by Adam Noar
Profanity in presentations is a delicate subject.
Some may argue that using profanity in your slides is simply NOT professional.
On the contrary, others may argue that dropping F-bombs ENHANCES your presentation, making it memorable and more likely that your audience will remember key points.
In this post I will talk about the opponents and proponents of using profanity in presentations.
Before you continue reading this post, keep in mind that this post is about profanity, and you’re likely to find some ahead.
When is Profanity Inappropriate?
Swearing or using profanity is generally viewed as unprofessional and offensive.
It can make someone feel bad or uncomfortable. Additionally, this type of language could be misinterpreted as showing disrespect or as a type of harassment or bullying. Other words commonly used to describe profane language or its use include: cursing, swearing, expletives, dirty words, sentence enhancers, cussing, blasphemy, and irreverent, obscene, foul, indecent, strong, pejorative, choice, bad or adult language.
So, is it appropriate to use profanity in a presentation?
Remember, in a presentation every word counts and every word should be the best word for the purpose of delivering your key message. If your goal is to deliver your key points while maintaining professionalism, I suggest you avoid profanity. Also, it might be better to play it conservative if you are giving a presentation in front of large groups or clients.
Unless you are presenting to a group of people that will not find this type of language offensive, avoid profanity. Swearing in a casual conversation at home or with friends is a lot different than swearing in professional communications.
Opponents of using profanity in presentations would agree that it’s better to leave a lasting impression for your message and professional skills rather than for your foul language.
Microsoft employee Scott Hanselman pitched the idea that swearing is bad in his post, Profanity doesn’t work. In his post, Hanselman makes it clear that dropping F bombs or using profanity in your presentations doesn’t make you look professional. Scott says…
“I believe that having S*** and F*** in your conference slides or titles doesn’t make you cool or professional, or a better coder. It makes you look crass.”
Furthermore, Hanselman argues that “words that are evocative of sex and feces are in fact not appropriate”, and in short his argument is that since swearing has the potential to alienate your audience, it should be avoided.
When is Profanity Appropriate?
A proponent of using profanity in presentations is GitHub developer, Zach Holman. Holman posted an article, called simply Swearing, and breaks down his defense of swearing in presentations to three main points:
- Swear words are succinctly emotional and evocative
- Swearing is part of his crafted persona
- He is less concerned about his overall reach than he is with connecting with his audience
Holman argues that swearing can be a particularly strong tool during presentations.
David Heinemeier Hansson
“I’ve used profanity to great effect is at conferences where you feel you know the audience enough to loosen your tie and want to create a mental dog ear for an idea. Of all the presentations I’ve given, I’ve generally had the most positive feedback from the ones that carried enough passion to warrant profanity and it’s been very effective in making people remember key ideas. As with any tool, it can certainly be misused and applied to the wrong audience. But you can cut yourself with a great steak knife too. Use profanity with care and in the right context and it can be f***ing amazing.”
He justly explains that profanity is a tool used with care and isn’t appropriate for all situations.
Hansson goes on to say that he agrees with Holman when he says:
“The emotions [profanities] raise can’t be reached as succinctly with other tools. They’re powerful. When chosen with deliberate consideration, they aren’t a cop-out; they’re the strongest way to connect with a particular audience.”
Gary Vaynerchuk is another one who’s big on using profanity. His speaker bio offers/gives readers the following disclaimer, “Please note, Gary frequently utilizes colorful language in his presentations. However, he is aware that this is not appropriate for all audiences and is more than capable of cleaning up his act upon request.”
I think this is a great approach!
Vanyerchuck is known for using profanity because that is who he is on and off the stage. It works for him because he is expressive and PASSIONATE about his message.
Apart from an individual’s personal tendency, it’s also worth noting that profanity can have its benefits.
According to Dr. Neel Burton, in his article Hell Yes: The 7 Best Reasons for Swearing, there are 7 benefits to swearing. According to Dr. Burton, one benefit is self-expression. He argues, “Swearing can be a way of showing that we really mean something or that it is really important to us. That’s why swearing so much a part of any sport. It also broadens our register and makes us more lively and interesting, being used, for example, to add emphasis or punch to our speech.”
Tim Ferris, a best-selling author is another one who’s known for using profanity in his presentations. According to Ferris, all is forgiven as long as you deliver your point well.
As we all know, profanity can undoubtedly be misused and applied to the wrong audience. So, reserve profanity for the right audience. Use profanity with care and in the right context. Who knows, it can even turn out to work to your advantage!
Before you consider using profanity on your next presentation, I recommend you take a moment to research your audience and the location. If it contributes to the content and delivery of your message well then go for it. Otherwise, play it safe and leave it out.
So next time you are working on a presentation, consider the following points to determine whether or not profanity is appropriate for your slides:
Audience: Don’t use profanity just because you have a tendency to drop f-bombs. Get a feel for your audience. Know your audience. Some company cultures embrace the use of profanity whereas others might actually have a formal policy that prohibits the use of profanity. Remember, there are others ways to make a real connection with an audience. A real connection could be made using poise, presence, skill, and confidence not necessarily through the use of curse words.
Location: If you swear on a regular basis, then it might be appropriate to be completely true to your style and the message that you are bringing to the audience.
Context: As with all things context is everything! Whether you’re for or against swearing, context is the most important thing. Do you really want to drop profanity at the expense of your message?
Here’s my question for you …
After reading this article, do you think you will try incorporating profanity into your PowerPoint presentations? Let me know what you think below and please try to be specific as possible.
Also, do you have a friend that could benefit from learning about these presentation tips? If so, email them the link to this post now.
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Image #1 by Silicon Prairie News (Remixed by Adam Noar)
Image #2 by MIX Event (Remixed by Adam Noar)
Image #3 by Olek Poplavsky (Remixed by Adam Noar)
Image #4 by FICOD (Remixed by Adam Noar)