Dear CEO: Put the Phone Down When Your Staff Present to You

Dear CEO: Put the Phone Down When Your Staff Present to You

Mark Laudi 30/05/2019 8

Dear CEO,

Recently, a group of your staff who came to my TV studio for executive presence training shared with me a surprising frustration: when they present to you and the senior leadership team, the hardest thing is to get your attention.

They have prepared for days, sometimes weeks, for their presentation to you in your top-floor boardroom. The PowerPoint slides will have been done, checked, updated, re-done and re-checked. And finally the big day comes, they set up in the boardroom and give their presentation …only to find you and other members of the SLT are spending most of the time looking at your phones.

To some extent, one would expect that at conferences. But from you and the senior leadership team? The small but exclusive audience who all this is for?

Now, no one likes a boring, ill-prepared or self-absorbed presenter who is unable to engage their audience. The presentation has to zing. No question about that.

But assuming they are doing everything they can to wow you, is it a legitimate excuse for you and the other senior leaders to tune out of a presentation just because you are, well, senior leaders?

Let's leave aside good manners and the Asian emphasis on "giving face". The message you are sending your staff when you and the SLT don't pay attention is that you don't care –and neither should they. Is that the culture you want in your organisation?

In his book Leaders Eat LastSimon Sinek writes about the importance of devoting time and energy to your staff to build a resilient culture in which everyone pulls together:

It's not just time. The energy we give also matters. If a parent goes to watch their kid's soccer game but looks up from their mobile device only when there is cheering, they may have given their time, but they haven't given their energy. The kid will look over to see their parent's head down most of the game, busy texting or e-mailing the office or something. Regardless of the intentions of that parent, without giving their attention, the time is basically wasted for both parent and child. The same is true in our offices when we talk to someone while reading our e-mails or sit in a meeting with one eye on our phone. We may be hearing all that is said, but the person speaking will not feel we are listening, and an opportunity to build trust – or be seen as a leader who cares – is squandered. (page 150)

And before you argue that you can multitask, paying attention to both your staff's presentation and your emails, Sinek debunks this, too. People who say they are good at multitasking are demonstrably less productive. But that's another story.

If you are the CEO who is the focus of my column:

  1. Put the phone down, and focus on the staff presenting to you.
  2. Encourage your SLT to do so too. Better still, ban phones from the conference room.
  3. If your staff's presentations waste your time, send them for training, or do away with presentations altogether. You can't afford to damage the culture of your organisation by letting presentations continue the way they are.

Best wishes.


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  • Raymond Thompson

    Damn, this is some good advice.

  • Alan Wang

    We were warned of this long before the advent of the smartphone.

  • Kelly Rogers

    Totally agree !!

  • Seth Garrett

    Honestly, thanks for this amazing article.

  • Tom Marsh

    Great insight.

  • Kenny Tarride

    Rule your electronic devices, don't let them rule you!

  • Morris Barrier

    Fortunately, I don't have such problem with my boss.

  • Eli Xavier Estrada

    If you are bored, step down and let someone else manage your business.

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Mark Laudi

Media Expert

Mark Laudi is a media and communications mentor with 24 years of expertise in the media industry, including mission-critical B2B communications, crisis communications, public speaking and presentation skills. Besides mentoring business and political leaders worldwide in media skills, public speaking, and conference presentations, Mark is a much-sought-after speaker, conference anchor, and panel moderator at business events. He conducts master classes in media and presentation skills as well as crisis communications workshops for senior executives at a large number of multinationals in Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Mark also possesses expertise in investor relations and invests in online startups that cater to the needs of SMEs.

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