Have you ever been giving a talk and watched – insulted, helpless, and wondering what to do – as the smartphones start popping out in the audience? Pretty discouraging, isn’t it? Or is it? How can anyone be paying attention while they’re clicking away on their phone? Or can they?
The old school of thought was anything that wasn’t pen to paper on a lined pad with focused eye contact was a distracted audience. However, padfolios are giving way to smartphones and tablets; it’s inevitable, so embrace it. Worst case scenario, the smartphones are coming out because the audience member is checking messages, that’s the worst case. But what if they’re taking notes? Or tweeting the point you just made? It’s really no different from the pad and pen days. Maybe they were taking notes on the pad, or maybe they were drafting a memo they forgot to write the day before. You don’t know what people are doing with their smartphones and tablets, but you really never knew what they were doing with their pads and pens either.
Bottom line is don’t be insulted, don’t feel helpless and, most of all, don’t admonish your audience! Instead, use it to your advantage. The whole reason you are giving a talk is to propagate your ideas, right? So hash-tag it. Give them permission to take it beyond the boardroom or conference room; make them work for you. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. All of them allow you to spread your ideas. So embrace the devices that help do that. And welcome to the 21st Century.

Beth Levine