July 3, 2015
Just like a scowling face or furrowed brow in the front row, someone tapping on a mobile phone in the audience can be distracting, even derailing, to a speaker or presenter at the front of the room. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked by a presenter what they should do about audience members being on their phones during a presentation, I could have retired years ago.
Instead of collecting dollars, however, I’ve always put the phone issue into perspective and shared three pieces of wisdom:
1. Really? You’re asking me what to do, but what are your alternatives? Do you really want to be that person, do you want to shame your audience and tell them to put away their phones? Do you want to be like the librarian who admonishes innocent whisperers with “shhhh”? Probably not … certainly not if you can avoid it. If speaking and presenting are all about connecting with and engaging your audiences, then starting with knuckle-rapping might not be the best way to accomplish that. Let it go.
2. Thank you, Steve Jobs. Increasingly, people take notes on their devices, especially on their phones. Thanks to the Notes function on iOS devices and note-taking apps on Android phones, audiences are saying “adios” to hand-written notes and “hola” to typing them up and keeping them where they’re most readily accessible – their cell phones. And here’s the rub: This is a very good thing. Rather than notes scribbled on a piece of paper filed away – or worse, lost – with many other pieces of paper, these notes are carried with your audience members in their cell phones, potentially in perpetuity, wherever they go and accessible whenever. Stickiness and endurance – those are the potential benefits.
3. You have work to do! In the final analysis, it’s your job to earn your audience’s attention. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that someone in your audience has their phone out because they’ve become bored by your presentation. Is that their fault or yours? If you’re at the podium or the front of the room, it’s your job to spend time preparing and packaging your material in a way that’s compelling and memorable to your audience. Let’s face it, you’d probably value attention you earn more than attention that’s granted out of good manners anyway.
Regarding the scowling face or furrowed brow in the front row, I’ve always reminded speakers that one man’s scowl is another man’s look of concentration. Similarly, when you see audience members tapping on their mobile phones, let it go. Keep in mind that it is essentially unavoidable that some people will check their phones. Most smartphone users check their phones every six minutes, and it is often more from instinct than conscious desire or boredom. For your part, assume the best – that they’re taking notes or tweeting your words of wisdom – and keep on going, you have work to do at the front of the room!