

      • Yes, good point. Asking to comment on the teachers (specifically) in front of such a large and public audience was a definite no-no. I think that is why I thought he should have asked about the program in general, and perhaps prompted for positive suggestions for improvement (overall).

        No, I certainly would not do it. It baffles me as to why someone of his supposed standing would, especially as an invited plenary speaker at a sponsored event.

  23. Conferences are busy places and there always many possible choices for how one spends time at them. I therefore routinely sit near a door when I attend presentations and if the speaker is not up to par for whatever reason, I try to make eye contact, gesture at my watch, shrug my shoulders in a ‘what can I say’ kind of way and smile while quietly sliding out the door. This works fine in smaller settings. In huge plenaries I slip away quietly under the cover of darkness.

    If I happen to run into the speaker later at the conference, I usually apologize for having left and ask how it went. This all may seem wrong and even contradictory, but it’s nothing personal.

    I’ve never left a presentation in anger. I usually leave quietly when i find the proceedings irrelevant, unorganized or not at all engaging — feeling like I sometimes do at a restaurant when I realize I’ve made the wrong choice and ordered a dish that turns out to be unappealing to me. In a restaurant, it’s not the chef’s fault, usually, and looking around I see others enjoying this dish that I want to push away. I made a bad decision. It’s my fault. Same at conferences.

    It’s my fault for having decided to attend a particular presentation, as much as if not more than the speaker’s fault for failing to engage me, live up to my expectations, or pull of an idea that probably seemed like a good one at some point prior to the conference. Not everyone is a gifted speaker — including some of the big names on the circuit — and some ideas for what’s meant to be a good presentation just don’t pan out that way. Fine. I can feel the speaker’s pain without needing to contribute to it.

    I don’t want to upset anyone, but just like I don’t really want to eat that unappealing dish, I don’t want to spend an hour sitting through some unappealing presentation either. Why punish myself — and probably the speaker, too, as I’d no doubt start fidgeting and sighing and checking my mail. In my mind, that is far worse that making a graceful, polite exit.

    I don’t particularly care, either, if people walk out of my presentations. They have their reasons and besides, I learned long ago that it’s impossible to be all things to all people. That’s ok. Most people who leave my sessions are polite about it: glancing at their watch, gesturing towards the conference program, giving me an awkward smile to let me know it’s nothing personal. Fair enough. I figure they’re like me.

  24. Just wanted to add a tiny word about “walking out” : I suppose it makes a difference whether you walk out with the intention to hurt (disturbing as many people as you can, mumbling loudly, banging the door shut), or just disgree and tiptoe out as dicreetly as you can. I range in the second category.

  25. I seem to have the distinguished honor of being commenter 43. How is it that you get so many comments on every post? Good looks, cheerful disposition, amazing writing skills?🙂🙂

    On walking out, I do find it a bit rude, but as Gavin says, it’s probably better than staring at a sleeping or bored audience member instead. There are a number of ultra boring talks I wish I’d walked out of, but my sense of manners prevented me. Nothing ever made me angry though and I agree with those that feel it’s justified if this is the case. In your particular example I would probably have squirmed in my seat, but stayed.

    As for the appropriateness issue Tom brought up, well we’ve been down the road of not naming vs. naming people on a number of blogs in the past year and the issue doesn’t seem to have resolved itself. Mr. Presnky doesn’t seem to have a presence on the blogosphere, but you can bet that if he did have a following, you’d be spending the next couple weeks fending off personal attacks rather than debating the issue. This is the main thing with the blogs and Twitter. Many of them are built on personal relationships and emotions and personal ties take precedence over issues.

    That’s really where it gets tricky. We can make posts that are general and criticize no particular individuals, but then they end up only as discussions without really pushing for change. Or, as David says, we can criticize where criticism is due and respect each other enough to allow that. In my opinion, because of the emotional connections mentioned above, the latter will never fly. Maybe Sara’s policy is a good one, don’t name or infer any person or organization unless they are personally informed and invited to respond (and even then you better tread very carefully).

