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Some people suck at talking in public, and that's fine. We invented phones so that we wouldn't have to talk to one another in person. Then we thought a bit more, and invented smarter phones so that we wouldn't need to talk to one another at all. Staring at your phone is the ultimate nonverbal sign that you don't want or need to be disturbed. And it still gets screwed up.

Unfortunately, some people think "communicating with other human beings" is an optional bonus in modern society, instead of its entire basis. They're paid to talk, but are worse at it and their jobs than a chatty anesthetist. If they sucked at any other aspect of their employment this much, they'd be fired or employed as a 100-percent organic artisanal vacuum cleaner.

Airport Announcements

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Airport gates: Where people whine about ten-minute delays before a trip which used to take two human lives for every one person who actually made it. The speakers crackle, the 200 people impatiently blockading the priority access path despite holding sub-economy ticket 389ZZ perk up their ears, and the airline gate attendant starts spluttering like the Sphinx ordered them to solve Rongorongo riddles live on stage.

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"Sweet Thoth, is this a name or a Scrabble set?"

"Can an, um, Miss Za- uh, za-krak, no ... zak-raj-sek come to the counter at gate 21?" Far worse than any amount of incorrect pronunciation is the self-excusing introduction. They prefix their statement with more "um"s than the stationary of the University of Malaya's Professor of Micrometry. The series of confused noises is meant to preemptively apologize, but has the opposite effect. They think they're saying, "I'm not sure how to say this." They're actually saying, "Making it clear I only failed at this because I'm not really trying is a damn sight more important than your existence, Johnny Foreigner!" With a bonus subtext of, "I really, really suck at my job. My job of reading things out. I still haven't mastered that. There are elementary schoolers living in areas significantly less monochrome than mine who are already better at this than me."

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"Could Miss Zakrajsek please come to gate 21 to teach this fully-grown woman how to read in public? Thanks."

The days of global travel officials only needing to use English names are extraordinarily over (despite the TSA's best efforts), and not something anyone should be reenacting. Even without the imperial overtones, it sets a record for how much someone can suck at their job without being raided by the vice squad. They work in an airport! Foreign names were going to happen! Even if their first day on the job was a bit rough, the second has no excuse. The third means they're at least an idiot who'd rather permanently fail than take 10 minutes a day to practice saying names.


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The airport attendant at least has the excuse of other things to do, like having to explain that 47 doesn't come between rows 10 and 20 four thousand times an hour. An educator's only job is to teach the student. If they screw up the first thing that student ever learned, they're not going to convince anyone they know a damn thing.

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"Oh my god, we're going into debt to listen to someone who can't read."

Some names are difficult for the untrained tongue. But the speaker is not just a part of but actively representing an institution dedicated only to learning new things. Making mistakes is fine, as long as they learn from them and get the right answer. And then they'll know how to do it for the rest of their lives. But if a teacher can't be bothered to learn how to say someone's name, they just told that person and everyone else in the room, "Don't bother learning from me. I'm a hypocritical asshole and actively avoid new information."

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"Sorry, sir, 'Jonathan' is too hard to say. Can I just call you Professor Dickhead?"

The first and most important lesson is that somebody does not "suck at foreign names." They suck at names. If it isn't racist, it's idiotic. And they aren't idiots, because anyone who can be bothered to pronounce Tchaikovsky or Biot-Savart or Hekshcher-Olin can learn any other name in existence. The effort is infinitely less than what's required for any equation they use or any list of steps they memorize.

One of the worst things a teacher can possibly ask is, "Is there something else I can call you?" Which translates exactly and only into, "Your mere existence is a hassle to me, and one I'm going to reduce and ignore." Even worse is chopping someone's identity into a fun-size chunk for convenience. People don't even like fun-size bullshit when it's made of chocolate, never mind never minding their name.

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"Mars? This bullshit isn't even Pluto, and THAT'S NOT EVEN A PLANET."

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Managers And Moderators

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From business briefings to convention panels, both work and play have events where someone interesting is invited to talk. A question and answer session is meant to give them more excuses to do so. Assholes attempt to reverse the polarity of public speaking by taking attention for themselves with eleven-part ax-grinding essays intended to show how smart they are, but which really show why they have to trap people into listening to them.

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"This isn't related to what you were saying, and it'll take a minute to ask, and the first part of my question is: Why hasn't anyone killed me yet?"

