In a 2012 study, Andrew Przybylski and Netta Weinstein found that the mere presence of a cell phone in the room with two people sharing a meaningful conversation significantly degraded their relationship. When a cell phone was present, the pair reported lower relationship quality, less closeness, less trust, and less empathy—despite the fact that the cell phone wasn’t even theirs! (A later study clarified that the cell phone must be noticed to have an effect—the issue here is distraction, not some magical wireless juju.) These findings were later replicated in a real-world study of people in coffee shops. Of course, a recent study suggested that the vast majority of us have already noticed this effect of cell phones ourselves. Furthermore, another study found that the mere presence of a cell phone can be a distraction from other kinds of tasks as well, impeding performance on tasks requiring sustained attention.
While many speakers lay their phones on the table in front of them, this research suggests that there can be serious consequences for doing so—both in terms of how your audience views you, and how they receive your presentation. Given the power that cell phones have on us, it’s a good idea to put yours away, and if possible, to get your audience to do the same.