    • Hi Chuck,

      you sound like a really good ‘walk-outer’! And I do think that it IS possible to walk out in a polite way )gesturing etc as you suggest here).

      I do try and tell myself not to mind when people leave my sessions. But it doesn’t usually work!

      Thanks for your comments, Chuck!

      Jeremy

    • Hi Nick,

      yes, I’ve been thinking of you since I wrote this blogpost and wondered if my post was the same, in a way, as one of the things you once wrote, and which was highly critical of an unnamed (but obviously identified) individual.

      I guess I think there is a difference here. I reckon my mention of Marc Prensky mentions only what he published in hi bio-data and what he said in public. I have no idea whether or not he is a great guy (we never got to meet). I have no comment to make (how could I?) on his motivations etc. All I commented on was what was publicly available. And I am not representing anyone’s views except my own.

      I am still in two minds about whether it was right to name him. And yet I saw a disjunct between what he says he does and knows and what I saw he knew and did. Of course I could be wrong. But as you know, once it’s out there you can’t really take it back.

      But – and this is the point – my post was a question…was I right to walk out?

      I suppose I’d go further now (especially after Tom’s comments) and say was i right to say who I was talking about?

      Jeremy

  26. Hi Jeremy!

    I believe it is a great tragedy to feel you witnessed an injustice and stay silent. Imagine if all the world did this then we’d never move forward as a society. I’m glad you didn’t stay silent and I wouldn’t feel bad about it. You spoke up on your blog and on Twitter. Some of the teachers have commented here and obviously appreciated you sticking up for them. The conference after all is for them and you gave them a gift by standing by their side and showing empathy. I think Marc Prensky is made of tough skin. He realizes his views are controversial and I’m sure he has had people walk out and argue publicly with him.

    As a speaker I have had people argue with me and honestly I prefer this over boring people. After all evoking such strong emotion makes people reflect and reflection inspires change. If someone walks out then I try to believe I still inspired strong enough emotion to make them reflect or they were busy. I don’t assume the worst but try to always assume the best of people. Now, if many walk out or tweet negatively then that is an entirely different matter.

    Earlier comments bother me. I believe it is rude for a presenter, especially a keynote, not to consider the audience and take into account cultural differences. For the presenter not to know the way social media works in Brazil and speak on this topic means he didn’t take the time to do his homework. This really upsets me because it would have been as simple as asking the teenagers ahead of time about their social media habits.

    I think when keynotes have such influence and have continuous bookings in big conferences then a thick skin is part of the deal. I disagree when people say we shouldn’t feel free to disagree with the presentation on our blogs and Twitter. Educators pay so much to hear these speakers, so yes I believe they have the right to criticize. If I was not treated well at a hotel, most people wouldn’t be upset that I criticize it publicly on social media, yet we are afraid to do this with presenters? As a presenter, I take the criticism and find ways to improve my presentation. Presenters choose their careers, therefore, I think they should look to improve themselves and meet the audience needs. Most presenters preach for teachers to improve themselves and freely criticize them so I don’t see why they don’t accept the same?

    I say this as a speaker who was once booed & heckled off a stage and went back the next time with the mind to make a better impression. I felt in shock, humiliated, etc. but hey you can do one of 2 things, never speak again or get up there and improve yourself. I choose the latter. Glad to say the next time I made such a great impression I was given accolades. This won’t always happen and someone will walk out of my presentation for so many reasons. I believe presenters should consider our audience and what they invited us there to present on and do. You won’t please them all but really I think this isn’t the goal. The goal is to inspire reflection and change. This is why I attend conferences and pay a lot to see the keynotes. I also believe this gives me a right as an audience member to voice my opinions. After all when I do this people will criticize my actions as well.

    Yes, there are respectable ways to do this but I think the situation and reasoning merits the action. In this case, I believe Prensky new he was doing something controversial. In another case with Dana Boyd she was criticized not because of her presentation but because of the technical difficulties. This is a different matter. So no I don’t advocate people throw tomatoes but I also don’t advocate silence just because we think we may hurt a presenter’s feelings.

