In this age of digital technology, the rules of business etiquette seem to be relaxing. But lately I've seen some especially bad behavior involving public speaking and tech.
A few months ago, I was at an entrepreneurs forum, listening to a panelist describe his business idea, when I was distracted by a man nearby, visibly scrolling through his cell phone.
I know, you're thinking, "Annoying. But not egregious." Well, what if I told you he was the MODERATOR?
Eventually I realized the offender may have been consulting his phone as a notebook. But the message to the audience was the same as if he'd been checking Facebook or sports scores: "I'm more interested in my phone than this discussion, my panelist or any of you."
A few months prior, I attended a conference at which an advertising agency was presenting its award-winning work. After playing a short video, the agency assembled its creative team at the front of the room to take audience questions—which we were instructed should be sent via Tweets that the panel would read from i-Pads. You can probably guess how well that went.
The panelists awkwardly stared at the tablets, waiting for Tweets to slowly come in. Befuddled audience members, sitting just a few feet away, looked at each other and then reluctantly reached for their phones. Finally, one panelist announced he had a Tweet! But wait...he lost his Wi-Fi connection. It was gone.
At last, one audience member stood up and announced, "While you all get that together, I'm gonna try something different here and just ask a question." Applause erupted.
Yes, I know phones are fun. So are tablets and laptops. And one could make the argument (I don't think it's valid) that it's easier to type notes into a device than write them on paper or to read Tweets off a tablet than to pass around a mic. But no one should ever do that-not when live audience members are sitting just a few feet away.
Digital technology does a wonderful job of helping people who are not proximal communicate as if they were. But remember, while technology can simulate live, in-person connections, it should never replace them.
Live, in-person meetings-whether large or small-are precious and should be treated like gold. Each one presents an opportunity to do something magical. Showcase charisma. Address audience concerns. Win people's hearts. Win their minds. Maybe change their minds. Maybe even change their lives.
If you are lucky enough to stand before an audience, embrace the experience for what it is: Not a chance to show off or play with technology, but a chance to engage with members of the audience on the most human level. Look them in the eye, share your ideas, read their reactions and respond to their questions—all face-to-face.
Give it a try and let us know how it works or what else might work better. For more great ideas and tips for rock solid communication, check out our blog “Let’s Be Clear," visit us at bluestoneexec.com, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @bluestoneexec.