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9 tips for confident public speaking with hearing loss

public speaking with hearing loss

Public speaking is considered the scariest and most stressful activity many of us could ever imagine, much less actually engage in. And if that is so, then public speaking with a hearing loss has to be its doppelganger, evil twin, or even worse.

As more of us get up to speak about hearing loss and hearing loss awareness,  here are 9 helpful things to know about public speaking with hearing loss, which might make your experience much less scary and more pleasant.

1. Know you’re in control

Control. There’s that word that many of us feel has eluded us ever since the onset of our hearing loss. But in any room, hall, or building, YOU can have all the control you need to speak confidently and inspire your audience without the fear that your hearing loss will limit or embarrass you.

Yes, you can be in control of the communication that occurs – from the moment you arrive at a venue until you sign off. Take questions, greet your audience, sign a book, exchange contact information, pick up a check, or accept another speaking engagement before you walk out the door. You can be in control during your presentation as well… if you do what you need to do. 

2. Know how to play the game

I learned this years ago when I took my first job after my bilateral hearing loss and had to make presentations to consumers, clients and customers in the natural products industry.

Stu Concert

As a life-long performer and speaker, speaking was never my challenge. I could always ramble on for days. And often did. The challenge for me now was what do I do if I get a question or if someone interrupts me mid stream and needs an answer and I don’t hear them? As I am also blind in my right eye, I have the added fear that I might not see someone trying to get my attention or not be able to locate someone speaking out from the room. What do I do if someone wants to ask a question from the back of the room or if someone mumbles or whose voice is not clear? What if the acoustics in the venue make it really hard to hear anything – which sadly, is too often the case?

Lots of worries – and initially I felt the stress of that, but quickly learned  that I could choreograph the whole show with some preparation, including speaking directly to my hosts and to the audience before addressing it.

I have written about how many of us have learned that as long we’re talking we don’t have to listen or simply choose not to. In personal interactions of course, that can limit successful communication and be embarrassing for both or multiple parties. But when speaking publicly, that one-sided focus is a great asset.

3. Prepare before you speak

Whether you have been invited to speak or booked the date yourself,  talk with or write to your host about your intentions and needs before the presentation. They should be aware that you are hard of hearing. Tell your host what that means for you and what you will need to provide your audience with an inspiring and information packed presentation.

4. Set yourself up

You will need a podium and a microphone if available, and if you wish to use one. If you do, find out where the room monitors and speakers are so you can hear yourself through them. Don’t  start your presentation until you’re happy with your own sound. Many small venues will not have a microphone so prepare for that too. A podium gives you a place for your notes, is something for nervous hands to hang onto, and a place from which you can reposition your head and body to connect with your audience.

5. Prepare your audience

After you are introduced, spend a minute or two and ask your audience if they can hear you. Then, make adjustments as you or your host may be able. Tell them about your hearing loss and that you want to be able to address every comment and question but give them this rule: Save your questions for the end of the presentation. If someone has a thought or question mid stream, it’s best if they raise their hand and do not call out – or better yet save it for the end.

6. Taking questions

When you are finished and start taking questions, here’s what I do: Either have the host stand next to me and take the questions as a backup if I do not hear them, or I leave the podium and walk right up to the questioner. I find it adds a physical connection with the audience and eliminates any embarrassment that I might feel not being able to hear from the podium. This is especially good strategy when asked a question from the back of the venue. If someone mumbles or is not clear, simply get close to that person and don’t hesitate to ask them to repeat their question or comment until you understand it. I find that’s good practice to encourage people to speak more clearly for not only for those with hearing loss but for everyone in the room.

7. In challenging environments 

As for difficult acoustics, prepare if you can in advance for how you will speak in that venue, and once again, prepare your audience for whatever challenge the acoustics might present to you or to them. Ask them to raise their hand if they suddenly cannot hear something and that you guarantee that every comment and question will be heard and answered.

8. After your presentation

Doing a meet and greet? Signing books? Exchanging contact information? Step or sit away from the noise, or have a person with you to help during difficult hearing situations.

Do these things and you will be in control from the top of your presentation to the bottom. And remember, this is about your willingness to tell your story and talk about hearing loss in 2016. Your story is compelling, emotional and increasingly resonant to more people every day. Let your audience feel your story and you as much as they hear your words.

9. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it

Remember this important rule of thumb: content is a very small part of what people will remember about your presentation so don’t load up on data. Your tone and body language make up 93% of what people will remember about you so focus on how you say what you say and how you connect with your audience. Being real and direct up front goes a long way to your success.

Whatever your theme, nothing may be a more meaningful part of your presentation than how we can improve communication between us all. Whether your audience members admit it or not, some of them may be in various stages of their own hearing loss or have family or friends going through the same thing. Your hearing loss is no secret and no cause for embarrassment or anything but pride in who you are and how you are managing – and by speaking publicly, helping others.

Do you have a fear of public speaking with hearing loss? Have you learned some tricks to get you through your presentations, regardless? Please share them.

Author Details
Stu Nunnery is a professional writer, musician, composer, actor and activist. In 2013 he began a years-long journey to return to making music after a bilateral hearing loss ended a successful career forty-five years ago. Taking advantage of cutting-edge technology, auditory training and vocal work, he resumed performing in 2017 and made his first new recording in 2018. Recently, Stu also completed a screenplay about his musical journey. A graduate of Princeton University, Stu has studied piano, voice, acting, improvisation and public speaking. He is a member of the Association of Adult Musicians with Hearing Loss, and for his activism, is a Phonak “hEARo” and a “HearStrong Champion.”