The benefits of actually being in the room during presentations


The Blackberry PrayerI’m currently in Las Vegas, NV attending the amazing CompTIA Breakaway conference. I consider myself a conference “veteran” now, having attended dozens of industry events over the past few years – in the UK, Europe and the US – often as an invited speaker, but always with an eye to learning from the wealth of great presentations from industry experts that are offered at events such as these.

For me, such presentations are an amazing opportunity to gain insight and knowledge from people who have been there and done that, are learning and sharing their successes (and mistakes), or are offering a new perspective to me.

I attribute much of my career success to learning from and being inspired by speakers who’s presentations I’ve attended over the years.

Being in the room, but not being in the room…

But more and more, I look around the room during such presentations and see that often, more than 50% of the audience isn’t actually in the room.

Sure, the attendees are sat there – but they have their iPads on their laps, their mobile phones in their hands, or at times, their laptops in front of them tapping away at emails, at text messages or worse, browsing Facebook.

Occasionally they’ll look up (often when the speaker pauses) and then they’ll return to their “work”.

How much value do you get from attending a presentation when your mind isn’t focused on what the presenter is saying?

I know it’s impossible to actually multi-task (and ladies, I’m afraid that really do go for you too) – just in the same way it’s impossible to safely drive and text – and I’ve been amused more than once by an attendee at a presentation who is distracted by their e-mails but who then catches a keyword or phrase from the presenter that peeks their interest. They look up, wide-eyed, and I can almost see them wishing they had a pause and rewind button so they can hear the last five minutes of the presentation that, probably, was of real value to them.

But the presenter is boring…

Don’t get me wrong, some presenters are good, and some not-so-good. In fact, however interesting a topic, given enough time the mind will wander. But I see value in this too. I’ve come away from some presentations with a load of great ideas – often none directly related to the presentation topic – merely through the fact that by focusing on  the presenter, I’ve been inspired with some great ideas.

But I’m really very busy…

FOMO - Fear of Missing OutI know that being a small business owner, especially of an SMB IT business, is tough. There is always work to be done. Often, the buck starts and stops with you – so you feel you need to be available to answer queries from clients and staff.

But the reality is that most of us suffer from FOMO – Fear of Missing Out. When we’re at a Conference, we wonder what is happening in the office. When we’re in the office, we wonder what is happening at the Conference. And so on.

If you can’t take an hour out of the office to attend a presentation without distractions, if you can’t ignore e-mails for a single hour, if you can’t tell your staff that they should only contact you by telephone in an emergency over the next hour – then if I were you, I’d not bother attending the presentation at all and instead spend the time focusing on how you can put in place systems to allow you to attend the next presentation without fearing the sky will fall.

The benefits of paying attention

There’s so much to be gained from conferences. You can hear from industry experts, be inspired by success stories from peers, avoid mistakes shared with you by others, absorb great research, and most importantly – be inspired.

But only if you’re actually in the room, and not elsewhere.


So at the next presentation, you attend, trying turning off your phone. Leave your iPad behind. By all means take a pen and paper to make notes. Then sit and focus on the presenter for the hour.

You’ll be genuinely surprised at how much more you get from the session.


  • Richard Tubb2018-11-22 08:45:18

    Simon -- I love this advice. Thanks for sharing!

  • Simon2018-11-21 15:44:36

    You can't *force* them to pay attention, but I'll bet there were some presenters that got a lot more attention than others, no? You can strongly *encourage* them to pay attention... ;) And from the presenter's point of view, anyone who *won't* listen isn't the right target for my message so I tend to triage them out of my headspace. The people a presenter should be targeting are those on the border of attention (the already attentive need enough attention not to slip away, of course!) All too many presenters try to please everyone and as a result end up pleasing no one. :(

  • Richard Tubb2012-08-06 13:58:03

    Thanks Kris! That's a funny video. :-)

  • Kris2012-08-06 13:11:39

    Great post Ric and it makes me wonder how much more people took away from these event before they could carry their office in a pocket! I will be honest and put my hand up, to say that I too have checked mails, internet etc. during a presentation but I really try not to make it the norm and try to listen and learn. Maybe at your next presentation you can play the clip below and change the word at the end from "movie" to "presentation"!

  • Richard Tubb2012-08-01 14:22:57

    Owen - I'd agree that it doesn't show respect for the presenter. As for leaving devices at the door, this blog sparked quite the debate as I chatted with people in the corridors at CompTIA Breakaway this week. I don't think you can force people to pay attention, but I'm all for reminding people that they'll get the most from the presentation if they are "in the room".

  • Owen Kane2012-08-01 10:12:51

    Richard. It also comes down to good manners. The presenter has taken the time to prepare for the presentation, butterflies and all, and boring or not deserves our attention, anything less is just disrespectful. As an attendee to similar presentations, I find it annoying and distracting when the individual next to me answers a vibrating phone or responds to an email. Perhaps it is time to suggest BYOD be left at the door, just like in theatres and fine dinning establishments.

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