4 Ways to Stop People From Using Their Phones During Meetings

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Former West Coast Editor
4 min read

If you’re reading this article on your smartphone during a meeting, stop and look around the room. You’re totally being judged by the people around you, especially if they're women or are on the older side. Chances are they think what you’re doing right now is rude and inappropriate. And, if you ask us, it kind of is.

Call us old-school and outdated, but the whole point of an in-person meeting is to talk things over with other people. You know, to interact face-to-face.

Related: The Guide to Surviving Without Your Smartphone

Your Electronic Display of Insensitivity (EDI, yeah, it’s a thing) is offensive, so please put down the smartphone. You heard us: Put. It. Down. All the way down. Out-of-your-view down. (Oh, and make a mental note to read the rest of this article later. No, really, we’re ok with that.)

So, because everyone knows zoning out on your smartphone during in-person meetings is seriously poor form, here are 4 ways to stop the smartphone madness during meetings once and for all:

1. Play “Pileup.” Yes, a game. We thought we’d start with a fun suggestion, just so we don’t scare you off. Plus, Pileup is super easy. Simply ask everyone to pile all of their smartphones on top of each other in the middle of the table you’re meeting around, then ask them to keep them there until the end of the meeting. We hear this tame tactic is especially effective if you are the fearless leader of the all the minions (the boss).

If you’re meeting at a restaurant (bonus: snacks!), up the ante and add the stipulation that the first one to pick up their cell phone before the Pileup game is over must buy drinks for all. Then -- cheers! -- everyone wins.

Remember, Pileup is the “nice” way of smartphone disarming meeting participants. There are other ways, too, like outright banning them, though that won’t make you any friends. (See suggestion number 4.)  

2. Sound off. As in switch off the sound on your smartphone. If no one’s into playing Pileup -- expect and prepare for resistance -- ask everyone to at least hush their iPhones, Droids, BlackBerrys (do people still use BlackBerrys?) or whatever for the duration of your hopefully productive tête-à-tête.

Related: Why You Don't Need a Digital Detox to Loosen Technology's Grip

Set them to silent and forget them. Or try to. Maybe even skip setting your smartphone to “vibrate.” A cacophony of R2D2-like smartphone notification twinkles, chimes, pings, dings and rings isn’t music to anyone’s ears during a business meeting. Passionately sharing lots of juicy, innovative ideas with each other is. And, okay, fine, a few action items, too.

3. Be a broken record. To avoid the mutual “bad guy” embarrassment of calling a smartphone zombie out during a meeting, make your newfound allergy to smartphone use during meetings clearly known ahead of time via email or by making a no-smartphones disclaimer at the beginning of a meeting.

Repeat the no-smartphones-during-meeting rule often, as needed (trust us, you’ll need to). Or resort to being ironic and text everyone a shouty all caps, exclamation point-littered friendly reminder, yup, during a meeting, if necessary. (“HELLO?!!! PUT YOUR PHONE DOWN! WE’RE IN THE MIDDLE OF A MEETING HERE, PEOPLE! REMEMBER?!!!)

4. Make it official. If the not-so-subtle mid-meeting text trick fails, take it to the next level and create and distribute the dreaded Official Company Smartphone Meeting Policy -- that is if you’re in a position to do so. We think this sample policy is a touch on the harsh side, but you get the point.

If you want smartphones left out of meetings altogether (left behind on employees’ desks or in their pockets), make that clear in your policy. Or, if you allow them in meetings, spell out exactly what is expected: No making or taking calls (unfortunately this ridiculousness happens way too often in meetings). No texting or reading text messages. No receiving or responding to email. No checking voice mail messages (people still do that?!). No nothing, basically.

Related: The Best Way to Run a Business Meeting

Before you take this pretty drastic, worst-case scenario step, you might want to run it past your company’s human resources department and perhaps even your lawyer.

Obvious note: Ditto everything above for meeting tablet- and laptop-gazers.


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