Should You Use Profanity in a Presentation?

Posted by Kristin Arnold on February 21, 2013

While attending a conference last week, I was struck by the contrast of the use of profanity on the platform.  One speaker used a mildly profane word and then apologized by telling us that he had to give ten bucks to his son for the infraction.

The other speaker said a similar profane word which escalated into a crescendo of f-bombs.

I am not a prude and I have been known to utter a few profane words onstage myself.   But is all that profanity really necessary? From my perspective, I think it depends on three factors:

  1. Location.  If you give a presentation in a conservative church, even mild profanity would not be appropriate.  However, if you give a speech at a evening comedy club, then chances are it would be.  Although, I think some comics use profanity just to get a laugh whereas it takes real work to make comedy work without resorting to throw-away cuss words.
  2. Style.  If you normally swear like a sailor (I can say that because I used to be one!), then it might be appropriate to be completely authentic to who you are and the message that you are bring to the audience.  Gary Vanyerchuck is renowned for his intensely profane style because that is who he is on and off the stage.  It works for him because he is expressive and passionate about his message.
  3. Audience.  Just because you like to flip the f-bomb occasionally doesn’t mean you should.  Gauge your audience for their cultural capacity.  For example, audiences in the United States are much more puritanical than our Canadian neighbors.  Some company cultures use profanity on a routine basis whereas others might actually have a formal policy that prohibits the use of profanity.  You should be able to see and feel the audience’s reaction to your words – and then determine if you want to continue.

Before you use profanity on the platform, I suggest you take a moment to research your audience and the location.  If it contributes to the content of your message and won’t get in the way of your audiences being able to hear your message, well then, I say be true to your style and go for it!  That being said, when in doubt, leave it out.  Why take the risk of alienating your audience when the whole point of giving your speech is to inspire them to take action?

You can also take a hint from Gary V, who says in his speaker bio: “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.”  Love this approach!

What are your thoughts about using profanity on the platform?

Skip to content