    • Hi Shelly,

      thanks so much for your thoughtful comments.

      Yes, us ‘keynoters’ have to be able to take the flak if we are going to expect that people will want to listen to us. I am certainly not immune to that and have given my share of rubbish presentations (and have had people walk out).

      You are brave to tell your story about the booing. I think it is horrible to experience, but to pick yourself up and learn from it?That takes guts. You have that.

      Ah, the Dana Boyd story (the backchannelling thing?) That sent shivers down my spine.

      I think thanks to this blog and the comments on it that I am beginning to understand things a bit better; that you only go out into the blogosphere and name people if it refers to specific instances of something said or done – rather than just saying ‘she/he was awful’

      Does that make sense?

      Jeremy

  27. I’m commenting from the U.S. context where at most conferences there are many sessions going on at the same time. Professional development time is precious—teachers don’t get nearly enough and no one wants to have their time wasted. It’s quite common at U.S. conferences for people to leave sessions, especially in the early going, when it becomes clear that the talk isn’t going to suit their needs. It’s not unusual that the summary in the program book fails to indicate that this session on the teaching of grammar is given from the perspective of someone working at university level, which turns out not to be what the primary school teacher is looking for. Those new to the profession don’t know who the experienced presenters are and aren’t always sure what they are looking for. I used to take it personally if people walked out during one of my sessions. But I would rather have people attending who really want to be there and who are finding my talk valuable, than have them sit and thumb through their program book while wishing to be elsewhere. What we all hope, of course, is to make our presentations sufficiently interesting that the participants are fully engaged from start to finish. I’ll keep working on that!

    • Hi Joes,

      thanks for coming along.

      Yes, of course it’s better to have people who want to be there/should be there. And when people DO walk out you get over it fine if the ones who stay look like they are enjoying themselves. That has certainly happened to me.

      But like ytou, I’m still working on a perfect ‘no-walk-out’ presentation! How long, O Lord, how long?!!

      Jeremy

  28. Hello Jeremy,

    I was at the conference and when I heard Prensky’s questions, I was shocked. I couldn’t believe he put all those teens on the spot like that. Thankfully, they were very smart and responded in a very mature manner.

    I do think that what makes the ELT world better each day is the kind of exchange happening on this blog. The internet is and should be a democratic place and we all have to be ready for differing opinions.

    Respect needs to be shown where it is due and the panel discussion in question (or rather the speaker on that particular day) did not deserve it. He was trying to show his side of the ‘technology in ELT’ coin and didn’t seem very interested in the other side.

    So, I don’t think he’ll lose much sleep over your walking out/tweeting and neither should you.

    • Hi Mila,

      thank you so much for your comments (and no I don’t think anyone will lose sleep).

      Your feelings about that session match mine.

      But I do think that this whole set of comments has made me feel good about the blogosphere. I have learned a lot about what I feel and think as as result of people’s reactions to what I wrote. Feedback (not all 100% positive) for free! Isn’t that great!!

      Jeremy

  29. This thread has got me thinking of ways speakers might deal with people walking out. Here are some ideas:

    1. Humour: “Uh-oh, I knew this bit was getting too theoretical”
    2. Pretence: “Bye, Fred. Hope you catch your train!”
    3. Sarcasm: “Yeah, you’ve still got time to catch Jeremy Harmer if you hurry”
    4. Anger: “How very dare you! Sit down this minute!”
    5. Despair: “Please stay. It gets better, honest!”
    6. More humour: “Could the last one out switch off the lights?”

    • Scott,

      that reminds me of the linguist Palmer at Reading – I had to attend his lectures as part of my Applied Linguistics MA. At the end of one lecture he said ‘The Applied linguists needn’t bother coming anymore. It’s gin g to become rather esoteric from now on!’ At the time I was mortally offended (partly, I expect, by his tone of voice. I thought he was dis-respecting us. But he was probably right!

      Or you could say to a leaver ‘yeah, coffee does that to me too. You probably shouldn’t have had that second one’

      or

      (lots of ideas coming to my head!!

