At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, few workers used virtual meeting apps, such as Microsoft Teams or Zoom, but organizations and their employees quickly adapted to the need to continue conducting business in a safe environment that reduced the risk of exposure.
Now a year into the pandemic, these virtual meetings have become a fixture for most workers. While they provide a good solution for many, they can present some communication challenges for the participants.
If you’re finding yourself meeting virtually, whether it’s with co-workers, clients or business partners, you might want to check out these tips. And if you have hearing loss, you may find these meetings particularly challenging.
Virtual Meeting Tips
Be sure everyone introduces themselves before the meeting starts. This can help give anyone with hearing loss a few minutes to make sure they can hear everyone and make any necessary adjustments to their equipment. At least make sure the digital names are listed correctly to the participants.
Try earbuds or headphones. Many ear buds and headphones have noise-canceling technologies that can make it easier to hear the dialogue in the meeting, without needing to increase the volume, and reduce the background noise of your setting. You may want to experiment with different styles of headphones to figure out which style helps you hear your best.
Be in sync. If you wear hearing aids, ask your audiologist if there is a connectivity option that would allow your hearing aids to connect via Bluetooth directly to the device you use for virtual meetings. Many assistive technologies and the latest hearing aids do offer these options, bringing the meeting sound directly to your hearing aids, improving the listening experience.
Use a webcam. Whenever possible, use a virtual meeting platform that allows webcams to be used, and encourage all participants to use them. Visual cues, such as facial expressions and speech reading help people with and without hearing loss better understand conversations.
Don’t shine lighting in the camera. When using a webcam, it is best to have lighting in front of you rather than behind you. If the light in the room, whether it’s natural light from a window or electric, is coming from behind you and shining into the webcam, it can make it hard to see facial expressions and limits visual cues.
Don’t cover your mouth or face. Keep your hands, hair and clothing away from your mouth or face. Speak up and talk clearly so participants can hear and understand.
Use the mute button. When you aren’t speaking, mute your microphone. If you participate in virtual meetings, you’ve no doubt heard dogs barking, doorbells ringing and kids whispering in the background. Those noises can all be distracting for participants, especially for those with hearing difficulties.
Put your hand in the air. Virtual meetings can be tough to interact in. People often talk over one another, not meaning to. Wait until there’s a break in the conversation to talk, or better yet, if the app you’re using has a “put your hand in the air” option so you can comment or ask a question, use it. This helps everyone express their thoughts without talking over one another.
Screen share. Share your screen with participants if you are discussing a specific document or project. Most virtual meeting apps have this option available, and it’s usually easy to use.
Recording. Today’s virtual meeting apps offer the option to record the meeting. To be sure you comply with virtual meeting etiquette, ask all participants if they are okay with the meeting being recorded. This makes the conversation available to all to go back and review at a later date, or share with others. This can be especially helpful if you have problems hearing.
Speak up. If you have problem hearing during a meeting, or you’re having difficulties with your technology or connection, be sure to let the meeting participants know. That isn’t a problem unique to individuals with hearing loss. Connectivity issues and background noises interfere with these meetings all the time. Others involved in the meeting will want to be sure you can hear every word, so don’t be shy if you’re having a problem.
If you wear hearing aids, talk with your doctoral-level audiologist if you are having communication challenges during virtual meetings. There are a wide range of hearing aids and assistive technologies available that can greatly improve your listening experience.