Hearing Loss and Business Meeting Survival
Business meetings, symposia, conferences, seminars – are any of these a part of your work activities? They are if you’re employed in the corporate sphere. And whether you’re plugged in to a tele-conference call or attending a seminar in Vegas, there are some things you can do to prepare yourself to stay in touch – even with a hearing loss.
The effects of hearing loss may subtle or they may be dramatic. In either case hearing loss can affect your communication abilities in the workplace. Even persons that have chosen to treat their hearing loss by wearing hearing aids, may still find themselves having difficulty in large groups or business meetings.
If you are one that finds yourself having difficulty, consider the following tactics to get you through your next meeting successfully.
Business Event Survival Tactics
The key to “plugging in” is preparation. The more you know about the circumstances of the get-together the better you can prepare yourself to be a full participant. Here’s what you do.
Get It in Print. Ask the event organizer/leader for advance copies of speaker notes, agenda, handouts and other printed matter associated with the event and the topics under discussion.
Having these printed tools in advance will equip you to get the “big picture” from the keynote speaker, or the lead on a conference call. You may not catch every word but by having paper in hand you will at least stay on the same page as your peers. (Pun intended.)
Assistive Listening Devices. Ask if FM broadcasting for assistive devices will be available.
Personal FM systems, often referred to as assistive listening devices, consist of a small, FM transmitter microphone that is used by the speaker or placed in the center of the restaurant table and a receiver worn by you. The receiver will transmit the sound directly to your hearing aids either by direct audio input or by a looped cord around your neck.
Personal FM systems can also be used without hearing aids. The sound is transmitted to you via personal headphones versus through hearing aids. Many public facilities, such as churches, concert halls and movie theaters offer these for persons with hearing loss.
For persons with hearing aids, discuss with your hearing care professional what may be the best option for you if you find yourself having difficulty in situations such as business meetings or public facilities. These situations still can cause difficulty if there is a lot of background noise, especially for persons with more severe hearing loss.
There are many ways for you to connect with assistive listening devices, and your hearing care professional will be able to direct you to the right choice.
So you are thinking cost. Public facilities typically offer use of their FM systems for free (you typically need to leave your drivers license with them).
For business meetings your employer may be willing to purchase an FM system for you to use in work meetings if it is becoming an issue.
After all, these organizers and employers want you to benefit from the proceedings. They also want to be in full compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act granting equal access and, in this case, information.
Be proactive and contact the group organizer of a conference to request an FM system be available. It may not always be possible – especially if you contact the organizer 10 minutes before the proceedings are scheduled to get underway. Again, your preparation is essential, so talk to the event organizers ahead of the conference date so they can better accommodate your hearing needs.
Visit meeting site ahead of time. If you are attending a large conference consider visiting the hall where the main events will take place. Here’s what to look for:
- Carpeting absorbs ambient noise like scraping chairs. If the room is carpeted, you’ll hear better through the noise clutter – a good thing. No carpeting and you’ll be hearing echoes as sound bounces off the floor, and that can drive anyone nuts in about two minutes. If that is the case, try sitting near the speaker.
- Glass windows also bounce sound. Drapes cut down on echo. Plaster or cinder block walls will also bounce sound waves around pretty good. In this case, FM connectivity becomes even more important.
- Will the main group split off into smaller groups? Part of the agenda? This may require some hearing aid adjustments on the fly. Higher-priced hearing aids handle these kinds of adjustments well through automation. However, minor adjustments may improve your hearing experience as you move from large hall to smaller rooms for individual, smaller and more focused gatherings.
Once again, by checking out the facilities, you’ll be pro-active and better prepared to both benefit from and contribute to the proceedings without missing a beat.
Choose your seat and claim it. Of course, this isn’t always possible if you’re faced with assigned seating over a morning breakfast, for example.
However, if you can claim a chair early, pick one that’s five or six rows back from the dais. You want to be close enough to be able to get visual cues by watching the speakers’ lips but not so close that you have an amplified speaker pumping 100dB sound waves through your hearing aid.
What if the meeting is on the phone? Conference calls are a part of daily business life, especially when working for a company with remote offices and outsourcers. (That’s just about every corporation today.)
If you don’t wear hearing aids, consider asking your employer for an amplified telephone to allow you to adjust the volume over a wider range. The quality of a conference call is often an issue when persons are calling from a mix of land lines and cellular phones. If you are using a Bluetooth headset with your cellular phone, ensure you purchase one with a decent volume control range.
If you wear hearing aids – discuss a dedicated telephone program with your hearing care professional. Today’s digital hearing aids can be programmed for multiple listening environments, including the telephone. A dedicated program for the telephone will ensure optimal hearing and less feedback.
Don’t Forget Communication
Healthy relationships come down to communication, and it is no different for business relationships.
When meeting with colleagues it is always best to be forward about your hearing loss. It may be embarrassing at first to discuss with them, but over time you will be happy you did.
Discuss with them your hearing loss and how it affects you in meetings. If you wear hearing aids – show them your hearing aids and discuss how they help you. And best yet share with them communication techniques they can do to help you in meetings, such as making eye contact while speaking and only person speak at a time.
There is nothing embarrassing about having a hearing loss. Your colleagues will appreciate your honesty and you will be surprised at how many will modify their behavior for you.
By combining good ‘ol simple communication with some of the latest in technology, business meetings will be a breeze.