      Jeremy

  30. Dear, dear Jeremy,

    I was watching you on the first row at ABCI and I wouldn’t have walked out if they’d paid me. But I do and I will if I think I have a good reason. Now, that reason hardly ever has anything to do with the speaker. Even if I’m angry (because I do share some of the feelings people voiced here, about being disrespected by speakers), I’m usually too curious to leave, so I stay. And then I tweet angrily about it later.😉 When I do leave, it’s either because I have something I need to do (like the person who walked out of your talk), or, worst-case scenario, I’d thought that subject would be interesting for me when it actually wasn’t. Maybe I’ve seen it before, or it’s not something I am interested in reflecting upon yet (and emphasis on that “yet”). I dearly hope no speakers are offended when I walk out, and I often do when they exceed their time-limit, for example. I only hope they know I have good reason to go and that it doesn’t mean they’re not doing their job right (unless, somebody said, too many people start to go). You see, still on ABCI, I had to leave a talk early because the teacher giving the talk was running late and my talk would be next. As soon as I started talking to my audience, I told them what wonderful insights I’d gotten at her talk, and how enriching it had been. Now, imagine if that teacher had been offended or angry at me for leaving before she finished? It would have been completely unjustified! So anyway, I think it would be great if everyone would just relax and let people leave and disagree if they want to. It’s normal and it’s healthy!🙂

    Kudos!

    • Hi Flávia,

      I am so sorry I haven’t replied before. I had really bad internet problems in São Paulo (there wasn’t an Internet connection in BRAZ-TESOL etc) and then again when I got to Colombia…

      Anyway, thanks for what you said about sitting in the front row. And yes I DO think it is possible to walk out and not cause a fuss, and for speakers to be relaxed about it. It is probably best, isn’t it, to sit near the back if we think we’re heading off early (as someone said above). The speaker will still see you, but it won’t be so disruptive for everyone else?

      Jeremy

  31. A fascinating discussion, with several perspectives expressed, Jeremy. A healthy blog read, imo. A very relevant topic, too, as people so often walk out of presentations, and for various reasons. I recently tweeted on Twitter that it would disconcert presenters if many people in the audience tweeted during it. It seemed rude to me, like someone paying attention to a Conference Programme or a mobile phone. Many disagreed with me. A healthy discussion ensued.

    What strikes me with the set of answers here is that nobody suggested that you challenge Prensky with your reservations about his ideas/methods, apart from Ken Wilson. Unlike Ken, I would suggest challenging Prensky in private, one-to-one after the presentation, not during it, especially as your status in the hall would have dramatised the situation. Prensky needs to be told he was wrong, Jeremy, otherwise he’ll never go away and reflect on what he did. Blog about it certainly, even tweet as you did, but you should have given yourself time to calm down a bit, and then approached him. You needed to protest to the ‘offender’, and then you would have felt so much better within yourself. He may well have rejected what you would have said to him, but that’s not the point. We need to be direct, just as David Crystal should have told the Conference organisers in Israel that he would not be attending their Conference, in protest at the Flotilla outrage. People only listen when directly challenged. Go for it, Jeremy!

    • Hi Peter,

      (sorry for unpardonable rudeness in not replying before – see my reply to Flávia above)

      yes, perhaps Ken was right – and/or you are for making the challenge a private one. In the end, I guess I have ‘cascarabios’ problem which is that when i fire up I start muttering (as I did on that occasion – weeks ago now – and that was a bit disconcerting for the people next to me!!

      As for David Crystal, well he was at both conferences in Brazil and I got to talk to him in detail about the ~israel gig. He has been very upset by some of the comments he came across by chance and is adamant that going is always a lot better than not going; that outsiders had no idea of how many Palestinians attended the event (about 10% of the conference); that he did a special SL presentation into Gaza etc etc. I find him quite persuasive and wonder now what my position is.

