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The Virtues of Speaking "Louder"

My section has developed a wonderful little norm around getting people to speak up. Instead of knocking on the table or waving our arms in the air, we simply express our inability to hear the mumblings of a sectionmate by saying “Louder” or another polite derivative of the word.

In general, most people have gotten much better at speaking loudly and clearly, especially since our other mechanisms of self-policing have made it insufferable for repeat perpetrators. For instance, a sectionmate was nicknamed “Louder” for his repeat offenses until he got the point.

Others were “rewarded” Sky Deck Awards and gradually reformed their ways.

It seems, unfortunately, that our fatigue from a difficult job search, a bitterly cold winter and the need for vacation has caused some of us to revert to old habits. Yes, old habits die hard. But, there are virtues to beating and stomping on those old habits until they die permanently.

Granted, I’m certainly not a champion of this topic as I have my moments of needing to mumble because the idea that I thought was so ground-shaking in my head ends up sounding pretty brainless out loud.

So I can empathize.

Still, the many instances of having to intensely concentrate on a sectionmate’s class comments and the resulting frustration I and others have felt have impressed upon me the need to write about some of the virtues of speaking louder. Hopefully, this will change things for the better. So here they are…the Virtues of Speaking Louder.

1. Like we read in that marginally-related note for Negotiations class, “appearing smart is mostly accomplished by sounding smart.” And sounding smart is a result of speaking eloquently and articulately. Now, how can we determine whether you’re smart if we can’t even hear what you’re saying?

2. Worse yet for all those Baker Scholars and 1st Year Honor hopefuls, if your professor can barely hear you, imagine how smart they think you are?

Suppose you don’t care how smart others think you are, why change what you’re doing now? Well, there are two ways to look at it. First the serious considerations:

a. We’re all at HBS because the divine powers that be decided that there was something special about each of us and that our 899 fellow students could actually learn something from our individual utterances in class. In our sections especially, we sit among those 89 other people because we each fill a role, be it a strategy consultant, finance guru, humor injection specialist or career slacker. So it’s important to share what you know and what you think in a loud and clear manner so that we can all get as much as possible out of our $120,000 HBS education.

b. Time is of the essence. If you can’t/won’t/refuse to speak loudly, then don’t monopolize airtime by having to repeat your comment four times because your sectionmates could not hear you the first, second or third time. Just don’t speak.

Now, the second way of looking at this: You see that hottie across the classroom? You know, the one you basically stare straight at every day?

You want to impress that person don’t you? Well, one of the best ways to make sure that they are looking at you and hanging on to your every word is to raise that little ol’ voice of yours and speak as if this were your one and only chance to say what you have to say. Speak as if they need to hear what you have to say. Then, who knows what might happen.

That hottie might approach you and tell you what a fascinating comment that was and ask you if you want to have dinner to discuss your comment in more detail.

So those are a few of the virtues of speaking louder. Now sit up, breathe from deep within your belly and enunciate those precious words of yours when you get that acknowledging call from the professor to impart your wisdom and deep insight upon your fellow classmates.

March 10, 2003
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