What Makes Loud Effective?


In college I played tuba in a very large marching band. We were a big and powerful band. This was by design because we played in large stadiums. A smaller band would never be heard over the roar of the crowd in a big game.

Our band directors were great musicians. We typically played custom arrangements, written specifically for our band. During an early season rehearsal, one of our directors, Dr. Johnnie Vinson, stopped rehearsal because the band was not paying attention to the dynamics (volume) of the arrangement. Instead of varying the volume where changes were written and directed, the band was playing it all at full volume.

Glenn S. Phillips playing the Tuba in College

Glenn S. Phillips (center) playing tuba in college in 1985

Dr. Vinson wanted us to understand that while we took pride in being one of the most powerful college bands, not all of our music needed to be loud. Why? As he put it, “Do you know what makes loud effective? Soft.”

He was, of course, right. Any music that stays at one volume, even loud, becomes boring and, in turn, ignored. 

And the same applies to all our messages in life and business. We need change in volume, tempo, and style to help us pay attention and even to better interpret the full message.

I often see advertisers, job applicants, sales staff, and management fail this lesson. Not every message can be loud and a priority. If there is no difference from one message to the next, they all blend together. They become bland and ignored. Monotone.

One tone, over and over, is not music, it is not effective communication and it is not memorable. It is noise. And monotone advertising, resumes, sales pitches, and management directives eventually become “white noise” to the targets. It just fades to the background, buried with all of the other monotone messages, even the loud ones.

Need to make a point or stress something of importance? Loud (or bold or colorful or large) can work. But so can quiet, soft, grey, and small. To be effective in your communication, you must consider your audience, all of your messages, and the messages that the audience is already hearing from others.

The success of your messages should not be solely dependent on being the loudest or most demanding message. As our directors would often say, “Don’t play notes, play music.”

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About the Author

Glenn S. Phillips works with leaders who want to leverage technology and understand risks within. An author and blogger, Glenn is often quoted in national media, plays a really ugly tuba (it even has a bullet hole) and is a fan of dark chocolate and great puns.