Here’s a question I get a lot. And the people that ask it usually don’t like my response.
“I think it’s rude when people look at their smartphones when I’m speaking. So what is the best way to ask people to turn off their phones at the beginning of a presentation?”
Here’s my answer: “I don’t think you should ask people to turn off their smartphones. I think it’s patronizing and rude. Your job is to be so engaging that no one will consider looking at their phones.”
I was at a workshop in New York recently where the person introducing me told the participants that they needed to turn off their phones. The request made me uncomfortable.
These were business people, not antsy school children that needed to be told not to throw spitballs in class. They knew how to behave. And while I have had people look at their cellphones during my programs, I’ve never had someone be rude to me while doing it.
I suspect the idea that people should turn off their cell phones comes from the notion that listeners owe the speaker their attention. But I have to quote my Rabbi on this one: “Where is that written?”
Listeners shouldn’t distract or undermine the speaker. But in a business meeting they have every right to daydream, think about their spouses, play Words with Friends, answer important (or frivolous) emails, or otherwise ignore everything the speaker says. People are required to sit through so many presentations these days – and so many of them are bad – that it’s just not reasonable to expect people to pay attention to worthless drivel.
Your job is to be more intriguing than a smartphone.
The first key to beating back the Blackberries is to focus solely on solutions to your listeners’ most vital challenges. I was listening to a sales presentation by a large telecommunication company recently. The first 10 minutes of the 30-minute presentation focused on the history of the company. Who cares?!
The speaker may as well have started his presentation by saying, “I’m not going to talk about anything interesting for a while, so go ahead and take out your Blackberries and check your emails.”
Let’s say that you’re not certain of your audience’s most vital business needs. Then call some audience members in advance and say, “I want to make sure that you find my presentation more interesting than anything you have on your iPhone. So could you tell me what you would like me to talk about?”
Next, make your presentation a conversation, not a speech. If people are asking you questions, they’re not looking at their iPads.
Here’s a great way to get people to put away their mobile devices at the beginning of a presentation. Start the presentation by asking a question of the audience. “I’d like everyone to team up with the person next to them and write down three things that make winning business difficult.” Such questions immediately engage the audience.
Finally, speak with more passion than a Siri app. I was working this week with a salesman for a large food company. His passion made me want to pay attention.
So if you find a lot of people are tapping out emails during your presentations, take the hint. Find a way to be more engaging.
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