Time for a New Performer-Audience Compact; Time for a New Speaker-Audience Compact – (With Thanks to Benedict Cumberbatch)

An agreement, treaty, or contract.
The term compact is most often applied to agreements among states or between nations on matters in which they have a common concern.


Subtle shifts bring consequences. Sometimes for the better; sometimes, not for the better.

I am a speaker. But, these days, it is more likely that I am called a “presenter” than a speaker. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I prefer the word “speaker.”

A speaker gives a speech; and the audience has the job to “listen.” When a speaker does a poor job, shame on the speaker, But, if the audience is inattentive, even for a good speech, maybe any ineffectiveness becomes the fault of the audience.

Enter the SmartPhone, the great attention killer…

Here’s a question: does an audience member have any obligation to a speaker?

Recently, I spoke to a group of about 250 — a “keynote” they call it.

I have seen too many audiences sprinkled with lit-up SmartPhones during a speech/presentation. So, I tried something. I asked everyone to hold their phone in front of their face, and say: “please say goodbye to your phone for the next 45 minutes, and then put it away. I’ll get back to you in just a few seconds.” And then I gave them about 15 seconds to put their phones away. When I “got back,” to them, I asked them to pick up their handouts (I speak with handouts) and grab a pen. And then, I began my speech.

It seemed to work. I saw no phones during my speech. (I’m sure there were some – but I didn’t see them). And, I am convinced that the audience was pretty much with me all the way through the speech.

CumberbatchThis morning, I read this article: Can Benedict Cumberbatch Save Theater From Cellphones? The actor, who is starring in a production of Hamlet in London, is trying to persuade his fans to turn off their devices while they’re watching live performancesThe article describes how SmartPhones are genuine, serious distractions during a live theatre performance. I especially liked these lines:

Following early previews of Hamlet last weekend, Cumberbatch made a plea to fans camped out outside the stage door to spread the word that he doesn’t want people filming during the performance. “Can I ask you all a huge favor?” he said in an impromptu speech that was, naturally, caught on video and uploaded onto the Internet. “All of this, all these cameras, all these phones … I can see cameras, I can see red lights in the auditorium, and it may not be any of you here that did that, but it’s blindingly obvious. I could see a red light in the third row on the right, and it’s mortifying.”
For an actor, seeing the blue light on an audience member’s face can be just as distracting as hearing a tinny rendition of “The Entertainer” coming from someone’s handbag. And for audience members, too, it ruins the integrity of a live performance.

Notice that phrase: “the integrity of a live performance.”

In other words, all live communication and entertainment encounters are two-way. A speaker, a performer is “on stage,” and the audience is to receive the speech or performance with full attention. Anything less, and it is not quite a pure encounter.

Now, I’m no Martin Luther King, Jr., or Benedict Cumberbatch. So I mean to imply no parallel with my speaking to such greatness…

But, imagine this: imagine an audience all checking their Twitter or Instagram accounts during the I Have a Dream speech; or, during a Sir i-have-a-dream-speechLaurence Olivier theatre performance. Nope… would not work, would it?

I think we need a new Performer-Audience, and Speaker-Audience compact. You know:

“I perform; you watch”
“I speak – you listen.”

The audience end of the compact calls for full attention. Which calls for putting away the SmartPhones. Fully away!

Down with the SmartPhone during any live theatre performance or speech!


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