Imagine you are delivering a presentation and after a while you notice a few people peeking below the table top, covertly checking and answering e-mail, or texting. To make it even worse, you get a question from one of the Crackberry Addicts which causes the other audience members to scowl, groan, and then sarcastically laugh because you had discussed that specific issue a few minutes earlier.
1) How do you feel?
2) Have you ever thought why they do this?
3) What can you do to minimize this behavior?
It is very unfortunate that the high tech world can also bring about this type of conduct. Imagine what a waste of a company’s resources this can represent, whether it is a training session, a meeting, or some other information exchange forum where some people are not actively engaged and participating. As a presenter, this scenario would increase my anxiety level and make me wonder if my content is off target.
Minimizing the Crackberry Effect: The Basics
- At the beginning of your presentation, ask people to refrain from using laptops, Blackberries, etc. Remind attendees of the importance of the presentation, and indicate when there will be breaks to receive and send e-mails and phone calls. Some options for handling this request tactfully are:
- Make the suggestion with humor – for example, if you have a multi-cultural group, you could lightheartedly suggest that anyone caught e-mailing, texting, or Tweeting will be invited to sing their national anthem to the group!
- Be different – tell them to keep their phones and other devices on. An acquaintance in the National Speakers Association (NSA) laughs and tells his audiences that he is text-ually active. He shows his audience that his phone is on vibrate, gives out his phone number, and encourages them to text questions to him at any time during his presentation. The added benefit of this is that it gives shy or hesitant people a means of asking a question confidentially.
- Be respectful of people’s abnormal circumstances and do not humiliate them with sarcasm. Imagine if someone has a family issue or work emergency going on and they need to be able to monitor e-mails or take calls. As a presenter, you may want to ask people to turn their devices off unless they have a valid reason to have immediate notification. Request that all devices be on vibrate to limit distractions and to take any calls outside the room.
Minimizing the Crackberry Effect: Other Considerations
- When developing your presentation, relate to the audience’s needs and experiences and provide value. Analyze your audience: if you were them, what would be on your mind? What information would you benefit from, and what are your concerns? Customize your material and aim for excellence.
- What’s in it for them? You should ask yourself this question after developing each section of your presentation. Ask yourself, “Why is this piece of information or story important to them?” Where possible, change the wording from “I” to “you”; e.g. instead of saying, “I have a concern that communication amongst our project groups is lacking,” you could rephrase it to, “Imagine how you would feel when you reach a critical point in your project, only to discover at the last minute that you are at a complete standstill because the deliverable from another group is running late.”
- When audience members are entering the room, welcome them, talk with them, and build rapport. They are more likely to listen to you if they like you.
- Open with impact – this is your first big opportunity to draw the audience into your presentation. When you open your presentation, use rhetorical questions, quotations, shock statements, questions, and stories that relate to your presentation and points. Get them engaged from the start. You have less than a minute to show them that this is not just another bland presentation, lecture, or meeting.
- Conduct a question and answer session to engage the audience. Call out individuals’ names to obtain answers to a question. This will encourage them to maintain attention as many people would be embarrassed to ask the presenter to repeat the question.
- Incorporate exercises that involve individual problem solving.
- Put humor and other entertainment in your presentation; participants will not want to miss the punch line if you have great stories or jokes that illuminate your points.
- Use humor that is appropriate to the occasion and to the audience.
- Walk into the audience to engage them, ask them questions, and get their point of view.
- Tell the audience that there are going to be quizzes during and after the presentation. This will help people focus and retain information.
- Use simple handouts that require them to fill in missing words in short sentences. When people write down information, it keeps them engaged and has the added benefit of helping them remember the information.
- Give out prizes to people who give terrific answers and get the room in competition mode. Remember, people at all levels of an organization love to win. Maximize the energy and interaction level with positive feedback.
- Use relevant stories, anecdotes, and vignettes frequently to bring your information into perspective.
- Get audience members to share their personal experiences. I recently conducted a workshop on presentation skills, and someone shared that he had recently experienced a heart attack. His experience of needing to communicate with the doctor fitted perfectly into the discussions on the importance of exceptional communication skills.
- Keep the presentation conversational. Design it so that you are frequently asking for perspectives.
- Be personable and energetic.
- Maximize your eye contact with your audience.
- Use vocal variety and project your voice to the level that everyone in the room can clearly hear your voice. If someone asks a question, repeat it back to the audience if the voice is not audible to the whole group.
- Use gestures and purposeful movement to illuminate your points and stories.
- Use first names as much as possible (use tent cards or other types of name tags if you cannot remember the names).
Final note: In 2009, I was a Master of Ceremonies (MC) at a speech competition where it was critical that no cell phones would ring and distract the competitors when they were speaking. A three minute video of me telling a humorous anecdote followed by an entertaining briefing regarding the need to turn off cell phones can be viewed onYouTube: