Group conference calls with hearing loss is enough to make me hit the Snooze button – literally. At work, a reminder popped up in the corner of my laptop.
In 5 minutes
Close or Snooze
I clicked “Snooze,” but wished I had a third choice, such as “Client Unavailable,” “Reschedule Meeting,” or “Never Do a Group Conference Call Again.”
Alas, the meeting was in less than five minutes. The nerve center in my body began to activate. Waterworks cranked on in my armpits. A throbbing tension headache rose to the surface like a zombie from the grave. My breath became short and frequent, as if I was in immediate danger.
Of course, I wasn’t in any danger. I wasn’t teetering over a 100-foot cliff or speaking in front of thousands of people, having forgotten to wear pants – I was going to be on a call with several of my coworkers in a conference room, speaking to three important clients who would be calling in from different places around the world.
I was supposed to lead the meeting, interact with the clients, answer questions, and be smart and articulate. But here was the problem: Even though my team and I were all in the same room, I always had extreme difficulty hearing and therefore understanding these particular clients on the Polycom VoiceStation. The connections were always awful—with static, echoes, wind noises, strange chimes, odd clicks, other-worldly feedback, heavy breathing, and sounds of nature. I swore I heard wild monkeys screeching in there somewhere. The three clients were from India, Australia, and Great Britain. They all spoke English fairly well, but understanding their accents was always a challenge. And to repeat, I was responsible for leading the meeting. Hearing and understanding was critical.
“Even though my team and I were all in the same room, I always had extreme difficulty hearing and therefore understanding”
In 2 minutes
Close or Snooze
I clicked “Snooze” again, and tried to shake the fear out of my system. I hopped up and down like a boxer psyching himself up for a fight.
“Come on Pete,” I muttered to myself. “Get it together, dude.”
A coworker glanced over at me with concern. I realized how silly I looked. Again, it was a simple conference call. Why the heck was I so worked up?
I grabbed my laptop and lumbered nervously to the conference room. My team—the Project Manager, Art Director, and Sales Director—were all assembled at the table. I found a spot close to the VoiceStation. It would be through that device that the voices of the three clients would be heard, but not understood.
As you could probably imagine, that group conference call did not go perfectly. I made it through somewhat unscathed, but very worn out from all the worry. Afterward, I was surprised at how uneasy and downright frightened I was. After analyzing it, I realized that it was an issue I could fix. The honest truth was that I was afraid of looking like a complete moron in front of my coworkers and clients. And it didn’t have to be that way.
“I was afraid of looking like a complete moron in front of my coworkers and clients. And it didn’t have to be that way.”
Ever since that meeting, I’ve set myself up for success during conference calls in the office. I’m no longer fearful before presenting in meetings. Of course, being able to hear and understand clients on the VoiceStation is and always will be a constant battle. But with a little forward thinking and some help from my friends, I’ve come to a place where I feel comfortable and confident in these meetings. Here are a few things I started doing.
My coworkers knew I was hard of hearing, but asking for help on a conference call seemed like too much to ask. Everyone was so busy and I didn’t want to ask them to babysit me on a call. Eventually, I got over that and ended up asking a coworker to be my “ears” during meetings. And that changed everything!
If I didn’t understand something, I’d give her a signal, and she’d put the VoiceStation on mute (so the clients couldn’t hear us) and repeat what was said back to me.
Sometimes, if appropriate, she’d repeat what was said back to the client as if she was clarifying a point. The client would then repeat what they said, usually getting more succinct.
Having someone in the room as your ears/strategic partner goes a long way in not only ensuring a successful meeting, but forges good teamwork as well.
It wasn’t all that surprising that I was so fearful of conference calls. A few years ago, I was let go from a company I really liked for not performing well on group phone meetings. While I rebounded quickly and found another gig, my confidence was shaken. Looking back, that lack of confidence and fear of screwing up on a conference call was probably there even when I was with my old company.
In the next job, I realized I had two choices: I could try to avoid conference calls forever (impossible in the modern workplace) or I could overcome my fears and try to be more confident on them. And that’s what I did.
I just decided that I’d no longer worry about my performance on calls. It was really as simple as that. One little strategic thing that did help was standing during calls. Standing up and talking, even if others were on the phone and not present, gave me more energy and enthusiasm. That confidence slowly built meeting after meeting. I now act like a baseball umpire on conference calls. Even though I might get the call wrong sometimes, I move on quickly and confidently, with my head held high.
Another confidence booster was the new high tech hearing aids on my ears. Earlier this year, I was fitted for my Alpine White Phonak Marvel hearing aids, and man oh man, what a difference they made on conference calls. Now, I’m able to stream calls right into my ears. If I’m at the office, I completely avoid the VoiceStation that the team listens to.
Instead, I dial into the call-in number on the app we’re using, Webex or Zoom or Skype Business, and the voices magically emanate in my ears. This avoids some of the “distance” between the speaker and me during the call (and the extraneous noises as well). By streaming voices from all over the world right into my ears, conversations are much, much clearer. There’s no holding a phone up to my ear either. I can stand and talk and jump around and do whatever I want during the call.
“By streaming voices from all over the world right into my ears, conversations are much, much clearer.”
Instead of thinking of what could go wrong on a conference call, I think of what could go right. And that’s what I needed all along.
Learn more about Phonak Marvel hearing aids