The Struggle for Now

Smartphones have taken over our lives. That can be a problem if you are trying to capture the attention of your attendees. Or your biggest opportunity.

What is the struggle of now? It is the struggle of capturing attention. It is the incredibly difficult challenge we experience to embrace the moment.

Events happen here and now. Smartphones are taking away the now, leaving us attending just in a room, together, looking at our phones.

Before analyzing the reasons why I (and many other attendees) may prefer looking at the smartphone rather than listening to the speaker, it is important to delve into the scale of the problem.

The Struggle for Now



We Are Worse Than a Goldfish

It is research from Microsoft (with all the good and the bad associated with company led research) that got major headlines on 2013. You can have a look at the PDF here.

Our attention span decreased by 4 seconds between 2000 and 2013. It averages one second below the attention span of a goldfish.

I am sure we are not doing much better in 2016. More social networks, more fragmentation, more content, more ‘friends’ are not a signal that things are looking up. Quite the contrary.


Smartphone + Learning Environment = Disaster

There is an absurd amount of research proving that the combination of smartphones and computers in a learning environment such as a classroom (very similar to presentations at conferences) is a fabulous recipe for disaster.

Just to give you my top 3:

Risko et al, found that students with a computer in a classroom did not retain information discussed during the lecture.

Handlington found that those heavily using smartphones in a learning environment experience cognitive loss.

McCoy demonstrated that when college students multi-task with digital devices in classrooms, it may hamper their ability to pay attention.

A lot of research for a very counter intuitive concept. If I am looking at my phone, I am not looking at you. What’s to explain there?


Let’s Get Rid of Smartphones

MPI and IMEX published research a while ago saying that 40% of event planners think smartphones and tablets should be banned at events.

And this is how you kill an entire industry, my dear reader. I hope this mentality will leave our beloved industry as soon as possible. The inherent stupidity of this opinion upsets me as much as the Lost finale.

The Biggest Opportunity We’ve Ever Had

Events are still HOT today BECAUSE attendees use mobile devices to share, interact and describe their live experience online.

Do you use your smartphone while waiting in line? Yes of course. Waiting is boring. I don’t need to be bored. I need to be engaged.

Do you use your smartphone during the Superbowl, of course, but for all the right reasons. Because you want to share with the world the excitement of the moment. Because you want to discuss it with your online friends. Because you want to show that you care.

Your event can be fantastically boring or tremendously engaging. Smartphones will play a role in both.

Don’t even think for a second to remove the single biggest opportunity we have ever had in our industry, to excuse the irrelevancy of our speakers, event format or attendee experience.

A New Mindset to Reclaim the Now

The struggle for now is very real. How can we reclaim the attention of our attendees and make our message stick to achieve the ultimate objective of every event, to change behavior?


The answer is very simple and incredibly challenging to implement. We need a different mindset.

Think about your attendees as Zombies. Their body is with you in the room, but their soul is busy arguing about whether the latest Kylie Jenner outfit is so cool or too much or whether Rogue One was necessary – you know what I mean.

You are competing with an amazing stream of relevant content coming to them, social pressure to interact, work emails and more. All of the above packaged in a fantastic user experience and with algorithms making sure that everything is as targeted, personalized and customized as possible.

I am asking for a massive shift here my dear friend. If your event is not as customized, beautifully relevant and incredibly useful, we will struggle to capture attention.

You have a secret weapon, though, the live experience. As much as the virtual and online experience can be amazing, the implicit and explicit cues of interacting with a real person are far, far more impactful on your attendee.

OK, But I Need Practical Steps

Here you go:

1. Embrace the fact that smartphones are here to stay. Multi-screen is happening, don’t be silly. Don’t even try to ban it. Seriously, don’t.

Embrace the immense plethora of opportunities smartphones are bringing to the live experience. We have written an absurd amount of free books to teach you how to do it. Here are some refreshers.

2. Take over attendees attention with quality. Are you trying to please your sponsor with an amazingly annoying speaker that will present us the Effectiveness of Leveraging Whatever Tool to Achieve Nothing? Then you will struggle for now.

Are you creating a schedule that kicks ass? Are you researching the content like a pro? Are you digging into your attendees’ needs and offering speakers to match them? Then I promise that your attention rates will be incredible.

3. Leverage Tech. The most exciting sector of event technology today is engagement. We all understood that online ticketing is necessary, that mobile apps with schedules are cool, but now we understand engagement technology is the next big thing.

So beef up that Q&A portion of your event. Use push notifications to get your attendees to participate. Throw a freaking (soft) microphone at them if they even try to look at their phones.

Are you taking advantage of the incredible amount of tools to engage your attendees?

4. Change your format. Some event verticals are struggling. They are witnessing a mass migration. Nobody shows up anymore. Prospective attendees prefer to watch a video on Youtube than listen to and view painful 11pt bullets.

What are you doing to make your attendee experience user-friendly? Because let me tell you, having keynote + breakout session is very relevant for 1995. How are you mixing the traditional elements of events to gain attention back? Changing the color scheme is not going to help.

Is your event static or liquid? (I am leaving this one unexplained as my geek friends will appreciate).

5. Foster Connection. How are you connecting attendees? We profusely explained in this book that satisfaction and involvement depend on peer to peer interaction. How are you facilitating interaction among participants?

Distant chairs are a barrier. Banquet style tables are a barrier. Complex apps to download are a barrier.

What are you doing to make attendee A meet attendee B? I don’t care if you have to walk the room and connect everyone with one another. It is THIS serious.

In Conclusion

The struggle for now exists. As much as flat, boring events do. Making a change today can quickly help you to regain the lost attention of our attendees.

You are competing with Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, work emails, Youtube videos. Show me that I need to care. Give me a reason to care. Give me a reason to interact with the guy next to me without awkwardness. Give me a reason to just think about what you planned for me.

Because I have 8 seconds before I will think about something else. And I am not alone.

About The Author
Julius Solaris
Julius Solaris is the editor of, he is an international speaker, author and consultant.
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Julius Solaris
Editor, Julius Solaris

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