Real Leaders

How to Stop Your Audience Being Distracted by Their Phones

Each week, speech coach and leadership mentor James Rosebush will answer a question on how to improve your public speaking.

Benjamin Marasco, CEO of asks: In today’s connected age, several people in my audiences get distracted with their phones. Do you have any tricks to reengage those lost in social media?

Dear Ben,

I wish I could say I have an easy answer. This problem perplexes me as well, and it frankly makes me insecure when I see cellphones come out while I am diving into a subject on stage, hoping my audience will follow my remarks and even hear what I am sharing. Let’s invite the other readers of this column to share tactics they have used to defeat this major distraction! All ideas welcome in the comments section below!

Now to attempt an answer that may be helpful to you, I can say that in your preparation for a speech you should forewarn yourself that the phone addiction will invariably appear during your talk. Telling yourself that this will happen and that it has little to do with you or your speech is the first step in steadying your personal confidence and readiness. This will ensure you are not caught by surprise and so distracted and unnerved that you lose your place.

Next, I have found that starting my talk with a bold prediction related to my subject and then launching into a story to illustrate or support this prediction is the best way to keep hands and eyes off cellphones. If you begin your talk in a powerful and compelling way, you have a higher chance that the phones will not come out.

Wake up your audience in your first two sentences and make them follow you on a journey through your talk. Tell them right away that you have something vital to share with them, and you even may include a secret they may be able to use. You may also have to fictionalize your presentation — not by telling untruths, but telling truths with fictional illustrations.

You might also tell your audience that you have hidden three keys to some valuable resources in your talk and that at the end, you will ask volunteers from the audience to guess what they are. Short of giving an exam at the end, which will rarely happen, you simply have to step up your game and energy levels and make your speech more compelling in content, and more lively and bold in presentation. Lace your speech with storytelling and build that most crucial bridge to your audience that I am always talking about — engagement.

If the audience knows you have significant and valuable information to impart to them, they will probably recognize the value, and as you keep up a good pace in speaking, you may just keep those mesmeric tech devices in the pockets of your listeners.

Have a question you’ve always wanted to ask about public speaking? Email James at and your answer may feature here.

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