Inattentive Audience? Who Knows?

Last Updated on Thursday, 30 July 2015 12:57 Written by Pam Chambers Sunday, 2 October 2011 04:03

I can recall only three or four times that people in my audience opened up a laptop computer and began tapping away. One incident involved a lawyer who was a student in my presentation course. As one of his fellow-students was giving her presentation, he was typing on his laptop. Afterward, I asked why he was taking notes about her presentation, and he said, “I wasn’t. I was working on a case.” If you know me, you know that didn’t go over well. He ended up withdrawing from the class because he was unwilling to follow my rule about giving people 100% support.

Recently, I taught a two-hour class on presentation skills to 60 business students at a local university. Without exception, all of them settled into their chairs and flipped open their laptops. Before my session began, they were all gazing (that’s the best word to describe it) at their screens, the only sound being faint tapping/typing and almost zero pre-class chatting. It was eerie! Would this be an inattentive audience? Who could know?

This is now how students take notes. But can I really believe that that’s all they were doing? I would be naive to think so. I can’t have been THAT fascinating! I would bet $1,000 that many were checking Facebook, sending e-mail, and working on other tasks. Not all, but how can we know?

This was funny: at one point I announced that if they went to my website (www.pamchambers.com), they could receive my digital book, Life is a Presentation, for free. (You can too!) ¬†Immediately, fingers flew with renewed purpose. When I returned to my computer, I found that half of them had instantly signed up to receive my book. So, in that case, I know at at least half of them were “in the moment” with me.

I’m not going to fight reality. I’m going to work with it. Next time I’m in such a situation, I will conduct several unannounced laptops-shut oral quizzes! That way, I’ll be able to know if they were inattentive, or simply modern.

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