This weekend is Christmas! Woohoo! Bells will ring, and Santa will hover the skies in his sleigh. Even better: the whole family will get together, and we’ll get to catch up with all those people we don’t usually see. Family members and dear friends.
Jolly times ahead, right?
Except for those with hearing loss; Christmas gathering is one of the most challenging situations of the year.
Family members and friends we rarely see are speaking to us all at once. While numerous children roam around and scream. (You can’t blame them. It’s the only chance they have of being heard.)
The magical moment of unwrapping a gift can also sound like a super jet low-riding over your head, and you’ll wonder: What’s that your favorite nephew just told you? He’s finally come out of his shell, and you can’t hear what he’s said.
A lot of joy can also lead to a lot of noise, especially if you’re having your Christmas dinner with a large group in a busy restaurant.
If you’ve read my eBook “How To Hear Better At Dinner” (you can download it for free here), you’ll know I’ve covered how planning can help you to have better success with a dinner out with friends. Now is a good time to revisit this report and apply its concepts to your Christmas dinner.
I recommend you read the full report, but here are three tips that you can put into action now:
- Pick the venue
- Control the venue
- Anticipate context
1. Pick the venue
Picking your home as the place to host your Christmas dinner is a good choice as it gives you more control. You can easily decide that no background music will be played during dinner, for example.
If Christmas dinner is already planned to happen elsewhere, try to scout the venue a few days prior dinner if you can. If that’s impossible, arrive very early.
Especially if it’s a friend’s house, arrive very early to help out. And while you’re there you’ll have enough time to think how you can control the environment to improve the acoustics of your dining room.
Just be mindful of your energy. Since hearing takes up a lot of it, go back home for a quick nap before the event and come back fresh and relaxed.
2. Control the venue
You’re in the venue two hours before dinner. Let’s say that the venue is your sister’s home.
Three things you can control:
How much noise is there now, and how much noise can potentially be at the time of dinner? For example: if TV is on, ask politely if it can be turned off. If it’s off now, but everyone is planning to watch something, you can explain to your sister (the host) that it will make your brain cry. If they really want TV on at dinner, can it be put at very low volume? Or in a different room?
Identify more potential sources of noise, such as background music or Santa using a jackhammer to get into the chimney.
If there is a lot of it, it will dramatically affect your ability to understand words. An easy way to find out is to say something out loud in the room: a “Hellooo” would do. If you can hear echo, then use the strategies in my article How To Defeat Mind-Numbing Room Echo.
Or, here is a Christmas special strategy: the coat tree! Place one, laden with soft guest coats in the barest corner of the room to cut down echo. You can explain to the various guests that the coat tree helps with echo, and use this as an excuse to remind them to speak while facing you, while in the same room.
If there is no coat tree where you’re going, why not bring your own? If you treat your own coat tree as a badge of honor and treat with humor, it will make for more acceptance from your family members.
Choose your table
If you are in a large venue, pick a table that isn’t too close to loudspeakers or other loud tables. A corner with a divider is a better choice. And try to sit with your back at the wall so you won’t be distracted by the sound coming from behind you.
3. Anticipate context
If you can figure out what people are talking about quickly, you will save precious energy you can spend on joining the conversation for a longer time with less stress.
All you need to do is some research. It takes little time, and it can be fun. You will likely learn something new and have more topics to talk about.
Three things to research:
Scan the headlines
What’s new with the world? Reading the headlines of your favorite newspaper will help you anticipate some news talk
Research your new friends or family
Your nephew started a new degree in “Baking Technology Management.” (This one really exists). Or your brother-in-law has just been promoted “PPC Manager.”
Look these things up on Google so you’re not completely unprepared and have to guess context all along.
Here is another Christmas special: why don’t you mass email your family and friends and ask for current pics titles/schools/fields of study or big news and offer to make a big poster or newsletter so the whole group gets a nice takeaway?
It’s a nice thing to do – it could even replace Christmas gifts if there’s too many people to buy for, and will more easily prepare you to converse.
Catch up with the gossip
What’s the latest in the extended family? Knowing what everybody has been up to will give you a chance to quickly tune in into a conversation, even if you missed some.
Another game idea: if there are too many strangers at dinner, and you know you’ll struggle to remember the names, you could suggest to use name tags. For the benefit of the children, of course ;). They could even decorate them and pass them out to the guests.
Try to relax
You may try some of these techniques above and still miss words. Conversation will be difficult to follow sometimes. The worst you can do is to stress out when you can’t hear everything.
The goal isn’t to hear everything. The goal is to make meaningful connections with someone. If you ever feel down because you can’t follow what the group is saying, start a conversation with the person sitting next to you.
The worst thing you can do when you’re struggling is to nod and smile, pretending everything is great.
When you take action, you may not always succeed, but you may improve your situation. Progress. And that will make you feel better because it will chase that feeling of hopelessness away.
Give yourself a Christmas gift this year and take action. You will hear better and feel better.
Share your tricks in the comments so others can learn from you, and if you found this article useful, share it too.