The Clayton Cut-Off

People_who_say_Literally_Stand_Up_Comedy_A recent Leadership IQ webinar invite elicited a silent chuckle from this blogger.

I chuckled because the e-vite addressed the bane of all modern-day speakers: attracting the attention of an ADD, multi-tasking audience.

Judging by their note, Leadership IQ seems to have endless ways in which to improve content, foster an interactive dialogue and get Crackberry addicts to stop texting and start listening.

Trust me. None of those techniques work with hard-core multi-taskers. But, the Clayton Cut-Off does. I should know. I've seen Peppercomm's chief comedy officer (and the Jerry Lewis of Sweden), Clayton Fletcher ( demonstrate it to disrupt a disruptive audience.

Once, in the middle of his stand-up comedy act, Clayton paused and looked directly at a young woman in the front row who was busy banging out a text message. “Nice,” said Clayton, “Here I am pursuing my dream and you're going back-and-forth with Suzie on whether to have pizza or pick-up guys later tonight. Thank you for that.”

It was beautiful. The entire audience laughed. The texting terrorist ceased and desisted for the rest of Clayton's set. And, even better, no one else even glanced at his, or her, mobile device for fear of being publicly humiliated in the same way.

That particular line probably won't work in a serious business meeting, but I have adapted the Clayton Cut-Off in workplace settings. For example:

– One time I spied a prospect banging away on his iPhone as I walked his team through Peppercomm's 'big idea.' I knew I'd lost him, so I opted for the Cut-Off: “I can tell you really like this particular idea because I see you're e-mailing it to others in your company as we speak. I'm flattered,” I said, staring at the perpetrator. The room went silent. The prospect grinned, put the mobile device down and sat up straight.

– Another time, I noticed the CCO of a telecommunications company had been banging away on her Blackberrry throughout our presentation. Since she was the ultimate decision-maker, I knew we were dead. So, I summed up our 90-minute session by looking directly at her, and asking, “Ann, is there anything about Edelman, or our suite of services, we didn't cover that you'd like us to address today?” She didn't bat an eye, kept on typing and said, “Nope. I'm good.” C'est la vie.

Presenting in front of multi-tasking audience members is a real bummer for anyone in our field (or, any field for that matter). That's why I subscribe to the Clayton Fletcher method of re-gaining a group's attention.

I use humor to distract and disengage the guilty parties. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. But, I can tell you one thing: aside from walking on water, there is NO silver bullet when it comes to disrupting a disruptive audience. So, why not have some fun and give the Clayton Cut-Off an audition?

So, do you have any great mult-tasking audience war stories you'd like to share? If so, send them my way. I can't promise I won't be texting someone on my BB when you do, but I'll do my best to stay focused and respond.

4 thoughts on “The Clayton Cut-Off

  1. I’m not sure your comment is germane to the main theme of the blog, Goose. I was speaking about best practices for speakers to use in front of multi-tasking audience members. By the sounds of it, you were merely texting in a regular team meeting. Big difference.

  2. I was in a meeting a few months ago, and saw that I had an email on my phone from a reporter I’d been trying to get in touch with for a while. I didn’t want my colleagues to think I was being rude, so I explained that this reporter we’d all been working to get in touch with finally responded and that I needed to answer him immediately. Everyone in the meeting completely agreed that I needed to stop everything and respond to the email. Lesson learned: there are times when it is OK to respond to texts/emails even if you are in a meeting, as long as you explain why.

  3. Thanks for sharing, Professor Schmalz. Guest lecturing at colleges and universities is the ideal preparation for anyone needing to lead new business presentations. As you suggest, someone in class is ALWAYS texting someone else.

  4. I used the “Clayton Cut-Off” years ago when I taught at New York University. Often you get students who don’t pay attention and their minds drift, whether they are texting or talking to another student. Generally I would abruptly call them by name and proceed to ask them a question about the subject matter we were discussing. They would look up dumbfounded, were embarrassed and then got the point to pay attention.