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The “No Phones” No-No

Source: United Benefit Advisors, LLC

Saying that most people are addicted to their smartphones is nothing new, and most of us would deny that we have that addiction. Yet, according to an article in Workforce titled Keep Your (Mobile) Enemies Close, mobile analytics firm Flurry reported in April that the number of mobile addicts — people who check their phones more than 60 times a day — had increased 123% to 179 million.

That’s why saying “no phones” during a meeting, presentation, or other group activity is not going to make someone, no matter what their age, turn off their phone. Some people divert their attention in order to play the latest game or check the most recent stock price. Others just have to text their romantic interest at least 10 times an hour lest they think the other person won’t love them. And then there are just some people who refuse to let a call go to voice mail, regardless of its importance. We can argue that this is disrespectful, but in reality we’ve all done it at some point and meant no disrespect even though it caused us to stop paying attention.

The worst part about these distractions is that it also distracts the person next to you. Can anyone honestly say that if they see someone texting or playing a game that they are able to ignore it? In that same article, Ken Graetz, director of teaching, learning, and tech services at Winona State University in Minnesota, said, “Attention is very much like a flashlight — you focus it on certain things.” Very few of us can truly multitask, and when we focus our attention on one thing, we’re taking it away from another.

So what’s a person to do? If you’re hosting a meeting, or are presenting during a conference, how can you get people to give you their full, undivided attention?  Conversely, if you’re attending a meeting or presentation, how can the speaker engage you enough so that you ignore your smartphone or tablet? The answer is not to ban these devices, but to incorporate them.

Why do this? In Psychology Today, articles as far back as July 2013 and as recent as September 2014 talk about “nomophobia” — the fear of being without, or beyond reach of a mobile device. A full 66% of all adults suffer from this and it’s worse for high school and college students. That’s why incorporating mobile devices in order to increase attendee engagement is so crucial.

One of the easiest ways to do this is to use an app (mobile application) that allows attendees to download and view their own copy of the presenter’s slides or meeting organizer’s agenda. You can also send out polling questions if you really want to up your game. You can set up an online forum and tell people to add their thoughts or comments during the presentation so that the entire group can benefit. A great example of this is what the AMC network has done with its hit TV show, The Walking Dead. Their “Story Sync” online feature (also an app) provides viewers with trivia, polls, exclusive pictures and video.

While you may think this would keep people from paying attention to what’s going on, it actually increases their attention as well as retention of what was being presented.  Furthermore, it still allows people to get their mobile “fix” without any feelings of guilt.