Send that Blackberry to Solitary Confinement

Not your home turf? That is no excuse to stop being hospitable.

I spoke at a conference today. I had the good fortune of giving the opening session, and I had been invited to remain for the presentations of the other speakers. Theirs was a field totally new to me, and I was eager to learn what I could, so I happily accepted my host’s gracious invitation and stayed, grabbing a seat at the back of the room.

From my new vantage point I saw something that disappointed me greatly, for it was a complete shift from how I had regarded my wonderfully warm audience a few minutes before, as we spoke of the magic of aloha.

Those dreaded, manners-killing, aloha-destroying Blackberries were coming out of hiding.

Unless I have a very large audience and need to stay up on a riser, I’m not one to stay behind a podium. I opt for a wireless mic, and I present by getting pretty up close and personal with my audience, roaming the room and telling my stories of the Hawaiian values and their business applications in a pretty animated way. So normally no one dares check their Blackberries — especially after they see that I WILL approach the first person who tries, usually grabbing it out of their hands and tossing it into the nearest planter, or reading the email displayed on it to the entire audience — with a few words changed in a way that I feel is much more entertaining.

Luckily, neither scenario had become opportunity during my presentation, and now I felt it wasn’t my place; all I could do was sit in the back of that room perfectly mortified for the speakers who did not have the hospitality of their audience. You cannot imagine how hard that was for me to do.

If you attend a conference, and pull out your Blackberry (or Treo, or iPhone, or whatever — I use ‘Blackberry’ to incriminate them all) while that conference is in session ”“ whoever the speaker is ”“ your behavior is unbelievably rude and unworthy of human dignity. I don’t care if that speaker is the most boring presenter on the planet; if you are sitting there in the audience, you should be giving them the hospitality of your attention. If that is not something you can do, step outside: LEAVE.

If you do pull out your Blackberry while sitting in a meeting or conference, your action tells me a couple of things about you:

a) you have no manners, empathy, or professionalism

b) you certainly do not understand what hospitality is, and how to give it

c) you do not respect the dignity of other people (both the speaker, and those sitting around you ”“ your action tells them you feel they have made a bad decision about the giving of their attentions)

d) you have an over-inflated sense of self-importance

e) you must think like a know-it-all, for you are not a lifelong learner, curious about what other people can teach you, and open to the new possibilities

f) you do not make good decisions about where you should be, and what you should be doing at any given time (otherwise you’d leave the room and be more discreet)

g) therefore, your overall work performance is probably riddled with other poor decisions

h) you are still a child who does not have the self-discipline of putting your toys away, not an adult who should have been given the responsibility of using a Blackberry in the first place.

However, as I have said before, the problem is your behavior, and not the essence of who you are. There is still hope for you.

Normally I do not post my presentation stories immediately. They may show up here on Talking Story, but saved for another day; later, when time makes identification much less likely. Today I was so disappointed and disillusioned by what I initially thought was a totally respectful and professional audience, and to those of you who stained the otherwise favorable image I had, I do hope you read this. I want you to know that I saw you on your Blackberry, and yes, I am talking about you.

Your peers deserve better than your behavior today.

By the way, the speakers were great, fielding great interest and kept longer for questions, and I doubt anyone there would say otherwise. Blackberries have just created some very nasty habits in otherwise decent human beings, and they are endangering Ho‘okipa.

Use your Blackberry when you are alone
. It should not get your attention when you are in the company of another human being, whether in a conference, a meeting, or any other person-to-person conversation.


  1. says

    Well said Rosa.
    I almost wish someone had tried using their’s when you were speaking – because they would have learned their lessons the hard way… the rest of the audience too.

  2. says

    Those same people wouldn’t appreciate it at all if they were the speaker and their audience was chatting amongst themselves while they were speaking.
    If I’m talking to someone who starts with the texting I ask them to get back to me when I’m not bothering them and I apologize for interrupting them. This turns out to be especially effective if they work for me lol.

