Friday, August 19, 2011

Nobody's Listening! And 5 actions you can take

Over 80% of people in any presentation - on line or live - are not paying attention! They are "multitasking." Have we all gone over to the Dark Side? Are we distracting ourselves to death?

The Professional Convention Management Association, UBM Studios, and The Virtual Edge Institute partnered up to conduct the research and published it as a white paper, Business Motivations and Social Behaviors for In-Person and Online Events.

The science is clear: Humans do not "multi-task." The brain just switches back and forth among things. Even the famous multi-tasking Millennials haven't changed evolution...yet. They've just trained themselves to move between tasks faster than us old folks.

The end result is still the same. Those milliseconds of distraction don't make it into short-term memory and therefore have no chance of transferring to long-term memory.

Our electronic companions just make it easier to be distracted. Back in the day, we used to doodle or daydream. Today we obsessively surf, text, and read email...What's the difference? When we doodled or daydreamed, we eventually realized our mind was wandering. When we do the digital dance we delude ourselves into thinking we're doing something important. We'll tune back in when the other person, speaker, or cars on the road do something interesting. Talk about destructive self-adsorption...

But this is not a new human phenomenon. Back in 1787 at the U.S. Constitutional Convention, one of the first tasks the delegates tackled was setting their meeting rules. They reveal their very human tendency to be distracted...

Every member, rising to speak, shall address the President; and whilst he shall be speaking, none shall pass between them, or hold discourse with another, or read a book, pamphlet or paper, printed or manuscript...A member may be called to order by any other member, as well as by the President; and may be allowed to explain his conduct or expressions supposed to be reprehensible.

I remember watching congress people texting and tweeting during the current president's State of the Union Address. Our founding fathers understood human nature quite well. As James Madison remarked, "If men were angels, no government would be necessary."

The debate about what to do about our total distraction infractions is hot. Some say, "let's tell people not to do it." Others say, "let's get the tweeting built into the program." Both miss the point. The first doesn't work because people will ignore such instructions. The second doesn't work because it only encourages what our 18th century predecessors recognized as reprehensible behavior.

Why are you attending the webinar or seminar, teleseminar or conference in the first place? Isn't part of your motivation to learn something? Research shows, if we want to remember something, that is, move it to long-term memory, we need to engage as many senses as possible. Watching, listening, and writing engage at least 3 senses. Suck on a lollipop and write with a scented pen and you hit them all.

So here's my prescription to apply a little Conventional Wisdom:
  1. Gandhi said it best: Be the change you want to see. You are in control of your own behavior. Stop distracting yourself.
  2. As our Zen masters teach us: Be in the moment - in the NOW. Engage yourself entirely in the presentation, conversation, event. Focus your energy.
  3. Use all 5 senses and maybe that elusive 6th sense. Emphasize your own preferred learning style to maximize retention and movement into short- and long-term memory.
  4.  A member may be called to order by any other member. Take responsibility for the success of every event yourself. Ask others (politely) to respect the speakers and give them full attention. Or suggest they help you by not behaving in a distracting manner.
  5. Practice Morita psychology: Know your purpose. Feel your feelings. Do what must be done. This simple prescription from Japanese psychologist, Shoma Morita, can be applied to anything. In this context: "My purpose is to gain this knowledge. I feel like every stray thought must be communicated to my tribe and every email must be read instantly. I quiet my mind and focus on the speaker and ignore my urge to distraction and self-importance."
Consider the advice of all these cool folks - the founding fathers, Gandhi, Morita, and thousands of years of human insights into grappling with our...ooh, bright shiny object...human nature.
I'm off to a webinar soon and will try to practice what I preach...
How about you? How do you un-distract yourself...or do you?
(C) Rebecca Staton-Reinstein, President, Advantage Leadership, Inc.
Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 reported by James Madison. editor, Adrienne Koch, W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 1987
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