Nir Eyal’s book, Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life, is a guide to staying focused on the job — the subject of Convene‘s December cover story. But how do you help attendees avoid distractions during sessions and throughout an event so that they get the most out of their time on site? Eyal had some ideas about that.
When he first started out as a public speaker, Eyal told Convene, he was offended by seeing people in the audience looking at their devices. But then, he said, he started “welcoming it as a real-time feedback mechanism. If there were a lot of people in the audience using their cell phones, that meant I wasn’t doing a good job of keeping them interested,” he said. “Distraction is oftentimes a response to internal triggers. A good speaker should be able to hold people’s attention. When people get bored, they use their phones as an escape. It’s on the speaker to see those cues and improve their talk — to step it up.”
When asked whether he thought it was a good idea to ask people to voluntarily hand over their cell phone during a session to give speakers their full attention, Eyal said he didn’t think so. “People like to have their devices with them,” he said. “And there’s always the possibility that they are sharing your talk on social media. We can’t always judge.”
Eyal thought that event organizers also should make a point of observing how people are using their devices during presentations. “If more people have their eyes on their devices than on the speaker, that’s important feedback,” he said. “You’re not always going to get the best feedback from your surveys — most of the people who rate speakers either loved or hated them. There aren’t a lot in the middle.”
Outside of general or breakout sessions, you should discourage people from using their cell phones during networking breaks, at luncheons, “and especially at icebreaker sessions, like where you have tables with cards with questions that give people something to talk about and that encourages sharing,” he said. The goal in those situations is to interact face-to-face with others, not with your phone. It would behoove organizers to “say a few words encouraging people to be fully present” in those situations, he said. “People are starting to understand the etiquette around using devices,” he added, but a gentle reminder can’t hurt.
And lastly, having “zones” or designated areas on site for people to recharge their devices, catch up on emails and their social media, Eyal said, is a really good idea — giving them space to do those things without being constantly distracted by them during sessions.
Michelle Russell is Convene’s editor in chief.
This story is part of Convene’s CMP Series, which enables readers to earn one hour of CE credit toward CMP certification from the Events Industry Council. Find the main story by clicking “Becoming Indistractable,” which will lead you to other sidebars. Go to the CMP Series page for access to additional stories.