      Jeremy

  32. Hi Jeremy,
    I really liked the topic here because I sometimes think this would never happen to the big masters like you, Scott and so many others who have posted here.
    I am awfully sorry I won’t be able to attend your Plenary on the 22nd at BrazTesol. I teach at a Binational Center (Centro Cultural Brasil Estados Unidos)in Franca-SP and because of another job I have at school I could not attend the convention this year.
    As for the discussion, I always find it difficult to walk out in the middle of a session even if I notice it was a huge mistake having chosen that one and not something else. I must say it has not happened often, though. As a presenter I have not had a lot of experience out of town but we do have our in-service workshops and I feel really annoyed if a colleague (not a friend) leaves or, worse still, shows boredom throughout the session. Again, I have not had such bad experiences often, thank God!
    In your case, you were really right to act the way you did and we could see here other people who attending the same session were just as offended.
    Hope to see you next time you are back to Brazil.
    Best regards.

    • Hi Gilmar,

      thanks for your comments. Sorry i didn’t reply before. I have had horrible internet problems.

      Sorry you didn’t make it to BRAZ-TESOL. We had a good time I think.

      Yes, we should perhaps talk about people who look bored! Just as bad perhaps. I guess the question is who you walk out on and how you do it!

      Jeremy

  33. Hi Jeremy

    I was at the plenary as well and I didn’t walk out because I really wanted to see it all!!! You did what I would have done hadn’t I been a Cultura teacher. At least I wasn’t that teacher on stage. I thought it was hilarious the way he was trying to get the kids to confirm his theory and as Graham mentioned, he hadn’t even done a background research about the most popular tools in my country. Unfortunately, that seemed to have happened to Ben as well, but that is another issue.
    I’d say you did what many others would like to have done.

    tks
    Sirley

    • Hi Shirley,

      thanks for your comments. Sorry I’m late in replying, but internet problems cause me all sorts of woes.

      I agree with your comments. It was quite funny watching someone ‘at sea’ with a bunch of lovely and articculate teenagers!

      As for Ben, well I do think he was trying to show football and rap areuniversal? He did the same talk at VRAZ-TESOL and it was very warmly received I think.

      Jeremy

    • Hi Shirley,

      thanks for your comments. Sorry I’m late in replying, but internet problems cause me all sorts of woes.

      I agree with your comments. It was quite funny watching someone ‘at sea’ with a bunch of lovely and articculate teenagers!

      As for Ben, well I do think he was trying to show football and rap are universal? He did the same talk at VRAZ-TESOL and it was very warmly received I think.

      Jeremy

  34. During my and @danytome’s session I had one kind audience member (Ricardo Sili) let me know he was going to leave early, but many others walked out in the middle of it too. I tell myself it’s because the competition was tough: Paul Sellingson’s session started right in the middle of mine. But that’s just what I keep telling myself. Luckily enough we’ve been getting lots of positive feedback from all sorts of people.

    Scott, how about plain honesty: HEY! Why the heck are you leaving? It ain’t over yet! lol!

    • Sorry about the late reply (see my explanations above) to your comments (thanks for them)

      Yes, people sometimes do leave on masse when a long session clashes with another one. It must have been quite unnerving for you though.

      But in the end, even when people do walk out, getting positive feedback really really matters, doesn’t it. I am sure you richly deserved it. Many congratulations!

      Jeremy

  35. This discussion reminds me that during the years that I was teaching at the university in Osnabrueck, Germany it was normal for most lecturers to make it known that latecomers to lectures were not welcome and leaving early was not acceptable. I made it known that I saw the situation differently. For whatever reason, if people were late, they should feel free to come in as long as they caused as little disturbance as possible. My reasoning was that if they bothered to turn up, the reason for their lateness was neither here nor there. Likewise, if they left early, along with the possible fact that they were bored to death, there was a good chance that there was a day-to-day reason – to catch the last bus, to keep a dental appointment, to keep an important appointment with a professor who was constantly abroad at conferences and had to be caught as he passed briefly through the university on his way from one aiport to another.Many of the students who came late or left early came up to me to whisper their reason for doing so. Perhaps, Jeremy, you could have gone up to Prensky and whispered: “I’m walking out because I do not like the way you are using these youngsters.” 🙂 Dennis

    • Hi Dennis,

      sorry not to have replied before (see comments to others above)

      I think it is great when the lecturer explains what HE/SHE thinks the situation should be. Then the whole thing becomes much less open to ‘abuse’ and bad feelings. I like it very much.

