Off the grid

Should conference delegates be able to use their personal digital devices during meetings or is it just plain rude?   

With the advent of smart phones, smart watches, tablets and free, fast Wi-Fi, the conference environment has become a haze of digital noise and distraction – where once the guest speaker was venerated, looked upon with interest or at least an attempt at interest, these days heads are down, fingers are flicking and attention spans to the subject at hand are those of the proverbial gnat.  So, should conference delegates feel free to use their personal digital devices during meetings or is it just plain rude and counter-productive?   

According to a study by mobile app research Dscout Inc., the average person taps, pokes, pinches and swipes a personal phone two thousand six hundred and seventeen times a day, which adds up to about 2 hours and 25 minutes!  Whilst smart devices do enable people to get work done remotely, stay on top of business developments and keep up with clients and colleagues, they are also the leading productivity killers in the workplace (and at conferences). 

There has been a call for all smart devices to be banned during conferences, unless they are required to improve the quality of conversation and ideas in meetings, productivity and time management, and there are some speakers and event co-ordinators who are using various tools to capitalise on our addictions to personal devices.  Juanita Viviers, Banqueting Manager at BON Hotel Waterfront Richards Bay says that a complete embargo is highly unlikely, but that perhaps a more workable approach is to give delegates space and time within the event to check and reply to important messages, so that they can be fully focused on the content when in session.   “Or,” she adds ”is it the content of meetings that needs to be addressed to keep delegates more engaged?”

There are several good reasons to go off the grid, says professional conference organiser Muneba Snyman from Cape Conferences. “The obvious reason is to ensure that there are no distractions – this way sessions take less time but probably the most important reason is the improved focus and commitment to the topic at hand, which is vital to companies in getting the results they seek from a conference.”  

There are other sides to the story though – for a conference attendee time is money, so having access to mobile devices (even if at intervals) is a necessity for attending to urgent emails or messages. Surely, too, if the conference is beneficial and worthy of their time and input, delegates would be less inclined to peer at their mobile devices all the time. As a conference host you ought, then, to take into consideration, before simply banning all mobile devices, these factors –

  • Are your conferences really that interesting?
  • Are they starting and ending on time?
  • Are the agendas run timeously?
  • Is the content relevant to everyone attending?
  • Is the content engaging and entertaining?
  • Do you seek input from everyone in the room?

While we’re all for more human interaction and less reliance on technology these days, we have to be sure that that is for the right reasons and ultimately for the right outcomes. If you just want to improve engagement and get people to listen, then perhaps it is just about simply making your conferences or meetings better rather than blaming distractions from devices as the cause for delegates’ disinterest. 

BON Hotel Empangeni’s conference co-ordinator Buyi Thusi adds food for thought: “Is it not better to make sure that your audience will really listen instead of just sitting there, deviceless, pondering everything else they’d rather be listening to?”

Sign Up for Our Newsletter & Specials


Sign up for our Good News

By clicking “Subscribe” you accept the
Policy Privacy