Pachter's Pointers:
Business Etiquette Tips & Career Suggestions


Public-Speaking Challenge: Someone is sleeping during your talk!

What do you do when someone falls asleep during your presentation?

My first thought after being asked that question during a recent presentation-skills seminar was to recall the scene in last year’s movie, Larry Crowne, where Julia Roberts throws an eraser at her sleeping student.

My second thought was, “You can’t do that in the business world!” However, since I have been asked about sleeping/daydreaming participants a number of times over the last few years, here are some alternative suggestions:

1. Don’t take it personally; sometimes people just need to sleep. A number of years ago, I had a woman sleeping in the first row of my seminar. I admit that it was a little unnerving. But she came up to me at break and said, “I am loving your seminar, but I had a migraine this morning and took my medicine, and I know at times it makes me drowsy. But I’m learning so much I want to stay, and I wanted you to know that.” I responded with a gracious, and heartfelt, “Thank you!”

2. Ask yourself: Are you making it too easy for people to doze off? Are you speaking in a monotone? Too softly? Is the room too hot? Too dark? Are your slides difficult to read? If any of these scenarios describe your presentation, some of your audience may fall asleep.

3. Have you added any stories? Do not just give out a collection of related data. Adding stories that support your information can enliven your presentation and keep your audience’s attention. To highlight the importance of the speaker making eye contact with the audience, I often tell the story of a judge instructing a witness to remove his dark glasses so the jury could see his eyes.

4. Walk around or near the sleeper. When you walk around your room, your activity may wake the person. Sometimes a participant sitting next to the dozing person will tap the sleeper.

5. Call a break or have the group do an exercise. These options are usually possible during an informal presentation. Make sure you talk to the sleeper during this time to engage him or her.

6. Ask the person a question. This can be risky. Do this very cautiously because you do not want to put someone on the spot. But if a person is only nodding off or daydreaming, you may want to try it. Say the person’s name and then ask a question or ask for a comment, such as “Tom, you are the expert on budgeting, would you please add your comments on _____________.”

Additional tips on presentation skills can be found in my book, When The Little Things Count…And They Always Count.

Pachter & Associates
offers seminars and coaching on presentation skills. Contact Joyce Hoff at 856.751.6141 or


  1. Anonymous8/08/2012

    From a Reader:
    Thanks Barbara. These tips really are very helpful.

  2. This happened to me once - in a meeting where we all presented on our various responsibilities one by one. A person fell asleep when my turn came - because my issues didn't affect his job. It has always stayed with me. Willful napping! He woke up and was embarassed but...

  3. Anonymous1/23/2013

    From A Reader:
    If you are doing the best job possible - don't take it personally. If you focus on them it will only erode your confidence and distract you. Keep your energy and engagement levels where they should be and realize you are not personally responsible for the energy/interest level of others. Haven't you every felt dozy in the middle of a great session? :) I have!

  4. Really nice and interesting post. I was looking for this kind of information and enjoyed reading this one.
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