How should I make this work request?
March 25, 2022 8:13 AM   Subscribe

I've been struggling for the last few years with a health issue and very unpredictable sleep. I'm doing the best I can to manage it, but day to day work is difficult. I get external requests for speaking appearances pretty regularly and have been turning them all down because I don't want added pressure. But now my job is also giving me (public) speaking requests.

I don't love public speaking, but I can deal with it if I'm feeling okay. Right now, I just don't know when I'll have a decent night of sleep, and when I don't, something like this is very hard for me. It's hard even to think straight. Knowing that I have an event coming up also adds to my anxiety about sleeping. My direct boss is on leave at the moment, or I'd talk to him about this. I just got a request for an upcoming conference that my organization is hosting and I don't know how to respond to it- this will add hugely to my already high levels of stress and I may not perform that well, either. But I also didn't really want to bring up this challenge at work. What should I say, if anything?
posted by pinochiette to Work & Money (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You can just say you appreciate the invitation but your current workload means you are unable to accept.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:24 AM on March 25, 2022 [1 favorite]

This is going to be really situation-dependent, but can you start by saying "I'm sorry but I'm not able to take on any public speaking right now." If you can suggest someone else who would be able to do the public speaking, go ahead and recommend them. If you're willing/able to coach someone else, offer that.

You might get pushback, but you might not!
posted by mskyle at 8:24 AM on March 25, 2022 [1 favorite]

Is public speaking part of your expected duties or a reasonable expectation or is it an "added bonus" they think is a feature for you, not a bug? It's not uncommon that people think extending speaking opportunities is a huge bonus and not an actual burden.

If this is "bonus work" then I think you can decline on that basis. "Thanks for thinking of me, but right now I don't have the cycles to prepare as well as I'd like for public talks. I put a lot of unseen work into public speaking, not just the time in front of an audience - and I can't commit to that additional work right now."

If it's part of your expected duties, that might require a different approach.
posted by jzb at 8:27 AM on March 25, 2022 [3 favorites]

I don't love public speaking, but I can deal with it if I'm feeling okay.

100% the same. I would encourage you to speak up to whomever is your supervisor at the moment and being as frank as possible. I know it's uncomfortbale, but if you're like me it's more comfortable than taking a speaking engagement under the current circumstances.

A few years ago my then-spouse had a major injury that turned our worlds upside down and morphed into a divorce and a realization that I'd need to sell our house and move very, very far away. In the middle of this, one of my kids had a major breakdown. Then our beloved dog got very ill and had to be put down. Trust me when I say that I would not like to repeat the call I made to my boss in which I bowed out of a series of work committments at the very last moment. But, you know what? It worked out for the better in the end. My boss became a resource rather than an impediment. I am very, very grateful for her, sicne she became one of the more stable things in my life for a while there.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 8:39 AM on March 25, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far. Just an update- I would say it's within the realm of my expected duties (others with the same role are also speaking), and the people asking are generally aware of my workload.
posted by pinochiette at 8:44 AM on March 25, 2022

From a different angle - did the pandemic ever lead to a shift in public speaking via Zoom in your field? While parts of it left a lot to be desired, I found giving a Zoom talk much, much, less stressful, and it required less energy (easier to avoid all the hobnobbing before and after, no travel time so possible to sleep in a bit, etc.) If people are more open to be accommodating, could you be vague and say "For a medical reason, it would be hard to do this in-person but I'd be happy to do so over Zoom"?
posted by coffeecat at 9:22 AM on March 25, 2022 [1 favorite]

Are you allowed to say no for work?
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:29 AM on March 25, 2022

For the presentation at the company event, I'd ask for assistance in prepping the talk, specifically to ensure the company need is met at the high visibility event, who will be determining the message and designing the slide set, and what is the time frame for your input and review? Alternatively is there anyone else in the company that you can point them to? As deserving or to be more diverse or more having more expertise? Can topics be switched around to give you one less stressful?

And maybe review what is and is not within your job description relative to these, going forward. To me, the biggest issue in agreeing to any talk is the background support. I'm more likely to agree and be less stressed if it's a talk that I've given a million times before and at best needs minor updating.

OTOH, I've found the most stressful were high visibilty one-off talks that took 6 months of multiple rounds with management and marketing. While leadership tended to view these as great opps for me, they usually failed to recognize the time it took.
posted by beaning at 9:31 AM on March 25, 2022

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