My mini survival guide to being deaf at a conference

I recently went to the UKSG 2016 conference, and it was pretty darned good. There are lots of excellent blog posts on it, including this one from the NLPN team, and myself and the other student/Early Career Professional award winners will shortly have an article out in the UKSG journal, Insights.

The UKSG conferences are huge. I mean, seriously – they attract nearly 1000 delegates from all over the world. The keynote speeches are held in a great big hall with a podium and video streaming, and the break-out sessions took place in a wide variety of teaching spaces. I met lots of librarians and information professionals, chatted to vendors and publishers, and attended social events. So what’s it like doing all of the above with less-than-perfect hearing? Here is my mini survival guide to being deaf at a conference.

  1. Preparation is king – hearing relies on guesswork. You need to know what’s going on around you. Familiarise yourself with the timetable; ask questions about the venue set-up; sort out travel routes in advance. Basically, take away any potential source of stress. Always pack loads of spare food and a hip flask. (Okay – the latter doesn’t strictly relate to hearing).

    Make Robert Baden-Powell proud
    Make Robert Baden-Powell proud
  2. Get to places early – bag the best seats. Sit where you can lipread, see the screen, take notes comfortably. An added bonus is that you look really keen – and speakers love people who sit near the front and look attentive. Major good karma alert.
  3. Tell people what works – if you’re with a group of people who want to sit at the back, just tell them! I found that once I explained, people were happy to sit nearer the front. I found that the vendor meetings were in a really noisy hall and many demos involved looking away from me at a computer screen. Again, I had to explain. It can be tedious – but the person you’re speaking to doesn’t know that you’ve already told ten people that day you can’t hear that great and need to lipread. So, keep smiling. It gets easier with time.
  4. Find the great communicators – some people are just ace at communicating. They speak clearly and concisely, and they usually keep conversation flowing in a group. They’re great people to chat to if you’re feeling a bit out of the loop, especially in a social situation – ask them a few simple questions and you’ll soon be back into the swing of things.
  5. Prioritise – and keep your chin up – no matter how well you prepare and advocate, you will probably still miss things. It sucks, but focus in what you can hear and experience. Conferences are mind-expanding places full of people with shared yet varied experiences. Ideas will pop into your head at random moments – ideas that you never thought were possible until now. Soak it up, and enjoy it. And my final tip…
  6. Employ stealth tactics – if all else fails, and you’re really struggling to follow a session, try following the conference hashtag on Twitter. If you can tweet to a few people in the session, even better – you will feel more connected again. Ask LOADS of questions: it’s great to be proactive and show an interest in others – and if you shape a conversation, you will have a better chance of following it. In social events, drink wine.
Ninjas! by Fiona Moore, available under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 licence




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