      I LOVE the idea of going up to Prensky and whispering! It would have worked for sure!!!

      Jeremy

  36. Perhaps it might have been better not to identify Marc Prensky, but as in this case it would have been very easy to find out who it was, there is a case to be made for being straightforward. And I’m sure he would rather have a posting on a blog that he can defend in his own time, if he wants to, than someone stand up and make comments in front of an audience of 700, either during the session or during questions at the end.

    I think you were right to walk out, but please also consider the possibility that he may, under the pressure of a session that doesn’t sound like it was going terribly well, or at least wasn’t going in the direction he had anticipated, have just asked a stupid question, and felt like he had no option but to run with it. Adrenaline does funny things.

    • Hi Gemma,

      you will see from my replies to others above, that I have had more than a week of Internet hell! No connection. Bad hotel connections, trouble with a Colombian modem. You KNOW how stressful I find that – and it has been hell this time round, though a trip to beach on a Colombian island seems to have helped to make it less stressful. Anyway, that’s why I didn’t reply before.

      I think you are quite right to raise the possibility that people can say silly things in the middle of a presentation (I know that I do!). But I think we all recognise when that happens, and we let a lot of rather silly stuff go past because we know when people are a bit ‘desubicado’. But there are other times when the question that comes out, even ‘by chance’ seems so wrong that we DO mind and feel it is out of order. A lot depends, perhaps, on who says the ‘silly’ thing, what they are supposed to represent, and what the situation is when it is said.

      With all these questions going through my head I reckon I still feel that was said all those days ago was unacceptable. But much less important!!

      Jeremy

  37. One final/extra comment here… I cannot believe Prensky (with his field/background) did not know that Orkut was the social networking platform of choice in Brazil. Shucks, even I knew that!

    • Hi Jason,

      sorry about the late reply – see all my explanations above!

      Only comment to your comment? I didn’t know that (about Orkut) but if I was a new technology guru talking to teens I hope I would have got round to finding out!

      Jeremy

  38. I was one of the teachers attending the 9th ABCI Conference. As a teacher I have to confess I felt slightly uneasy as I realised the way we were about to be exposed as soon as he (Mr. Prensky) triggered his questions. Due to the massive traffic jam I got stuck in that morning, I was not able to attend Prensky’s plenary so that that interview did not mean much to me before I was told he was trying to make a point with what he had said earlier. You cannot hope to get something different when you voice teenagers, and he did, disregarding the fact he could be having a teacher unnecessarily on spot.

    I never walk out when I am in the audience, though. And neither did I on that occasion. I find it to be something nearly offensive to be done. Perhaps only for politeness’ sake. I have struggled to keep awake on a couple of occasions, but never left. I believe it is a matter of respect, and respect goes and come on a two-way road. You are not to blame for having walked out as a display of indignation, I’m sure other teachers would have done just the same (was it not for etiquette matters), the same way we sympathise with the points raised here and on your twitter.

    • Hi Nelson,

      many thanks for your comments. As I have said to everyone else internet problems have meant that I am replying very late.

      I agree that in general it is impolite and I hardly ever do it. That’s why I posted my comments to see what others think.

      I hate walking out, actually.

      Jeremy

  39. Hi Jeremy,

    I’ve been thinking a great deal about how I would respond to your blog post and all the comments it’s generated.

    I must admit I share Mila’s views that there is a degree of freedom on the web (be it Twitter or a blog) which allows us the democratic right to express our views as we so wish, but we are all sensible enough to know when we’re getting too close to the bone and that’s when our Super-ego kicks in and holds us back a bit.

    I can only respond if I comment firstly as the conference organizer who was privy to a number of decisions and discussions prior to the event itself. Secondly, I’ll respond as Valéria, an ordinary conference goer and Cultura Inglesa member of staff, just like all the other 699 participants. (That in fact will be my second comment, quite separate from the first).

