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The O’Toole Chronicles: Park the Cell Phone

By Kevin O'Toole, July 20 2021 12:01 am

I was in a meeting last week, and up popped a picture on my iPhone of a wedding I attended five years ago to the day. The picture was startling. It showed this amazing coastal view of Positano, Italy.  It was taken at one of those destination weddings where the couple asks the guests the impossible—travel 4,413 miles from New Jersey to Ravello, Italy and witness the martial vows (in Italian).

Well, we packed up the family and had the best time of our lives in one of the most beautiful weddings that I ever attended. I’m happy to report that Dominick and Jessica are still happily married.

What is the point?

The imagery appeared on my phone as I was deep in a meeting with a long-time client. The client is a friend and a well-traveled businessperson, and he heads up a company with value exceeding nine digits. The client looked at me as I glanced at my phone and remarked about the wedding.

The Chair of the Board turned to me and said, very dryly, I am paying you for your undivided attention, and please put the phone away. Two quick thoughts entered my head—WOW, and damn you Dominick.

It got me thinking how many of us use, abuse, and look at our phones while we are engaged in other activities. I don’t have to look too far in any meeting where most of the assembled masses are huddled looking at their cell phones. What gives?

It is annoying to have a meeting, social or otherwise, and you get one or two hyper-focused individuals, a few others half-engaged, and half combing through their social media and emails.

The worst offenders? Politicians.

I cannot tell you how many committee meetings or political events that I went to and witnessed the headliner politician stay in corner and text furiously.


It is a sight to see when state legislators, during a hearing, are busy texting or emailing or applying for a home refinance loan (saw it on a Senate committee). The worst is when you attend a social event, and an elected official talks to you while glancing down at his cell phone. That amount of rude behavior exceeds even the old-school misbehavior of shaking hands with one person while immediately engaging in conversation with the next person as you still have someone else’s warm hand in yours. Six degrees of rudeness.

People are looking for authentic and real. The process of trying to multi-task and engage the public at the same time undermines the ability to relate or connect. I talk often about creating connective tissue to your team and with the public. That is hard to do if you are not even remotely present as you go through the motions of a conversation.

We should all think about parking the cell phones when we are busy engaging the public or others. COVID has so removed us from the rest of society these past fifteen months. If we continue to put up these artificial barriers of texting and media skimming while doing something more traditional, something will give way.

I say let’s put down these gadgets and engage in a real conversation.

Looking forward to that next destination wedding—Matt, time to step up.

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