In “The Sure Thing,” John Cusack’s character, Gib, confronts a threatening pick-up driver by asking, “You think I got nothing better to do with my life then to sit here and pass the time with you?” These days, as mobile communication increases and audience etiquette decreases, presenters probably feel like attacking their audiences with this same question every other day. Indeed, there is nothing worse than working to prepare a presentation only to watch your audience drift off into their BlackBerries. Fortunately, Cusack’s other movies provide inspiration for how to keep your audience in the room and off of their PDAs.
1. Embrace that Dare to be Great Situation
Don’t just say anything that comes to mind when giving a presentation – be engaging. Most audience members resort to checking BlackBerries because they feel the information offered there is more relevant than the presentation at hand. Yes, it is rude to check emails or surf the web while someone is speaking. However, if you are presenting to a group of busy businessmen and women, it is arguably just as rude to waste their time with a boring presentation. Deliver a presentation that really interests your audience and you’ll notice that the BlackBerries will quickly take a back seat to you.
2. “How are you emotionally involved with me?”
Even if you aren’t a “Grosse Pointe Blank” fan, you can learn from Martin Q. Blank’s question to his therapist here. When giving a presentation, encourage audience involvement. By supporting interaction between you and audience members, you will draw people into your presentation and away from their BlackBerries.
3. “Do you have any idea what the street value of this mountain is?”
Although Charles de Mar was mistaken about his mountain’s value, your audience should understand clearly how much your presentation is worth to them. By explaining at the start how important your presentation is to your audience, you will create an audience that is immediately interested in what you, and not the BlackBerry, has to say.
4. Don’t Allow the Absence of Signs to be a Sign
In a way, Jonathan Trager was right – the absence of signs can be a sign. These days, if you don’t address the BlackBerry issue, people will take your silence as a sign that it’s okay to monitor their BlackBerries while you speak. Before you begin, establish the ground rules. Tell your audience that you expect them to pay attention to you and not their incoming emails. Be prepared to deliver a presentation worth listening to, though.
5. “If I don’t have a dream, I have nothing!”
Although Lane Myer was talking about skiing, some people do feel that they’d be better off dead than live without their BlackBerries. Getting “important” emails at inconvenient times makes them feel valuable. Unless you’re a therapist with a lot of extra time, don’t try to combat this corporate psychosis – be an enabler of sorts. Before you begin, tell the audience that you will provide frequent breaks to let them check their emails and make calls. If your listeners know they will have a few personal minutes soon, they will be much less likely to eye their BlackBerries while you speak.
6. Confiscate the Keys to Distraction
Remember when Lloyd Dobler collected everyone’s keys at the graduation party in “Say Anything”? You can apply the same concept to your meetings by collecting your audience members’ BlackBerries before you begin your presentation. Just remember to have people label their devices for easy retrieval.
7. “I want my two dollars!”
Certain presenters punish audience members who use their PDAs during presentations. Some presenters fine people who read emails on their BlackBerries, while others embarrass audience members by reading their most recent email aloud. Beware: this type of presenter behavior is rarely, if ever, appropriate and will most likely backfire on you later, even if you are the CEO.