Help me give a sick cell phone presentation to some super seniors.
January 20, 2011 3:10 PM   Subscribe

I am giving a small help session on "cell phone use for seniors" tonight. Help me put together my presentation. Complicating detail inside.

So I'm going to be "demystifying cell phones" for a group of senior citizens.

I have been given a list of questions to answer. Here's the problem: They all seem model-specific. Like, "how do I change my ringtone?" or "how do I write a text?"

What are some things I can discuss that don't depend on specific phones?

Complicating factor:
I'm sick. I have a really bad cold. I tried to beg off last night because I'm contagious, but they've instead asked me to keep away from individuals and just stand there with a microphone and present.

So, any tips for giving a "hands-off, but helpful" cell phone presentation would be much appreciated!
posted by circular to Technology (16 answers total)
Many of the people I know (including my middle aged parents) who recently got cell phones don't seem to realize that if you turn a cell phone off, it won't register missed calls.
posted by geegollygosh at 3:15 PM on January 20, 2011

Some general terminology about what they might find in the menus, and what it's ok to change and what it's not ok to change, and that it's always ok to explore your menus might be helpful -- I've found that fear of looking for options because they might mess something up limits a lot of senior-type people I know in their technology use.
posted by brainmouse at 3:21 PM on January 20, 2011

Things like how to get to your voicemail and how to add someone to your contacts are relatively standard and would be useful
posted by rmless at 3:29 PM on January 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Any of them who have email have likely seen this myth show up in their inbox. It scared the crap out of my grandma, to the point where she got nervous even touching her phone while it was charging. You may want to have some general your-cell-phone-won't-kill-you discussion, and let them know it's OK to leave the phone on/use it while it's charging.
posted by phunniemee at 3:32 PM on January 20, 2011

How to get help for specific models. Maybe an overview of the Verizon web site, the Virgin Mobile web site, how to get to the specific models page... just how to find those specific answers. This will probably work best if you have a way of projecting the screen of a connected computer, of course.

Failing that, maybe presenting some common terms, so that they'll be able to search more effectively and ask more effective questions. Plus lots and lots of reassurance that, yes, this is complicated, the words people use aren't obvious, and no matter what anybody says, it's really OK to ask questions (older generations may have cultural obstacles to asking questions/showing ignorance in addition to missing out on some of the training kids get).

A logical explanation of how people who seem to know everything about cell phones, the Internet, etc. got that way -- why the difference between them and your audience isn't native ability or smarts.

Come to think of it, this could be the seeds of an interesting (or boring) comedy routine...
posted by amtho at 3:34 PM on January 20, 2011

Don't assume that they already know anything. Define words like texting, voicemail, "put you on speaker", vibrate, ringtone, etc. Explain that you do have to plug it in from time to time to charge it but it's a different kind of plug than a telephone (power not signal); that it's a radio and you won't always be able to get reception; that you have to press "send/OK" after entering a number to dial and that you press "end/cancel/whatever" to hang up. If you are feeling adventurous, explain common billing schemes -- anytime and off-peak minutes, data plans, texting fees, long distance doesn't cost extra, etc.
posted by Rhomboid at 3:43 PM on January 20, 2011

Try to make the process of using a cell phone a bit more intuitive for them - most people of younger generations have to figure out a new cell phone when they get it, but we all know to press the center button for the menu, to use the arrow keys or unlabeled keys under the screen to go through it, to hold the red button to power down, to press the menu button for 'enter'. If you can help them understand some generalized basics like that, hopefully they can read menus from there to some extent.

posted by maryr at 4:20 PM on January 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's probably too late, but I was going to suggest you find some teenagers to join you. You present up front; they roam the room and help individuals.
posted by CathyG at 4:25 PM on January 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

If they're okay using the internet [a big if, but whatever] you may want to indicate that you can google a lot of cell phone questions like changing ringtones or whatever and that sometimes the good answers can be found in places that are not the manufacturers website [shocker, I know]. The biggest help you can give them will be

- vocabulary, so they can look things up
- skills checklist - so they know what a basic phone can/can't do
- help - where to go for help, when to call the manufacturer, when to calla friend
- ABC - always be charging, encourage them to plug it in every night
- bills - what things usually cost money and what don't and how to ask their provider if they are unsure
- smart phone vs dumb phone, the basics
- safety - if they're one of those "only for safety" people they may not want to give people their number because people WILL call and it gets confusing fast.
posted by jessamyn at 4:26 PM on January 20, 2011

Building off what phunnimee said, look at the results of a snopes search for 'cell phone.' Lots of myths or misunderstandings to be cleared up. They might like to know cell phones are safe to use at gas stations. ICE numbers are a good idea. Using one in a hospital is not 100% risk-free, but not certain death. The #90 hoax-scam. Text messages do not result in charitable donations, etc.

Keeping an ICE number (and making entries in their address book "daughter" "son" "wife" husband" instead of just first names) seems a particularly useful in case a bystander/nurse needs to contact next of kin in a hurry. You might want to go over local laws for using one in a car. If everyone in your area uses only one or two service providers, go over certain points on their billing policies (are 800 numbers still free, included in their montly minutes, or charged on top? what about collect calls?). And if they have model specific questions AND use the internet at home, simply googling for 'How do I change my ringtone Nokia 6790" will often get them the answer.
posted by K.P. at 4:27 PM on January 20, 2011

Two really useful links: WikiHow cell phone category and Howards Forums.
posted by jessamyn at 4:28 PM on January 20, 2011

Also, googling for "cell phones for seniors" brings up 1 or 2 hits with suggested models (big buttons, big displays, simple interface) and blog entries about cell phones and hearing aids and on the first an AARP-endorsed plan.
posted by K.P. at 4:41 PM on January 20, 2011

After an incident with my very sweet mom....

Let them know there is never a dial tone.
posted by beccaj at 4:59 PM on January 20, 2011

Embarrassingly, I don't actually know the details of how this works myself - but if any of your crowd are likely to travel at all it might be good to talk about how emergency 911 (or even 311) calls are handled with cell phones (both in and out of your local area).
posted by bubukaba at 5:42 PM on January 20, 2011

Thanks for all the help! The presentation went much better than I expected.

I was inspired by your responses to just start writing stuff down, and ended up with an intro, a long list of fun questions "who has a candy bar phone, who has a flip phone?" and some general tips.

Telling people little things like "hold down the number '1' and see what happens" was AWESOME...they were all very happy to know they could dial voicemail without needing to wait for a new voicemail message to come in. :-)

Later on though, one of them thanked me for showing her where the "mute button" was located, and in such a strange place, too! She was pointing at the battery cover release button on the back of her phone. So cute. Not sure how that happened.

Another funny thing: One woman started yelling out menu directions on her phone, any time somebody would ask where the calculator was, etc. I tried explaining that phones have different menu layouts, and that her instructions wouldn't work for anybody else, but it didn't sink in. Funny to see people trying to figure out what she was talking about.

I went down the Snopes list, too, and talked about gas station fires, lightning, and all that.

After 45 minutes my voice gave out entirely. End of presentation. :-)

Again: Thank you.
posted by circular at 1:52 PM on January 21, 2011

A little late, but -
I've (somehow) dialed 911 by accident on an older open-face (candy bar?) phone; this is a good problem to warn them about.

Also, "cell phones for seniors" aren't, necessarily. Tracfone has labeled a Samsung phone as such, that turns out to have a sleek black charger-connection cover, against the black phone; an elderly person would have a hell of a time finding it.
posted by ahaynes at 6:15 PM on January 22, 2011

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