One Microsoft Way

Redmond, WA 98052



Attention sharing for device users during presentations

Bringing a device while attending presentations is a common practice in the modern era. A device such as a laptop, tablet, pda or a smartphone allows users to supplement the event they are attending by taking notes, or looking up references. There are also additional benefits of being able to divide attention between the content being presented and other unrelated tasks, allowing for optimum usage of time.
However, because of limitations of human cognition, appropriate allocation of attention poses significant challenges while trying to simultaneously process the audio-visual stream of the presentation and tasks on a device. Moreover, there are perceived social costs of not appearing to be attentive in a setting where the expectations are that the audience pay attention to the presentation.

Our research focuses on understanding in depth how attendees are able to divide their attention between the presentation and other tasks on their devices, underlying reasons and motivations for switching attention from one target to the other, patterns of attention switching and corresponding effects on performance. We seek to develop mechanisms that could benefit audience members in effective attention sharing and optimal performance in such multitasking scenarios. We also seek to provide speakers with timestamped information on when during the presentation audience members tend to loose focus, paired with motivation for attending the presentation, and provide guidelines for presentation generation. We also wish to characterize how these patterns vary across different styles of presentation, such as in the classroom, during colloquiums and during meetings. Our findings and tools could likely benefits and educate both presentation attendees and speakers.


Shamsi T. Iqbal
Eric Horvitz
Jonathan Grudin


Iqbal, S.T., J. Grudin and E. Horvitz. Peripheral Computing During Presentations: Perspectives on Costs and Preferences. Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Human Factors for Computing Systems (CHI), 2011, Vancouver, BC, to appear. (Acceptance Rate: 400/1540; 26%)