One maxim my mom always said was, “Be a lifelong learner.” She taught high school English: Helping teens appreciate a good story, teaching them how to persuade, and demonstrating how to compose your thoughts in such a way to reach other people. I’ve taken her short, but powerful idea with me into my adult life.
As a professional, this statement reminds me that I can always learn from others. So, while meetings may be dreaded for many professionals, I sorta think they’re a great opportunity. I get to sit with others and learn something fresh. I take these moments as a way to up my game in my own role within the company and in my career.
However, self-improvement can only truly happen when you fully understand what is going on. One day, I didn’t fully know what was going on. It wasn’t a lack of comprehending the concepts being shared – it was a lack of cilia vibrating in my cochlea. I had hearing loss.
Hearing loss in professionals
Like many professionals who may be experiencing signs of hearing loss, I first really perceived my hearing loss in the back of a big conference room at work. It was an informal part of the meeting, so no AV system was being used. There were 50+ people in the room, there was an echo, it was the end of a long day, and I was tired. Sound familiar? But a strong moment of lucidity crept in, and a I realized I couldn’t hear the soft consonants at the beginning or end of words like /s/ or /j/ or /f/.
This was two years ago. And, unlike many professionals, I moved fairly quickly on being fit with hearing aids. Again, being a lifelong learner meant being able to hear, and I still had many things I wanted to be able to hear and understand.
Even with the latest hearing aids on my ears, underpinned by features to help me hear those high frequency sounds, sometimes they just weren’t enough. The day is long, I want to be my best, and almost everyone I know has normal hearing. My few friends who also have hearing loss know to look at me; they know to speak clearly. They know it in a way that’s beyond theory. When you live it, you have felt the costs of the big room or the loud bar. I needed more.
Tackling the conference room
It was in that same giant conference room that I had my first experience with a Roger* microphone. The Soundfield system was on, the presenter was using a Roger Touchscreen Mic, and the participants were using Roger Pass-around mics. This means that the speaker could talk in a normal voice to the big group of us. The participants could pick up a mic, make eye contact with the presenter, but still be heard throughout the room. For the normal hearing folks in the room, it just seemed like a normal AV system. But to me, it was also piping right into my hearing aids.
I’ve tried it both ways, I’ve asked the presenter to pair to my aids; I’ve sat and listened just like my colleagues through the Soundfield speaker. I wanted to know if I could tell a difference. I can. Here’s how:
- There’s something about having the sound right into my ears that reduces how hard I have to work. While I cannot site studies that reinforce the importance of ear-level access, I can say looking down to write or type notes is less of a challenge.
- I work for a global company. Many of my colleagues have accents from other parts of the country or globe. This can be hard to perceive for those with hearing loss. Having a clear signal of their voice helps me understand people better.
- Funny enough, if I have to sneak out of a meeting to use the restroom, the range of the Roger mic is such that I typically can listen in for my whole walk to the bathroom, which means I miss less of the meeting.
- If my tablemate leans over to whisper something to me during the session, I quickly pull up the myPhonak app to adjust the sound profile, turn down the mic signal and turn up the hearing aid / environmental signal.
Once I realized that I do better in important meetings, especially in those larger rooms, with ear-level Roger, I started bringing a Roger Select™ more often to smaller meetings. I don’t bring it to every meeting. My hearing loss is high frequency only, so if the session is with a half dozen people or in a relatively small room, I don’t need it in person.
Working remotely with Roger
Now that I’m remote 100% of the time, I prefer a Roger microphone for every meeting — no matter if it’s one person or 250. On a good day, I have a preschooler on Zoom calls and a diligent husband teaching my 2nd grader fractions in the background all day long. (But let’s be honest, there’s also a lot of TV, Spotify, arguing and bargaining also happening in the background.) And while I want to know what they’re up to, if I’m meeting with my team, I need to hear their ideas more than I need to hear my kids’ complaints.
