As a consultant, I facilitate workshops and planning sessions. Most of my clients have been subjected to 4 to 6 hours in a room of their choosing with me and my trusty MacBook Air. In my agreements with my clients I have always stated that they are responsible for supplying a comfortable, airy and well lit room with refreshments for these gatherings. It is only recently that I have come to realize that with any group over 10 people, I should also insist on a microphone and speaker. When I am huddled in a board room with a 6 person committee, it’s really not necessary. But recently, I had two experiences that left me reconsidering how I position the requirement that everyone be able to hear.
The first was when I worked with a group of about 15 people in a dramatic, gorgeous, heritage hall. It was breathtakingly beautiful, to the point that I had a sudden urge to take ballroom dancing lessons. But the sound was abysmal. The room was an echo chamber and the microphone kept blitzing out. Even though I can raise my voice to a decent carrying level, having grown up with a partially deaf mother, it became evident that not everyone could hear what I was saying and that some people were only catching snippets. One or two folks were confused about my instructions during exercises and one poor fellow could not participate in any of the sharing-go-rounds at all.
My second pause for consideration was arriving at a winery to do a two day long strategic planning session and finding that we were set up at a very long table between massive vats of wine with pumps that would turn off and on at irregular intervals. On this occasion, I counted myself among the hearing impaired and had to constantly move around the room to properly understand what was being said. There were a couple of soft spoken participants who could not be heard by anyone other than their direct neighbours. The winery was a sponsor of the non-profit and apparently no one had wished to impose upon them by checking out the facilities in advance.
Many board members are baby-boomers or older. They tend to, admittedly or not, be hard of hearing. They literally suffer in silence and trust that my PowerPoint slides tell them what they need to know.
Apparently, my hearing is no longer what it once was either. So I know what its like when a presenter decides not to use the microphone, dismissing it as too much bother and proclaiming loudly that they are certain we can hear them anyway. Then immediately dropping their tone to a conversational level. My heart sinks. Often I am volunteering my time or have paid good money to be there. And I cannot hear everything that is going on. It’s a very isolating and frustrating experience. The refusal to use a mic is actually, upon further thought, a conscious refusal to be willing to include everyone in the proceedings. It is just as bad a choice as choosing not to make room for someone in a wheelchair or excluding some on the basis of race. It is a statement that some people are just not important enough to be at the table.
I would like to challenge each of us to
- A) include hearing assistance as a requirement at every presentation with more than 10 people in attendance.
- B) learn about the different types of microphones and how to use them properly.
- C) begin to respect our audiences by assuming that at least one person in the room may be hearing impaired enough that it impedes their participation. Perhaps approach this person at the break and move them to the front of the room.
Thank you for listening.