Over the last few years, I’ve attended a variety of meetings, shows and events and have made dozens of in-person presentations to clients and prospects. I’ve noticed an increase in the amount of people taking out a smartphone to send or receive an email or text.

I contemplated the situation over an adult beverage and came up with three possibilities.

First, the presentation and subject matter missed the mark and didn’t contain value to the audience … they were bored. The second possibility, perhaps the presentation skills of the speakers weren’t very good. The third possibility is that people have become unaware of their surroundings and have become too attached to their smartphones.

I dismissed the first possibility because after reviewing outlines for the subject matter it was clear that many of the presentations were very specific and detailed. Further, the individuals were at an event to learn more about an industry or specific topic and often had paid for the privilege. As I thought back, I recalled being very impressed with the skills of many of the presenters. It was clear they had practiced their presentations.

The third possibility seemed to have the most merit, people have become unaware of their surroundings and have become too attached to their smartphones.

This theory seemed to have the most traction, so I typed a few searches into Google. One of the best was the article, “Why Successful People Never Bring Smartphones Into Meetings” by Kevin Kruse, a contributor to Forbes. This was actually written in 2013, so this is a trend that continues. His column is based on research conducted by the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business: Perceptions of Civility for Mobile Phone Use in Formal and Informal Meetings.

The researchers conducted a nationwide survey. They asked a variety of questions about smartphone use during meetings and found:
• 86% think it’s inappropriate to answer phone calls during meetings
• 84% think it’s inappropriate to write texts or emails during meetings.
• 66% think it’s inappropriate to write texts or emails even during lunches offsite

The study also found that Millennials are three times more likely than those over the age of 40 to think smartphone use during meetings is okay, which is ironic considering Millennials are highly dependent upon the opinions of their older colleagues for career advancement.

Millennials have the lowest self-awareness in the workplace, making them unlikely to see that smartphone use in meetings is harming their careers. However, this isn’t limited to Millennials; Boomers and Gen Xers do it too.

The research showed many people find smartphone use in meetings to be inappropriate, and here’s why. Offenders show:

Lack of respect. You consider the information on your smartphone to be more important than the conversation at hand, and you view people outside of the meeting to be more important than those sitting right in front of you.

Lack of attention. You’re unable to stay focused on one thing at a time.

Lack of listening. You aren’t practicing active listening, so no one around you feels heard.

Lack of self-awareness. You don’t understand how ridiculous your behavior looks to other people.

Lack of social awareness. You don’t understand how your behavior affects those around you.

The findings seem to be spot on. Kruse suggests being clear on what you expect when you hold internal meetings. He also had a unique suggestion: Take a page out of the Old West and put a basket by the conference room door with an image of a smartphone and the message, “Leave your guns at the door.” That could be a fun exercise, watching some go into withdrawal while a basket of smartphones vibrates into oblivion in the back of the room.

Email me at TTanker@FVMG.com


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