Speaking Up

One of the best ways for our graduates to be standouts in the real world is to speak with conviction about the subject at hand and to have the ability to write clearly and well. Harpeth Hall prides itself on students who are exemplary in their writing and speaking skills. Writing a paper or giving a presentation comes easily to them because they have honed these skills, in many cases, since the fifth grade. Many of you also know we have been on a crusade against “like speak” for years. Articulating your thoughts and opinions clearly is crucial to holding your own in a class discussion or in a formal speech or presentation. We now have broadened our crusade to encourage our students to speak with confidence and conviction at all times, without hedging. We want them to speak clearly and directly if they have something to say, and last time I checked, they all have something worthwhile to say.

These hedging tendencies are not really new, but seem to have become more acute in recent years. It is not isolated to middle or high school students either. Being raised in the south, I was brought up to believe that speaking with authority was somehow unattractive. The common use of hedging when sharing an opinion was thought, in my day, to be a kinder and gentler way of communicating your ideas. Hesitating or hedging with our speech has risen to a new level today, regardless of geographic origin. With the use of phrases such as “sort of”, “kind of”, or the introduction of your thoughts with “this may sound stupid…but,” we seem to be apologizing for our opinions. We all hedge at times, and yet there is no real need. We can make our words as kind or as gentle as they need to be with tone and the words themselves. On the other hand, we can make our words as strong or as powerful as needed too. We want our students and your daughters to own their thoughts, without apology.

But hedging is not the only speech impediment we face. Up speak (or as they call it in the UK, “high rising terminals”), is when people end their sentences with what sounds like a question. It is one more way to display doubt, ambiguity, and even insecurity about the subject at hand. Up speak at the end of our sentences can imply nonchalance about the very thoughts we are articulating. We can appear disconnected from our words; as if to say, I can say these things but don’t really mean them, and I certainly don’t really care if you take me seriously.

We spend a great deal of time teaching our students how to articulate a well-balanced argument. It would pain us to think that when the stakes are at their highest, our students may falter or hedge when their moment to speak arrives. They also may feel the need to raise their inflection at the end of their sentence, eroding the power of their message. I hope you will join us in reinforcing those smart thoughts and opinions with an equally smart and strong delivery.