Presenters Who Use Naughty Words – Good Or Bad?

by drjim on April 21, 2009

Should Presenters Use Street Language In Their Speeches?

Should Presenters Use Street Language In Their Speeches?

If you are under 18 (or if you were at one time), please cover your ears as you read this posting.

Let’s talk about naughty words. What words do I mean you say? I’m talking about all of the common ones like $^#!, *&@^, &%$#, and of course &#&@. Just for good measure we should also throw in some of the up-and-coming modern phrases like $&^%$#@!%&.

If you watch TV, go to the movies, listen to top 40 music, or even read books that are on the top seller lists then you are being exposed to what we can call “offensive language” all the time. The big question is if there is so much of this in our daily lives, can we now start to work it into our presentations?

I say that the answer is “no“. I believe that there are several reasons why.

Gene Perret was Bob Hope’s head writer for 12 years and he’s spent a lot of time thinking about the use of street language in comedy and presentations. I agree with a lot of what he has to say.

The #1 reason why presenters should not use offensive language in our presentations is because it is the equivalent of taking the easy way out. Offensive words shock our audience when they hear them. It’s the same as if you zapped them with an electrical charge. However, it’s momentary and then it’s gone. It’s much harder (and more fulfilling) to use non-offensive words to capture and hold their attention.

Here’s an example: once upon a time Winston Churchhill was at a party when a woman who didn’t like him came up to him and said “Winston, if I were your wife, I would poison your tea.” Churchill responded by saying “Well, you can just go $%#@ yourself”. Oh, wait. No he didn’t. Instead, what he said was “Madam, if I were your husband, I would drink it.” If he had responded the first way, this incident would have been quickly forgotten. However, because of the words that he did use, it has been remembered to this day.

So the next time you are crafting a speech and you’re tempted to throw in some street language just to to show how hip and cool you are, don’t. Instead spend the time and find a way to instead show your audience how memorable you can be.

Have you ever used street language in one of your presentations? How did it go over? If you could give that presentation again, would you use the same language? Leave me a comment and let me know what you are thinking.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Catherine Lorenz April 29, 2009 at 3:45 pm

Even though this practice doesn’t personally work for me, I could see in certain rare scenarios where it wouldn’t be so bad. E.g. a college grad speaking to other college students in a casual environment. University professors often swear or use off-color language in their classrooms and while it may offend a few, most are OK with the occasional colloquial swear word.

I always enjoyed Seinfeld’s comedy because it was clean, unoffensive humor. Comedy acts generally don’t sit well with me, because they use profanity for no purpose and sometimes it is the shock factor that they are going for.

Otherwise, use the general rule of knowing your audience and adapt your talk accordingly is best. I don’t think that a professional speaker should ever use
street language. They should be above that and be more creative in their content. Also some innocent American words are considered vulgar when used in other countries.

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Dr. Jim Anderson May 3, 2009 at 10:19 am

Catherine: good points. I think that “shock value” is the key – comedians seem to use blue words to wake their audience up and it always gets at least a nervous giggle from them. I can remember when Bill Cosby reached out to Eddie Murphy and asked him to tone his act down a bit. Eddie flat out refused; however, I’m thinking that time will tell who is the most remembered comedian (and why)…

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Training Connection January 6, 2010 at 5:28 pm

Brilliant! Its true that people who are not clever use swear words to show they can at least be bold. It does not create the smallness they were hoping to achieve in the other person. Instead, they behave like they are stumped!

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