Stop Blackberry Abuse

There is a growing and disturbing phenomenon that is familiar to all of us – the blessing and curse of the Blackberry. (Or Treo, or other instant email PDA that you might have.) What is a speaker or meeting leader to do when everyone goes to their Blackberrys to check emails rather than listen to you?

It happens all the time, and the custom is becoming rampant. The curse is out of control – turn it into a blessing. Take charge skillfully.

Here is what you can do:

  • Be interesting. This is most of the problem. People need stimulation, and all too often in our data dump laden business presentation setting people are boring. What you have to do above all is be interesting. Use SHARPs. Engage them with interaction. Be sure you have a focused and listener based message. If you are leading a meeting, facilitate well (there is a skill to facilitating too.)
  • Be dramatic. Get a dummy Blackberry and in your introduction throw it on the floor, stamp on it, and say, “Out damn Blackberry.” Then go to item 4.
  • Take control. Even if you are interesting, some people need to get a key phone call or urgent email. (Not very many, but some.) If so, set it up beforehand with something like, “I know you all are busy, and some of you might have an essential phone message to get. We’ll have breaks so you can take care of urgencies about every hour – but is there anyone who MUST take a call, put it on ring and we’ll all know the call came in. Are there any of you who MUST take a call? That way they will all be on notice for no phone calls. (Notice we left out emails – no one really HAS to get an email within an hour.)
  • Be winsome.Start out with an acknowledgement like, “I know three things:
    1. You all are busy and have phones and emails to contend with, and will want to go to your Blackberrys.
    2. But I also know how valuable this session is, and I don’t want you to miss a thing.
    3. I also know that most of us are like me – for want of talking to someone else, or listening, we will go to our Blackberry’s as if there is something important there, even though there isn’t.
    4. So please put them on OFF, and away – out of sight and out of mind. And I will be so interesting that you won’t want to go to them anyway.”
  • Be firm. If all else fails, and if you have control of the group (you can’t do this if the group is your client, so go back to items 1-4), ask everyone at the start to put away their Blackberry’s. (I know an executive who had an effective all day conference by having his 30 employees put their machines on a table in the back of the room, labeling them with masking tape, and they couldn’t pick them up until the end of the day.)
  • Do something. Don’t let Blackberry Abuse get you, or you will abuse your effectiveness as a leader and communicator for your allotted time. Are you going to let a machine control your impact?

But cutting through it all I go back to the beginning – BE INTERESTING! You won’t have a problem. They won’t seek diversion elsewhere. No Blackberry Abuse.

2 comments on “Stop Blackberry Abuse

  1. Great ideas Simon, thanks.
    I just hope the value of the PDAs will be used in the right places, and not abused in the wrong ones – where speaking should reign. Unfortunately, not enough business presenters keep it interesting enough.

  2. Couldn’t agree more – just be upfront and assertive *before* the session starts.
    Having said that, calling it anything to do with Blackberrys is just a gimmick! As a speaker you should alwasys be interesting/entertaining/informative not just when you’ve got the kind of audience who use PDAs! :)
    One of the things we cover on our presentation skills training ( is exactly how to be assertive in the right way – generally it’s by clearly setting up the “rules of the game” in advance, so that people know what’s expected of them: for example, it’s in the T&C of our training courses themselves that people turn off mobile phones etc.
    Personally, I’ll often do it by saying that the “house rules” are that you are welcome to leave mobiles phones switched on and the first person who gets theirs to ring buys a drink at the bar for everyone else at lunchtime……
    That way, if all else fails, you’ve got the rest of your audience on your side! :)