Having my Roger Select plugged into my computer allows me to stream the audio signal from Teams andWebEx straight into my Phonak Marvel™ hearing aids. This keeps the speakers on my call the primary voice that my brain can focus in on. For example, there was one day, where I was on a status update meeting. I’d already presented, so I was on mute, and I could hear a glass shatter downstairs. Still on mute, I went downstairs, I could tag my frazzled husband out, tell the kids to go to their rooms till it was cleaned up, and then I began cleaning up the mess.
My Roger was still plugged into my computer upstairs, but my broom and I were downstairs doing two things at once. Someone brought up a topic that I knew I’d need to speak to, so I quickly ran up the stairs, came off mute and contributed. Now this is a perfect COVID-19 example. I don’t expect to have many more professional moments like this, but the signal was strong, and I was able to contribute.
How does using Roger make me feel?
- I don’t want to feel like a burden. Roger Select is super helpful because I can contribute normally to the team dynamics.
- While at home, I am relieved. I don’t have to take out my hearing aids and pop in earbuds then do the reverse every other 30 minutes.
- At the end of any workday – at home or in the office – using Roger makes me feel empowered. Not gonna lie though: When I first started using Roger, pulling out the microphone, somehow felt like a “Big Deal.” And the only “Big Deal” I want people to associate with me is my great ideas, big heart or sense of humor. Then I heard my mom’s voice in my head again. “Be a lifelong learner.” And I knew I need to push through my self-imposed sense of awkwardness and get out of my own way. Now that I have, my work life is so much more accessible.
Social distancing with hearing loss
While it was a meeting room that cemented my perception of my hearing loss, my personal life has benefitted, too. Shortly after I received my microphone, I was at a rehearsal dinner. We were in a brewery with 50-foot ceilings. The group was in the bar’s loft area: beautiful, open and overlooking the whole (noisy) dining room. My head was throbbing with the conversation of 200 people, until I remembered the Roger Select in my purse.
I placed my Select in the center of the table. And all of a sudden, I didn’t hear 200 people. I heard the eight at my table. As the conversation evolved and side conversations occurred, I had the control to only hear those I wanted with just the press of the Roger Select’s buttons.
There’s a study that says, people who use Roger in a noisy restaurant hear significantly better than normal hearing peers. I saw the truth of this that night. My friends were leaning in to hear, while I was sitting back. That night at the bar changed everything for me when it comes to loud restaurants. There is no need to think twice about going out.
But, the world has changed. The idea of being in a room with 200 people, talking closely with dear friends, feels like a lifetime ago. Now, I talk to my friends from 6 feet away. I can give my mom the Roger mic to wear as she stands on one side of her driveway. My friend can wear it when we go on a walk. All the while, the intermittent noise of the outside world – like a car driving by – don’t drown out moments of the conversation. And, I can still practice social distancing while being social.
Roger: A continual game changer
Back before I understood my hearing loss, I didn’t realize how many important moments were drowned out: The big conference room, the complex remote meetings, and the cacophony of a bar are certain to challenge all of us. But they stop the game if you have untreated hearing loss.
If your patients are like my mom and they want to learn as much as they can, then we’re members of the same team. (Go team!) If their hearing loss is an obstacle in their professional path, open that conversation with them. Ask them where they struggle. Is it in meetings? Maybe on a walk with a friend? Having a virtual call with their boss or mom?
Knowing their needs will begin a rich conversation about the tools available to change the game. Encourage them to check out these two listening simulations to help them understand the power of Roger in a meeting or in a bar.
Michael Jordan once said, “It takes effort to win the game, but it takes courage to change the game.” Help your patients make that change!
To help your patients improve their communication during online working meetings, we invite you to share this Best Practice document.
1. Thibodeau, L. (2014). Comparison of speech recognition with adaptive digital and FM wireless technology by listeners who use hearing aids. American Journal of Audiology, 23(2), 201-210.
* Roger microphones are part of a system that includes a Roger receiver and hearing aid.