How to Handle Mobile Phones During Presentations

For anyone who has run a meeting or given a presentation to a group, the sound of a mobile phone going off is one of those annoying but common interruptions. What can business presenters do to minimize these distractions?

Ground Rules

Although you may never completely stop the use of mobile phones in larger meetings, you can let the audience know what the meeting’s expectations are. This can be done by the host or MC of the meeting, written on a flipchart or computer slide. A simple ground rule can reduce the number of distractions.

At the beginning of the presentation, take out your mobile phone, show it to the audience and ask them to switch it to vibrate or silent mode. Explain that when an important call is received, they should step outside the room to take the call.

Good presenters also take this opportunity to explain that the purpose of this ground rule is not to stop the audience conducting their important business but to show respect and politeness for the other audience members. This not only reduces resistance to your ground rule but also elevates the audience to a higher place where they show respect and courtesy for other participants.

Explain to the audience that there will be a ten minute break every hour, and so they can take calls and call back then. This will also reduce the need for immediate calls.

Incentives” to stop mobile phones ringing

A ground rule is only as good as the audience’s willingness to follow it. Mobile phones are such a personal device that many people will not cooperate or simply will forget to switch it to silent. What can a business presenter do when a mobile phone goes off in a meeting – and still keep rapport with the audience?

In some Western cultures, presenters have tried this incentive:

“Anyone whose phone rings during a meeting buys a round of beers that night for everyone in the meeting”.

In a meeting with many participants that is large motivator. The only opt out clause is if the person takes a call to close a big deal, in which case they would be expected to to celebrate the deal.

In certain cultures, the disapproval of the presenter or trainer can be a motivator. The caveat here is that you have to know the line that you can’t cross with your audience. If you insult them or look down on them or become a dictator then you’re going to find it difficult to get things done with them.

One method is to stop speaking when the phone rings. This signals to the participants that you have been interrupted and can’t continue until the distraction is eliminated. Don’t call out the person’s name or even look in their direction. Keep calm and smile. When the phone is switched off, simply say “Thank you” and move on.

Extreme Examples to Stop Mobile Phone use

While these suggestions will help most business settings, sometimes a presenter will adopt an extreme position to make their point. These high risk approaches can really make an impact but when done well add to the overall impact of your presentation.

For example, one presenter started a presentation by pulling out a mobile phone, placed the phone into a padded envelope, dropped the envelope to the floor, stomped on it repeatedly, picked the envelope back up, and then threw it to the back of the hall. He smiled politely and asked if anyone in the room had another device he could practice on. If so, all they had to do was let it make any noise during his presentation.

The outcome was that with over 200 people in the room for a two-hour presentation, there was not a single instance of a phone ringing, beeping, or even buzzing. The key to these extreme approaches is a certain sense of humour so choose them with care.

Remember as a presenter you need to keep the audience on your side, so while mobile phones ringing in meetings are an irritation, they are a fact of life. Set ground rules, keep a sense of humour and don’t react to a phone ringing in an angry way.