Picture yourself standing in front of a room of colleagues, presenting the results of a research project. As you try to make eye contact, you notice that more than half of the attendees are not looking at you. They are typing away on their smartphones and laptops. Is it e-mail? Are they taking notes? Are they surfing the web?
Ultimately, you have no idea. So what do you do?
First, give them the benefit of the doubt. With the advent of tablets and ultra-portable laptops, technology has replaced the pad of paper. One manager I worked for had a strict “laptops down” policy, even for taking notes; I could not decipher my handwriting after two weeks, essentially making my meeting notes useless.
Think also about social media trends, such as audience members tweeting comments about your presentation. Shutting down that real-time PR is not in your best interest – especially if the comments are good!
If you suspect that your listeners are actually busy with e-mails or surfing the web, there are a few strategies that you can use to draw their attention back to your presentation. The key is to engage your audience to be active participants.
Vary your Presentation Style
Changing the dynamics of your presentation will engage your audience. For example:
- Have you been standing in one spot? Physically move closer to your audience, possibly even stroll into the aisles, or around the table in a meeting.
- If you have been using the same tone and pace, use more variety, for example by raising your voice to highlight a key point. And if you use a lengthy pause, chances are that everyone will look up at you in anticipation.
- Depending on your topic, a little humor will engage the audience and create a better connection with them. And even if they are still typing, if they laugh or smile, chances are good that they are still with you.
Invite Audience Participation
Active participation typically makes it impossible to continue typing. For example:
- Ask a question to the group requiring them to raise their hands, then comment on the result of responses.
- While difficult to pull off, an aside such as "if you take a look at this chart..." is a subtle invitation to participate. If the group is small enough - and you are comfortable speaking off the cuff on your topic - you can then invite comments and questions to make your presentation interactive.
- Ask the audience to physically move, but only if it is relevant to your topic, such as a demonstration. If you can engage even just a few volunteers, such as to take down questions or action items on a whiteboard, you are making the audience a part of your talk.
There is usually a fine line between being dynamic, and being, well, just plain silly. A handout that requires a fill-in-the-key-word approach does not work well for me (see my prior comment about my illegible handwriting!). Asking audience members to stand and stretch multiple times (this has happened!) does not further your message unless you are a fitness coach illustrating a technique; it will be distracting, especially in a business context.
Above all, if someone is typing while you talk, don’t take it personally. That person may need to be reachable by family members, for a doctor’s message, or for childcare issues. Don’t let someone’s focus on a smartphone derail you from presenting to your highest level. They may simply be good at multi-tasking – and may be paying more attention you might think!
For information about District 4 Toastmasters, visit www.d4tm.org.