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.
James Feudo owns the Boston Web Design Agency JVF Solutions and loves blogging about personal development and communication in his spare time.
6 thoughts on “Using Profanity in a Speech”
I completely agree with your Post.
If it’s inappropriate, it’s inappropriate – Period!
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.
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.
Yes, I also saw the Ted talk and was taken aback… All that cursing was so crude. I have listened to the tapes. Did he always curse and they just would edit it out?
I have no idea why his ‘style’ changed, but its not too impressive.
I agree with you, and I’m relieved to hear other people post the same things I’m thinking about Tony’s shift in language. I grew up on the streets of a small Italian neighborhood in New York City during the 80’s, before the Lower East Side, Bowery and Alphabet City turned into Disney World. But, hearing Tony curse so much made his talk seem less “real”, it was like he was trying too hard to seem “cool”. Next thing you know, he’s going to come out in a white T-shirt with a pack of cigarettes rolled up in his sleeve. It’s a shame because his talks were so powerful. When I first used his Get the Edge program, it was from days of searching the internet until I found his program and downloaded it from a file sharing website because I couldn’t afford to pay for his program. About a week and a half before, I had gotten released from jail with $5, a pack of cigarettes, and enough fear, guilt shame and remorse to make one seriously contemplate suicide. I was listening to a seminar of his on YouTube when I heard him say that if anyone in the world has accomplished a goal that was a mere dream of ours, then anyone else can produce the same results, just by modeling them, because we all have the same nervous system, and I BELIEVED HIM. It made sense, and I had a sudden and overwhelming spiritual awakening. I listened to that seminar over and over for the next 2 weeks until I was able to find his 7 day Get the Edge program on a file-sharing site. Because of Tony Robbins, I went back to school, starting at a 2 year Community College using a grant for survivors of the World Trade Center attacks. I was 38 yrs. old, and terrified.. My grades were mediocre in high school, so I was had high anxiety because I had to take a remedial algebra clas and chemistry class prior to staring my curriculum. To make a long story short, I carried a 4.0 GPA, was inducted into their School of Honors and was hired by the college as a chemistry tutor. From there, Tony had enabled me to demand more of myself than anyone could ever expect, and I got a full academic scholarship (upwards of $75,000 per year) to NYU. I had the privilege of studying brain development at NYU’s School of Medicine, study human evolution under a world renowned Anthropologist, work under a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the NYU Child Study Center, who has left major contributions to our field and is well revered by anybody who’s anybody in Child and Adolescent Psychopathology. Everything Tony said was true. Obviously, I didnt all of a sudden become extremely intelligent and blessed in terms of academia, but my core belief systems had programmed me to believe that the only successful people to emerge out of the neighborhood I grew up in were mobsters. If anyone other than Tony Robbins were to tell me that I would fully grasp Einstein’s theories of relativity on first reading, comprehend the physiology of the human nervous system with ease, and have the morals and standards of a man that was able to walk away from a life of organized crime and do a complete 180 degree shift to mold and shape myself into the man that my, now, 9 year old daughter knows: a learned, respected, and published Child and Adolescent Psychologist. If my first exposure to Tony Robbins was the seminars I’ve seen where he tries to make his cursing sound natural and fluent, he would have seemed like someone who was trying to make people believed he grew up in the same environment that I had (a physically and mentally abusive household), and would have seen him for a con artist that needed to spend some more time in my neighborhood because he wasn’t fooling anyone…. He would have been a person I had no desire to model, but he spoke in a way that I saw a man who had a rough upbringing like myself, but was able to defy the odds and not become just another statistic; he made something of himself, and he wasn’t handed anything, he used whatever resources he could and, with integrity, became everything I always wished I could be. And i wanted nothing more than to be just like him.
please excuse any grammatical errors, I didn’t have a chance to read through my post yet….
Michael, wow what a powerful story you have. I had a similar experience with Tony – I loved Personal Power. I try to listen to his new stuff but him trying to be “cool” takes away from the message. And it’s more than just the swearing, his whole new attitude just doesn’t appeal to me. But he has millions of followers more than I do, so he must be doing something right. But to your point, it’s too bad he’s a turn off for a lot of us.
I’m very impressed with your story. I’d like to interview you at some point to hear more about it. Thanks so much for reading the article and your comment.