Two years ago, the first time I attended an all-group meeting for the Cloud Documentation group at my day job, I noticed that people in the audience were asking questions that were largely inaudible to much of the rest of the audience, including me. (And completely inaudible to people who were attending the meeting remotely, via videoconferencing.)
Before that day, when I encountered this sort of thing (which had happened many times), I would usually sit quietly and grumble to myself, and maybe drop a note to someone in authority asking them to improve things next time. Sometimes I might raise my hand and ask the presenter to repeat the question. But that day, I was feeling somewhat more daring than usual, and I went to the front of the room, grabbed an extra microphone that wasn’t being used, and carried it around to audience members who wanted to say something.
That went very well. Everyone was willing to go along with it.
(I may be misremembering details; it’s possible that it wasn’t my idea to carry the mic around. But I think it was.) (But I know that many many other people have carried mics around in other contexts; I don’t mean to say this approach was original to me in any way.)
And at our big-group meeting this year, I was delighted to see at least two other people in the group take on the microphone-carrier role, without any prompting.
I don’t know whether those two people came up with the idea independently, nor whether my actions two years ago had any effect on the group culture. But I feel like this may be one small part of a pattern that I’ve seen elsewhere: that seeing someone do something can make it feel more possible for other people to do that thing.
…It doesn’t always work that way, of course. Sometimes, for example, seeing someone else do something can make you feel like the problem is being taken care of and you don’t have to take any action.
But at a presentation at Worldcon today, when we reached the Q&A period, someone near the front of the audience raised their hand, and the presenter started to carry the mic over to the audience member, but the audience member said, “No, that’s fine, I’ll just speak loudly” and then they proceeded to talk at a volume that I suspect was inaudible to the back half of the room.
And so I went up to the front of the room before the next question could get underway, and I told the presenter that I could carry the mic, and they handed it to me, and for the rest of the session I dashed around the room with the mic. It would have been better if there had been two mics (so I wouldn’t have had to bring the mic back to the presenter for answers), but even with one, it worked pretty well. And I took a moment at one point to editorialize by explicitly saying, into the mic, that mics are good for accessibility, and asking everyone to use them whenever possible.
So my experience at work a couple years ago may or may not have inspired others at work to follow suit, but it definitely helped me to recognize the possibility of stepping in and taking positive action when the situation arose again.
I still don’t always do this kind of thing; I have a certain amount of inertia and anxiety to overcome each time the issue comes up, and I don’t always get past that. But I think that over time, it’s started to feel more possible to me.