by Deb Andrews
Over the past few years, I have experienced accelerated hearing loss due to an autoimmune disease. My doctors do not feel that the type of hearing loss I am experiencing would be helped with hearing assistive technology, and for the most part, I am able to function fully with a few workarounds.
Before my own experiences, I had no idea how difficult work situations, especially meetings and large group presentations, can be for those who have even moderate hearing loss.
I am sharing a few suggestions from the Hearing Loss Association of America for hosts to consider when planning meetings and group presentations, which make perfect sense to me now that I have first-hand (ear?) experience struggling to hear.
Create a Safe Space for Requests
I accept that it is my responsibility to ask for what I need. Having said that, as someone who is naturally more comfortable behind the scenes, it’s hard to approach a presenter and ask them to make adjustments on my behalf. If you’re planning a larger event, you might consider asking if anyone needs accommodations when sending invites, which can help create a more approachable space for attendees to make requests.
Scripting your presentation and making it available as a handout is another great way to ensure those who have difficulty hearing can stay with you. If you do provide handouts, you might want to point out physically where you are at times to ensure your attendees are keeping pace.
Face the Audience
Lip reading and using face/body cues are very common strategies for coping with hearing difficulties. To help lip-reading attendees follow along with you, try to avoid speaking in the direction of the screen, which puts viewers at your back, or covering your mouth with hands or microphone. When possible, if you’re having a conference call, consider using web-based video services or on-screen closed captioning capabilities. Dim lighting helps attendees see the screen but may make it difficult for lip readers to follow along; adequate lighting can help attendees keep their eyes front and centered on you.
Speak into the Mic
When you’re in a larger space, using a microphone will help with projection and clarity. If you do opt for the microphone, make sure the microphone travels with you. I attended one meeting where the presenter held the microphone in front of her and swiveled her head to maintain eye contact with the crowd, never moving the microphone; I heard about two-thirds of the presentation! If someone asks a question without a microphone, it’s helpful to repeat the question so that everyone can hear it before you answer.
Speaking in a modulated, clear tone takes some practice. You may begin by stating something firmly, but the supporting sentences may come out in a rush, or in a lower, almost mumbled tone. It is difficult to lip read fast-talkers, and it is difficult to use context as a tool when everything blurs together. “I can take it there” sounds very similar to “I can’t take it there” when you are speaking too quickly.
Minimize Ambient Noise
Noise is my biggest challenge in meetings. If more than one person is speaking, whispering or having side conversations during a meeting, or if there is background noise like a loud fan or copier, all of the sound blends together and I can’t hear anything with clarity. As a host, you can try to minimize environmental noise and facilitate the meeting to reduce side conversations. If you’re hosting a conference call, be aware that rustling papers and tapping near a microphone will be very loud to callers.
These tips gave me some strategies to cope with my hearing difficulty, and I hope that you find them just as valuable!
Deb Andrews is a program manager and business process manager in human resources.