  3. says

    You know, Rosa…I understand where you’re coming from. But, here’s a question: is it more insulting to the presenter to stay in your seat and blackberry OR get up and walk out? As a presenter, I’d rather they blackberry during a session than exit. With the former, I still have a chance of engaging them. If they leave, that opportunity is lost.
    If half the room is blackberrying during a session, that’s good feedback. That means I better find a way to engage these folks quick. We presenters do hold some of the burden of successful communication.

  4. says

    Chris I agree that presenters hold responsibility for engaging an audience well, speaking in a way that commands their attention and treating their opportunity to do so as a gift. We should prepare well, and we should prepare contingencies so we can redirect when we see we are not effectively reaching our audience. However, I still feel that a bad presentation is never an excuse to blackberry. To answer your question, I much prefer that they walk out of the room, for if they need that blackberry they are not really with me and their peers in the audience anyway. As a presenter, I don’t need blackberry behavior to tell me when I am not connecting with an audience; there are tons of other cues in their body language.
    What I saw in that room in this particular instance was bad habit behavior that has unfortunately become acceptable in far too many so-called ‘professional’ organizations when it is not. I simply do not buy the ‘need’ argument. If people cannot keep their blackberry behavior reserved for the break times given at conferences, they have bigger productivity problems in addition to the professional deficits in their behavior, thus I say leave the room; they are not yet ready for my message anyway.

  5. says

    Again, I see where you’re coming from and yet there’s something here that gives me reason for further reflection. It may very well be that I’m one of those crackberry addicts who does check an incoming message or browses during ‘boring’ company meetings. Perhaps its my own selfishness at play here.
    Or it may be something more. It definitely does raise a question as to why the individual is sitting there in the first place if their attention is not on the speaker. Is their presence mandatory? And it raises a more pervasive issue of the state of our communication today. Not so much the one-on-one or intimate professional dialogues (I’ll readily agree that if you’re blackberrying here, you have a serious problem). I’m thinking specifically of meetings and presentations. I’d submit that we’ve all been in the presence of speakers who did not bring their own sense of hospitality to the room. However, they did manage to bring their own sense of indifference to the communication, not caring (or perhaps not fully understanding) that they have an obligation to fulfill their end of the bargain. Just because you stand at the front of the room doesn’t mean you get the right to full audience attention. Yet, I can also see that just because you have a seat in the audience doesn’t mean you get the right to be an unattentive participant.
    Like I said, I know where you’re coming from…it just feels like there are several layers of this topic that we could probably peel away for a long time :)

  6. says

    Aloha Chris, I admit that I am struggling to get to any acceptance of blackberry-in-the-presence-of-others behavior, but you know I love good dialogue and that you are challenging me to be more open-minded with this! It is what ‘talking story’ is all about :-)
    I would venture to say this: We agree that both the person speaking and the one with blackberry in hand have personal responsibility with how their coming together is going to fare. Where we seem to differ is my underlying assumption that ultimately they can benefit from that coming together no matter what other variables are in place (less-than-fully-engaging presentation, mandatory attendance etc.) and if they are willing to fully go the distance. I also feel that once they have come together, they should go that distance, ‘raising the bar’ on the “more pervasive issue of the state of our communication today” you refer to. To me, pulling out your blackberry tells the other person you have run out of patience, and have already decided they are not worth that effort for you. When I think about aloha, that is extremely difficult for me to accept, especially when you have other options. For instance, why not raise your hand, and ask a question that will redirect a boring speaker?
    Is there “something more” to this? I’d love to hear more views and invite others to join us in the discussion!

  7. says

    The blackberry is not the best Canada has to offer. A wonderful tool but what a way to suck energy out of a group, meeting, or conference.
    I ask people to leave the room. I arrange for longer breaks but I ask not just for their ears but for their attention and being present.
    We would not allow our children to interupt us while we are listening why do we let a little vibration make us feel that we have to respond, NOW!
    I also think some people are really trying to prove they are THUMBody important but miss the most vital link of being with the people right in front of them.
    That’s my short rant.