As reported in the August 24, 2009 issue of Time magazine, new research indicates that talking on a cell phone while driving, even using hands-free technology, can be dangerous.
In July, a previously-buried 2003 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study was released and it identified the cell phone as a serious safety hazard.
Yes, this IS related to presenting!
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood thinks cell phones are such a problem that he’s planning a Distraction Summit at the end of September to discuss the dangers of driving while distracted.
Do people ever present in a way that distracts the audience from hearing their message? Hmmm.
David Strayer, a psychology professor at the Univesrity of Utah, did a series of simulator tests in which half the drivers talking on a hands-free phone failed, missing a turn off to a rest area that the test called for them to stop at.
Here’s where you’ll see more directly the connection to presenting. Steven Yantis, a professor of psychological and brain science at Johns Hopkins University, says that when people direct their attention to sound, the visual capacity of their brain decreases. Yantis says, “When people are listening to a cell phone conversation, they’re slower to respond to things they’re looking at.”
This reminds me of Richard E. Mayer’s research, which he covers in his book, Multimedia Learning. He says that our brain doesn’t easily take in both visual and auditory input at the same time. Specifically, if people are reading, they’re not listening. In other words, when you display a slide with a significant amount of text on it, people read the text. During that time, they aren’t listening to you. They miss your discussion of those points.
I tested this recently at a talk I gave to a group of faculty at Maharishi University of Management. (I blogged about this a couple of weeks ago. The handout has now been downloaded over 1600 times! You can find the handout at http://budurl.com/xhf5.)
I told the faculty to pretend to be students as I talked through a slide with 4 bullet points. Then I asked them what they experienced. The result was clear. They read the first slide and missed what I was saying (and I elaborated on the text that was on the slide) during that time. When they had finished reading, they turned their attention to me, but experienced both annoyance and boredom, since they had already read the slide. Although I was adding some additional content, it wasn’t enough to make listening to me worthwhile.
Who wants to annoy and bore the audience?
In one of Strayers’s simulator studies, participants were slower to brake and caused more crashes while talking on a cell phone than when they had a .08% blood alcohol content!
(Note that there is contradictory evidence from a study done by scientists at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. They also found cell phone use when dialing and texting to be dangerous, but just talking and listening didn’t lead to a statistically significant increase in risk.)
If true, when you distract your audience from listening to you by reading text on a slide, it’s like you’re talking to a drunk audience! They don’t hear you, so they don’t remember much of what you said.
Maybe we should have our own Distraction Summit! Let’s resolve not to display slides full of text while we’re talking.