This is a guest post by Stacy Rosenberg, Assistant Teaching Professor, Carnegie Mellon University
If you have been tempted to look down at your phone in the middle of a presentation – no matter how relevant the content – you suffer from The Swipe Effect. The Swipe Effect is the influence our phones have on our ability to stay focused in the moment. It is the consequence of our curiosity (or anxiety) about what could be waiting for us: a text, a voicemail, a post – a message of any kind. It is more habit than disinterest. It is what draws us away from the presenter to our mobile devices.
Imagine you are the presenter well prepared with pertinent content and appealing visuals. You breathe deeply then step in front of the room to deliver the practiced material. Only a few minutes in you notice eyes looking down. Hands reach for phones or tablets. You see swiping and know that you have lost your audience.
There is a tendency for public speakers to design talks that generate interest early in the presentation. The speaker begins by establishing credentials, and then uses a hook to capture attention. The hook is often a surprising fact delivered to dispel an incorrect, yet commonly held belief. The tactic is sometimes framed with appropriate humor to build rapport with the audience.
Regrettably, few speakers incorporate interactive elements later in the presentation (when they can be most useful). Commonly, speakers segment their material into defined parts: the opening; three or more key points; the closing; questions and answers; and a final statement. After the introductory remarks presenters tend to launch into a lecture as if in the room alone.
To combat The Swipe Effect use audience engagement tactics within each content block – not just in the opening. Explore a mix of maneuvers such as a rhetorical question, poll, activity, humor, movements toward the audience, direct eye contact, verbal flags (highlighting main ideas), dramatic pauses, dynamic media, etc. This combination of verbal, nonverbal, and visual communication will keep heads up and eyes on you.
Professor Rosenberg’s Biography
Stacy Rosenberg is an Assistant Teaching Professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College in the School of Information Systems & Management and Public Policy & Management. She teaches the graduate-level courses Strategic Presentation Skills, Professional Writing, and Business English. Stacy serves on the Arts Management and Entertainment Industry Management program committees and on CMU’s Global Communication Center’s advisory board. Formerly, Stacy was Assistant Director for External Relations at NYU’s Department of Media, Culture, & Communication. She was also a member of the NYU Stern School of Business and Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development adjunct faculty for the courses Business & Its Publics, Media & Identity, and Media Criticism.
Stacy, great article. As you know Swiping happens in everyday situations. I will use your combat techniques to help regain my audience. Although wouldn’t it be easier to just ask people to turn off their phones?
Sounds like that would be easier for sure. Do you think that could alienate the audience though? That is, asking something of them rather than keeping them engaged through effective presentation skills? I don’t know, just a thought..
Thank you, Susan. In certain situations, such as a classroom, the speaker can request that listeners turn off their mobile devices. At a professional conference or other business meetings, the request might be less acceptable to audience members. This is where generating interaction early and often truly makes a difference.
Thank you, Susan. In response to your question: in certain situations, such as a classroom, the speaker can request that listeners turn off their mobile devices. At a professional conference or other business meetings, the request might be less acceptable to audience members. This is where generating interaction early and often truly makes a difference.