How To Survive A Cocktail Party When You Have Hearing Loss

Cocktail parties are tough for most people, but when you have hearing loss, they can be brutal! The constant buzz of conversation bounces around the hard surfaces of the room, making it difficult to pick out the important sounds—the voices of your conversation partners. When music is playing in the background, it is even harder. The whole experience can be frustrating, embarrassing, and incredibly exhausting. Many people with hearing loss would prefer to avoid cocktail parties like the plague.

Surviving Hearing Loss at a Party

But cocktail parties are a fact of life and we must face them head on. I need to attend these types of events all the time. These include social gatherings for my children’s school, speaker engagements, and professional networking functions at conventions and conferences. Even my local Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) chapter meetings often begin with a period of socializing. At least there, we are all in the same boat.

Recently I was asked to attend a cocktail reception for an event related to non-profit board membership. Several of us were asked to act as “ambassadors,” manning tables for various types of non-profit boards at the reception. I was eager to attend to help encourage others to be more involved in the non-profit world.

I usually function fairly well at cocktail parties when I follow my survival tips (see those below), but this particular party was an incredible challenge, because everyone at the table wanted to talk to me! This would have been easy if I could have controlled the conversation, but not only did they want to converse, they all had questions which they expected me to answer. The smile-and-nod-noncommittally option was not a possibility.

The evening was taxing and exhausting, but I am glad I went. Hopefully the event inspired new interest in the non-profit sector through board service. It certainly inspired this post.

Surviving A Cocktail Party When You Have Hearing Loss

When approaching a cocktail party, people with hearing loss may opt for easy fixes—dominate the conversation or nod, smile and hope your responses are appropriate. While I admit to utilizing these crutches in a pinch, the following list of strategies provides a more authentic and satisfying experience. Please add your suggestions in the comments.

1. Arrive rested. Hearing at a cocktail party requires significant concentration and brain power. Arrive rested and having eaten something. An empty stomach makes it harder to concentrate.

2. Find a good position in the room. Upon arrival, scope out the best possible acoustics within the setting and set up shop. A corner location often works well because it limits the background noise behind you. Areas with carpet, drapes or cushions are also good choices since soft surfaces help absorb excess sound.

3. Advocate for yourself. Let people know about your hearing difficulties and ask your speaking partners to move to a quieter part of the room if possible. Or invite them to step outside for a breath of fresh air and respite from the cacophony. If possible, ask the host to turn down the music in at least one part of the party.

4. Use technology. Some hearing aids have special programs for cocktail parties, but they are not always effective. Try using a Roger Pen or similar device as a microphone to hone in on the voices. One friend recently used Google’s Live Transcribe app at a cocktail party with success. You can read my take on Live Transcribe here.

5. Give visual clues to indicate you are having trouble hearing. A cupped hand behind your ear will let the speaker know to raise his voice without disrupting the flow of the conversation.

6. Take breaks. Don’t be afraid to head to a quiet room to rest your brain. Once your energy returns you can make another go of it.

7. Bring your sense of humor. A party is supposed to be fun. Smile and enjoy the atmosphere. Laugh at the mishearings — some can be quite funny if you let them.