    As conference organizer I think there are a few points which I’d like to clarify. When we decided on the Q & A between Prensky and our students, I sort of had a general idea of the type of questions he might ask them. You had only to read his latest book (and I had) to have a good idea of his main contention and line of argument. The students were indeed briefed in a very general manner about the type of questions which might be asked, (although for the life of me it would never occur to me that they would be asked to openly comment on the negative points of the institution and the teachers).

    The four students on stage were hand picked for their level of interest in the use of digital technology. However, we also understood that there wouldn’t be any point in inviting students below an intermediate level of English. We contacted our Cultura Inglesa branches in Rio and asked them to suggest one or two names of students at an Upper Intermediate level who might like to participate in the Q & A plenary. Are they representative of teens at our institution? I’d say yes, at least those in Rio, even though they come from different catchment areas. But of course, we can’t generalize. What I can safely say as well though is that these 4 teenagers were probably more confident and assertive than your average teen (hence the fact that they all thoroughly enjoyed the experience, or so they told us).

    Was I okay with the idea of students going up on stage and being asked questions by Prensky? Yes, I felt fine about that and so did the students and parents, who were present throughout the whole plenary. I do like the idea of providing students with an opportunity to air their views – this is common practice within Cultura Inglesas – so much so that the students did say what they liked.

    As the Head of Teacher Training in the the Rio, Brasília, Goias, Espírito Santo and Rio Grande do Sul territories of Cultura Inglesa I must admit I was questioned by many teachers concerning the relevance and appropriateness of Marc´s question regarding students´s views of the institution and their teachers. Many did feel uneasy – no one likes to be exposed in this manner. I fully sympathise with them. I gulped when I heard the question!

    Now, a factual piece of information: it’s true, when we stood up on that ABCI stage we could see the plenary audience, especially if we dodged the spotlights. But when I set up the 4 chairs on stage, I noticed it was difficult to get a full view of the audience due to the spotlight and my height in the chair (but maybe that´s because I’m on the shortish side?).

    Hope this clears some of the points raised.
    Later will post my personal thoughts on the question you ask.

    • Hi Valéria,

      you will have seen from my replies to others that I have had a hell of a problem with internet connections both in São Paulo and then when i got here to Colombia (it’s all better now!!). That is some excuse for not replying to you, especially, earlier.

      So here goes: firstly I thought the ABCI conference was absolutely fantastic. Great talks. Superb atmosphere, lovely party – and even a tiny little controversy to get everyone talking (this one!). I tweeted a ‘congratulations’ thing to you, but that is not enough. I absolutely loved every minute of it.

      I thought the teenagers on stage there were great. One of the reasons i didn’t stand up and heckle etc was precisely because it seemed that they should get all the credit for being bright and articulate and that someone (me) being disagreeable might make them think they were being criticised.

      I fully accept your reasoning for the event itself. I did say something about howe representative the kids were, but I have a feeling I would not have thought this if the questions had been different or differently handled. Then again, who knows if I would have done any better!!

      The best thing about your comments is that you say the kids were happy. Now I am too.

      It was a great ABCI Valéria. Fantastic!

      Jeremy

  40. I think walking out at a presentation is rude for the presenter. But sometimes you can’t help it because you can’t always get what you expect from a presentation. And in your case, your feeling uncomfortable about the teens is very normal, I think I would do the same.

  41. In Prensky’s famed Digital Natives article (Part 1) he suggested that we should teach Holocaust history by recreating the experience of being in a Death Camp for the students so, ‘they can experience the true horror of the camps’. The psychological welfare of students is not Mr. Prensky’s forte.

  42. Dear Jeremy,
    Everything that has been said here shows how much teachers care about the people they teach and that is both comforting and inspiring.

    Were you right? Who can tell? Certainly you communicated with him but perhaps it was not the message you intended. In an ideal world you might have stayed and then asked the speaker why he’d done such an incomprehensible thing before opening it up to the web? A chance to help him understand?

