Using Profanity in a Speech

If you asked me five years ago who I thought the best motivational speaker out there was, I would have told you Tony Robbins. Yes, he’d frequently mispronounce words like “nuclear” (as nuke-you-lure) and “produce” (as per-deuce). But his material was so good that I, even as an active member of Toastmasters, would overlook something so minuscule because the rest of his delivery and his material were fantastic. However, if you listen to Tony Robbins today he has an edgier presentation style. He uses more slang and hip words. But what really surprised me is the amount of profanity he uses. We’re not talking just words like “hell” and “damn” – he’s dropping f-bombs left and right. And the part that bothers me about it is it seems like he goes out of his way to use them.

Now, before you think I’m one of those people that is easily offended by bad language, let me assure you that I’m not. I grew up in the 80’s & 90’s listening to the likes of Andrew Dice Clay and 2 Live Crew – a comedian and rap group both known for their over-the-top language. On top of that, I find movies like American Pie and those in that genre to be hilarious – in fact, my favorite character in the films is Steve Stiffler who uses the f-word almost as much as Tony Robbins.

So then why am I bringing all this up? Well, Tony Robbins is the ultimate professional speaker – when he holds his weekend events, his take in is in the seven figure range. However, the rest of us aren’t Tony Robbins (at least not yet) so could we take his advice and model him to achieve fame and fortune as speakers? Yes and no.

Yes, in the sense that Tony used to speak to any crowd that would listen to him when he started out. That crowd could be two people or two thousand people. He’d deliver his presentation several hundred times per year – often speaking multiple times each day. Want a quick way to speaking success? Speak to 100 audiences in two months.

Now what about this edgy style to connect with today’s more casual society? That’s a no-no. There are several words that are fine at a bar or in the locker room that aren’t appropriate for speeches. Yes, sometimes you need strong words to get your message across, but there are better options out there. For example, if you’re giving a pep talk to a team that messed up during the first half of the game, “you played poorly” or “you played like it was your first time on the field” is better than “you played like $#!+.” “You disappointed me” or “you failed out there” are also pretty strong.

In any professional setting – including conferences, presentations at work, corporate training, courses you offer to the public, Toastmasters clubs, Rotary clubs or service clubs – you should always refrain from using profanity. It’s like a controversial story; it’s tempting to try because it seems like a victory if you pull it off. But in many cases, the benefits that you reap from it will be more than canceled out by the audience members you may offend.

So when in doubt, leave it out. If you have to ask other people whether something might be offensive to your audience, then that’s probably a sign that there’s the potential for it to be so. And this doesn’t go for just profanity too- use that rule for stories or comments that may have the same effects.

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3 thoughts on “Using Profanity in a Speech

  1. Murf

    I’m glad you wrote about this. My wife was in to Tony quite a bit and she dragged me to one of his seminars. I respected the guy highly until I heard him talk live in front of a couple thousand people…dropping F-bombs like they were “and” and “but”…even called a woman a “b*tch” for shock effect. Well it worked…I was not only shocked but lost total respect for him. It’s really not needed – I would pay more attention by listening to interesting quality content as opposed to being jarred by audible shock words. We left early and got our money back with a little comment to the lady we spoke with on the phone. She said something to the effect of “Yea, that’s his style – it keeps people aware.” Try respecting your audience and using humor – that works better.

  2. Fred

    Tony Robbins’ use of profanity became evident to me when I viewed his TED Talk from 2006. I found it most unbecoming for a professional to use the language he used.

    Zig Ziglar was a role model for speakers, I remember attending one of his talks in 1981 and his inspiration continues to affect the way I think today. During that talk, Zig talked about how using any profanity in a speech was off limits. He said, “Remember, you will never rise above your words.” That is something that has stuck with me all these years. Tony Robbins could benefit from that sage advice.

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