Tagged: giving better presentations

Hearing at the Technical Communication Summit ’08

Guest author: Lori Gillen

My new mantra is "It's not just the volume. It's the clarity." This was my biggest "Ah HA" moment regarding my ability to hear and enjoy the Technical Communication Summit in Philadelphia last week. I realized that I was hearing the speakers' voices just fine but I was still not discerning each and every word they were saying, and that's when it dawned on me that it's not only a matter of speaking up, it's a matter of speaking clearly too.

But how do you tell someone to speak more clearly, especially when the issue is the person's accent or intonation? I recall the advice of Arthur Burtman, a wise man who has been giving Red Cross Fire Safety presentations for over 40 years. I once asked him to give me some tips for speaking to an audience of seniors. He said "SPEAK LOUDLY… SPEAK SLOWLY… AND DON'T TURN YOUR BACK TO THE AUDIENCE." So much for my "Speak Up" sign. I designed this sign to combat my shyness of interrupting a speaker that I could not hear. My intention was to send a simple message ("Speak up, please") to the speaker who could then make adjustments in volume without disrupting the rest of the audience. But I know now that my sign needs to say "Speak up and speak clearly!" And it certainly doesn't hurt to retain a courteous "please!" At this conference, I learned how far I've come. In the past, I would sit back, complaining to myself about how the planners were not accommodating me when in fact they did not know they were supposed to make accommodations. This year, I approached one of the planners and told her that I would like to attend the opening session rather than sit it out as I had done for the past five conferences. The planner walked me right up to the front of the meeting room and sat me down in front of one of the screens so not only could I hear the speakers I could see them as if they were standing right in front of me. Those visual cues go a long way to assisting my lack of hearing and being proactive works a lot better than just sitting on my butt doing nothing. I learned a few other lessons that I would like to share with you so that adjustments can be made for next year's conference:
  • Two people cannot share one microphone. If two people must share the same microphone, the speaker must step forward and take command of the microphone and the other person must step backwards.
  • A forum is a difficult format for me to hear. There are no PowerPoint slides to provide backup to what I am not hearing and questions from the audience might not be repeated by the moderator. All presenters should be urged to produce PowerPoint slides as a text equivalent, and they should ALWAYS repeat questions from the audience.
  • The audio-visual people must be available to fix technical problems. In one instance, the speaker was talking into two microphones. One was at the appropriate level but the other was not, so the audience heard some of the presentation clearly and some of it too softly. The audio-visual person never came to adjust the microphone that was not working well.
  • Conference planners should provide assistive-listening devices to all attendees who need them. And while I have your attention, Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) captioning would be a major benefit to many conference speakers, not only to those who have a functional hearing loss, but to those who can't hear the speaker because of the situation - the acoustics, their distance away from the speaker, side conversations, and so forth.
Overall, I felt I was very well accommodated at the Technical Communication Summit, and that was fine except that I had to really work hard to pay attention during the large audience-style gatherings. I am not used to paying attention at these gatherings because I am not used to being accommodated. So now I have to re-train myself to pay attention, but that's another blog entry for another time.