How I Turned Cell Phone Addiction Into a PR Opportunity

Having dinner with business associates? Put down the damn phone.

learn more about Jacqueline Whitmore

By Jacqueline Whitmore

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I attended a business dinner recently and was appalled that three out of the six people at my table never looked up from their phones to make conversation. They were too busy texting, emailing and taking pictures of themselves and their courses while the rest of us quietly observed with disgust.

Related: Hey Loudmouth, Keep It Down! The 4 Most Annoying Cell Phone Habits.

Whatever happened to the art of conversation? Are cellular devices dictating how we interact with clients, friends and family? As technology changes, so must the rules for courteous behavior.

In 2002, when cell phones were starting to proliferate, I founded my very own special event: National Cell Phone Courtesy Month. My mission was twofold: to garner some publicity for my etiquette business and to educate and enlighten the public on how to become more courteous cell phone users.

I submitted my idea to Chase's Calendar of Events, which accepted it into its annual publication. At the same time, I wrote a press release which I sent out to various media outlets. To my surprise, I received an enormous amount of media attention, including a call from Sprint's public relations firm. We struck up a deal, and I was subsequently fortunate enough to serve as Sprint's cell phone etiquette spokesperson for nearly six years. This relationship helped me garner even more media attention and boosted my income!

Fourteen years later, my tips still appear in hundreds of magazines, newspapers and internet articles around the world. Cell phone courtesy is more important than ever and should be observed every day of the year. That's why these eight tips will never go out of style.

1. Avoid those cutesy ring tones.

Although your specialized ring tone might express your personality, it can be annoying in business settings. Set your phone to vibrate or silent when you are in the company of others.

2. Let voicemail take the call.

Voicemail is your convenient tool to take messages when you are unavailable; use it to avoid accepting calls during business meetings or in a public setting. The exception is when you are expecting or already on an important call, as with your doctor. In that case, alert your companions that you may be receiving a call and apologize in advance.

Related: 4 Cellphone Etiquette Mistakes You Make Everyday

3. Make people your top priority.

Don't let poor cellphone etiquette ruin your relationships with friends, clients or coworkers. People may feel disrespected, unimportant or ignored if you grab every call or constantly look down at your phone. If you absolutely must take or make a call, excuse yourself, step away and make the call brief.

4. Don't text under the table.

You may think you are being discreet by texting from your lap, but people know exactly what you are doing. Instead, turn off your phone and interact with the people you are with. Unless it's an emergency, your text can wait.

5. Keep your phone out of sight.

Having your phone on the table invites you to check it over and over again, distracting both you and your dining companions. Turn off the ringer and stash your device for the duration of the meal or event.

6. Keep your private matters to yourself.

Use discretion when discussing private matters or sensitive business topics in the presence of others. Reserve topics such as your medical report, romantic affairs, personal arguments or deals gone bad for private conversations.

7. Use your 'inside' voice.

Even when you are in a noisy room, your cell phone's voice receiver will pick up your normal voice. There is no need to "cell yell" or speak louder than normal.

8. Don't be a cell phone cop.

If you encounter someone who is speaking too loudly on a cell phone, don't take matters into your own hands. Walk away or find someone in a position of authority to address the situation. If you must confront the offender, do so discreetly and diplomatically. Say something like, "Excuse me, would you mind keeping your voice down? I'm having trouble concentrating. Thank you."

According to a Pew Research Center study on mobile etiquette, 82 percent of adults surveyed said that seeing people use their phones in social settings frequently or occasionally hurts their conversations. A whopping 89 percent said they had used their phone during their most recent social gathering. That being said, we all need to be more mindful and considerate while using our cell phones in public.

Related: Study: We Know We're Total Jerks With Our Phones and We Don't Care

If such considertion started happening across the land, perhaps we could eradicate National Cell Phone Courtesy Month altogether.

Jacqueline Whitmore

Author, Business Etiquette Expert and Founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach

Jacqueline Whitmore is an etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach in Palm Beach, Fla. She is the author of Poised for Success: Mastering the Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals (St. Martin's Press, 2011) and Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work (St. Martin's Press, 2005).

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