How to stop people using their mobile phones during workshops


This is the bane of my life. They’ve taken all this time and effort and take place part in a workshop, yet people prefer to play with their phones rather than listen or join in. It’s incredibly rude, yet people persist are addicted to mobile technology and persist in using them. So how do you avoid it? Here’s a few approaches you can consider.

1 Tell People Not To

Sounds obvious doesn’t it, but if you forget, people will assume that it’s OK to pick up their phones when they feel like it. It helps if you have a BIG sign on the wall with a visual of a mobile phone crossed out to remind people. If people do need to make an urgent call, ask then to do it outside the meeting.

Maybe you could get the most senior person in the room to announce the ‘no mobiles during working sessions’ rule. If they see the boss is imposing it, they’re more likely to be compliant. More importantly, make sure the boss is compliant too.

2 Have a Zero Tolerance Policy

If people use their phone once and get away with it, they’ll continue. If other people spot that the perpetrator has got away with it, then they’ll do the same. So, as you soon as you spot someone on their phone, call it out, just so they know that you’re serious about the ‘no mobiles’ rule.

3 Schedule ‘Mobile Phone Time’ During the Meeting

Some people decide to touch their phones because of anxiety that they may have missed out on something important. However, if you tell people when and for how the breaks will be, then this will help reassure them that they won’t be out of contact for too long. Make sure you schedule several during the day. You could even call them phone breaks, rather than coffee breaks.

4 Confiscate Them

With badly behaved groups, I’ve known facilitators who will ask everyone to ‘hand in’ their mobile phones during the working sessions. It may seem a bit harsh, but if you do it playfully then you can get away with it. At the minimum, ask people ‘to put away’ their phones rather than simply turn them off and leave them on the desks. It will help them resist the temptation.

5 Use Forfeits

Set up a rule at the beginning. If people decide to use their phone – or else if it rings – during the meeting, impose a forfeit. I find that making a charitable donation of say £5 works well. Other people like to make people do press-ups or some other form of public humiliation, like singing a song. Ask the team to ‘self police’. If they spot their colleagues on the phone, ask them to shout it out.

6 Make Sure YOU Obey the Rules

And finally, make sure that you don’t fall guilty of playing with your phone during the working sessions. However, discrete you think you are, you’ll be spotted and you’ll lose all credibility and pretty soon, everyone will be at it.

It’s a problem that seems to be getting worse and hampers the effectiveness of workshops, so if anyone’s got other suggestions, I’d love to hear them.


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