    “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.” (Chinese proverb).

    Lynne🙂

  43. Hello Jeremy,

    I just had the plkeasure of meeting you in FAAPI, Argentina, and the only reason why I didn’t have my picture taken with you is because there was a huge line and I didn’t want to bother you. Yours was the best plenary I have been in years. The way you tackled ART thru music and poetry was just awesome. I though I didn’t enjoy poetry until I saw you on stage. THANK YOU!

    I experienced the feeling of wanting to walk out on a presenter at that conference (only one) and I didn’t out of pure respect. The second she opened her mouth and started speaking in a low-voiced monotone made want to commit mental suicide. And seeing half the audience leaving didn’t make her change her pace, rhythm, nothing.

    15 minutes down the road teachers started to stand up and leave… I put up with it just because… I do not know… I wanted to see if it improved at some point…but I wish I had 75 minutes of my life back… I understand it if it is a presentation given my a doctor, or an architect, or an engineer… but these are teachers, delivering a workshop to fellow teachers… so guess what? We WILL analyse and criticize your teaching skills.

    I will complain through the proper channels, but I wanted to give you my 2 cents here.

    Once more, thank you for amazing us 2 days ago. I hope to attend your seminars soon!

    Cecilia

    • Hi Cecilia,

      thank you very much for your comments – and of course I am really glad you enjoyed the plenary.
      Yes, I understand the ‘respect’ that stopped you walking out. It IS an aggressive act, I think and that’s why I hardly ever do it!
      But I do agree that teachers should be able to present at a fairly basic level. If we can teach we should be able to present, even if not that well!! So (I think this is what I am saying) I understand your frustration at the session you attended.
      Look forward to the next time.
      Jeremy

  44. Good for you for voting with your feet. The irony is you probably remember more about the presentation than most who stayed! I walked out of an overly long presenation on data sampling at a university administration-related conference (I was a stranger in a strange land anyway, since I am not an administrator). The next day I confronted the guy at breakfast (he sat right across from me). What I said almost made him choke on his cornflakes. I told him he would learn more about first year students dropping out of his university (large state university in the US) if he sat down and had breakfast with ten of them than all the data mining and SPSS analysis he had done for the past 10 years.

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  49. In 2008 Mark Prensky was hired to be the keynote speaker at our opening day in-service. I teach in East Penn School District in Pennsylvania. His presentation was absolutely awful. He knew nothing about our school district, repeated himself continually, made blanket assumptions without supplying research to support his statements. He was insulting, inflammatory, and completely full of hot air. He also had students on stage who he wanted to bad mouth our teaching staff so that they could make negative comments about the district. They did not, an he continued to ask leading questions over and over trying to solicit criticism that would coordinate with his horrendous presentation, but unfortunately for him- the students did not agree with his bashing of teachers in general. He kept using this annoying catch phrase of “If you don’t like it, there’s the door.” During our afternoon question and answer section he was rude, ignorant, defensive, and openly hostile. He kept obnoxiously repeating “If you don’t like it, there’s the door.” After hours of his berating vacuous presentation, hundreds of our district employees took the only advice from him that was actually worthwhile: we go up and walked out.

  50. Hi Kelsey,

    I have only just seen this comment, and it’s two years after the original post – and FOUR years after your experience listening to Mark Prensky!

    I have no idea if Mark Prensky is horrible!! I certainly didn’t mean to say that in my original post. I have heard him speak on a couple of occasions and found what he had to say interesting, if challenging. I did not, then. agree with the way he characterised some teachers, and I am unsure about how ‘close’ to our students worlds we need to be. Though of course, much of what he said then is happening anyway, what with flipped classrooms, m-learning etc etc.

    The talk you went to? Well we all react differently to what we hear and attend. Sometime we mishear, sometimes the speaker (as in the car you describe) misreads mood and feel, or doesn’t express him or herself well.

    Thinking back to that even I described in this blog, I am still content with my decision. But nobody else left so I was in a minority of one. That doesn’t make me right.

    Necessarily!

    Jeremy

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