While we’re talking about public speaking, can you spare a minute to think about people with hearing impairments? Last week, here in the UK, was Deaf Awareness Week (2nd – 8th May).  I normally talk about researchers and  libraries on this blog, but since I have a minor hearing impairment I have a vested interest in this event.

I attended a meeting last week.  Now, I may wear hearing aids, but they don’t have a ‘T’ setting for telephone and induction loop. (I won’t go into technicalities – but I don’t generally need these settings, anyway.)  So, there I was, in a roomful of 25-30 people.  When one person was speaking at the front of the room, it was fine.  But then we split up into three groups for discussion.  It was noisy!

Hearing aids tend to pick up more sound behind the wearer than a person with normal hearing would generally notice.  I could neither HEAR the other people speaking at the furthest point in “my” circle, nor SEE them speaking.  Even without knowing how to lip-read, it does help to watch people’s faces, but most people were facing the group leader – and facing away from me.

At this stage in your career, you may not have given a thought to the practicalities of speaking so that hearing-impaired people have the best chance of hearing you clearly, so I thought it maybe wouldn’t go amiss to give you a few tips.  (You can then bask in the praise when you get an unexpected appreciative comment for your thoughtfulness and clarity of diction!)

  • There ought to be an induction loop in most lecture theatres.  However, you won’t know for certain, and sometimes they aren’t working.  So, if a mic is available, make sure you use it.  And begin by asking if everyone can hear you.  That’s all! You don’t need to make a meal of it.  If someone asks you to speak up, take heed.  Speak clearly and confidently – you don’t need to shout.   (It also helps if you don’t gabble!)
  • If you’re taking questions from the floor and your questioner is softly-spoken, do repeat or summarise the question more loudly and clearly, for the benefit of everyone present.
  • If you’re organising an event and need to have break-out groups, then ideally, having separate small rooms is preferable to having all the groups in different corners of one big room.
  • If you know there’s someone with a hearing impairment in your audience, make sure they can watch your face – don’t mumble – and don’t cover your mouth as you speak.  Don’t be embarrassed to repeat or rephrase what you’ve just said, if you think they may not have heard you.
  • In an informal, social situation, I find it useful to sit round the edge of a room, with my back to a wall – it’s easier to hear the person I’m talking to, than if we sit in the middle of a room with sound all around us.  So if you’re taking a hearing-impaired friend for a coffee, a meal or a quick beer, this little bit of thoughtfulness may help you enjoy each other’s company all the better.

You can find loads more tips on being ‘deaf aware’ on the RNID website. Thank you for reading this – you’re already helping to make the world a better, more equal place!

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