The moderator should cut them off like a barbarian meeting a chanting wizard. Unfortunately, many moderators think they're only there to make sure no one breaks out into interpretive dance instead of speaking. Moderators and managers need to set standard rules at the start of a session, and enforce them at all times. Audience members should have 30 seconds at most to ask a question, because this isn't Gotham and we're not here to listen to an asshole try to prove how smart they are with complicated questions. If a question opens a second subclause, cut them off early and give them six seconds to finish. Vine those assholes, answer whatever words they managed to get out, and move on.

Requests for followup questions should be treated like requests for anal sex: Assume the answer is no, don't even ask unless they really, really like you, and if it's declined, you do NOT try to push ahead anyway.

Elevator Interrogators

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The elevator is a machine designed to save humans from extra pointless work, and is therefore the only technological part of the modern office which still works as intended. Because most modern offices aren't efficient workplaces -- they're Reservations for the maintenance of '50s-Era Bullshit. If your job involves a computer and a phone, insisting you do it in a specific room is like insisting you kill and skin a mastodon for clothing: It involves a lot of painful interaction with stupid, smelly things you'd rather not be stuck in a room with.

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"Yep, real glad I got up two hours early for this."

The elevator is the one machine in the entire office block which reliably saves you hassle. Unfortunately, it's also the earliest example of a machine letting random assholes say whatever they want to you. Some people just don't get that quiet strangers aren't waiting for a brave soul with the skill and daring to attempt the amazing feat of "opening their noisehole and emitting noise." Most people standing quietly without bothering or being bothered by anyone are functioning as intended.

If you see a stranger and try to start a friendly conversation, that's fine. I hope it goes well. But you're attempting to enter a social contract. And Paragraph 1, Clause 1 of that contract is: "If they go 'mm-hmmm' without making eye contact, shut the hell up." Apparently, this contract needs a large-type waterproof chewable version, as many people think a complete lack of response means they just haven't tried hard enough yet. They cycle through conversational gambits, pumping out random strings of words in the hope of getting access, mounting a brute force attack on someone else's soul.

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"Maintain the neutral expression. He's nearly gone, and then I'll take the stairs for the rest of my life. Forty floors isn't that high."

Most of human society understands that you have to respect other people's privacy, even if you're locked in a sealed box together. In fact, understanding that lesson in theory instead of practice is the basis of our legal system.

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Giving A Presentation

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People giving bad presentations are the closest reality comes to the villains from children's cartoons. They steal the life force from several, tens, maybe hundreds of people at a time, but we never just leave because we know they'll be defeated and go away at the end. And then they'll come back with exactly the same plot, but with some minor differences in the words they use.

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"With my new 'PowerPoint,' I can steal hundreds of dollars' worth of company time!"

Most of this isn't malice, but basic incompetence. (NOTE: This does not make it any easier to endure.) But we could still forgive that. The real crime is when someone sets up their slideshow with a sigh, warning their audience with a resigned tone of "okay, let's just get through this." Screw you! We're not in this together! We're in this because of YOU! A bad presenter acting like we're sharing a burden is like the Jigsaw Killer expecting guests to commiserate over his hacksaw budget.

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"In the good old days, I could have just HIRED people to eventually feed themselves into industrial machinery!"

As the presenter, it's your job to present information to the audience, not to just exist at an hourly rate until you think you've done enough. You can't treat other people's lives like paper in a junior high essay, making sure you waste enough of it to look like you were working. Blue-assed baboons have better presentation etiquette. At least they seem to enjoy their work and use some bright colors!

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"As you can see, we have a bright quarter behind us, allowing us all to sit comfortably."

Which is why I've come up with two rules to improve the world. First: If your presentation doesn't gain anything by being presented, don't present it! E-mail everyone a copy of the file and let them get on with their lives. Second: Any presenter going over their time must pay for every extra minute with a square centimeter of skin. A small cheese grater will be provided, and this fee must be paid during the minute as it's used.

Find more easy ways to improve your life with 5 Nerd Hacks That Make You Less of a Jerk, or warn yourself against even worse public speakers with 6 Habits of Highly Annoying Public Speakers

Luke explains Signs You Might Not Be Merely Having a Civil Discussion, tumbles, and responds to every single tweet.

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