I follow a lot of speakers, bloggers, and podcasters who swear on stage, on screen, and at the microphone. I’m no fan of profanity, but I’ll wade through it if there’s a payoff.
I’ve made huge gains in my personal and professional life from people who could make sailors blush. But here’s the thing: I don’t always feel comfortable directing my audience to do the same. It’s just not worth offending them.
That means great content providers are losing potential audience growth, and potential audiences are missing some great content. So is cussing really worth it?
A majority of people swear from time to time, but it’s recently become far more prevalent in public. Why? One of the main reasons in the business world is creating an edge.
“Uttering a taboo word in public is a great hierarchy-buster,” says Lee Siegel. “It also gives you an extra boost in a society that is becoming ever more competitive.”
Most speakers and bloggers I know who use profanity do it for this reason. It’s part of their personal style, meant to set them apart from other communicators. But like anything, there’s an opportunity cost involved in dropping F-bombs and using blasphemy.
I want to focus on three simple reasons cussing might be costing you more than you think.
- Profanity alienates people. Because cussing is still mostly private in our culture, when someone does it in public it can make him seem more personable and relateable. Communicators can use it for a quick win with audiences. But it doesn’t always work that way.
Plenty of people find swearing off-putting in public, even if they occasionally swear themselves. So instead of creating connection, swearing creates discomfort.
This is especially true for people who see themselves as religious, which my audience overwhelmingly does. As our society has become more secular, we’ve let the reins go on blasphemy, but the truth is that a huge segment of the population finds this more offensive than just about anything.
Profanity hurts your brand. Because swearing alienates people, it can really ding your brand. We know this intuitively, don’t we? In one study, CareerBuilder.com found that bosses tend to look down on employees who swear. And sports recruiters say rough language can cost college students recruitment opportunities.
It’s no different in the world of speaking, blogging, and podcasting. Many in the audience may not care, but many certainly will. And, as Joel Comm said about this topic, “If you are disrespectful of your audience, the impact of your message is going to be diminished.”
Profanity doesn’t work. In the movie Patton the famous general is asked about his coarse language. When he wants his men to remember something, he says, “I give it to them loud and dirty.” There’s some truth to that. Profanity packs a punch, but it gets less effective all the time.
Cussing only works because we slot certain words in a special class. By overusing them, people are actually making them less potent. It’s like overusing italics, boldface, and underlines. After a while, it’s just noise. Even if people don’t find it offensive, it’s getting in the way of our message.
This isn’t about being prudish, only practical. I’m not saying a person can’t cuss. But if you’ve got something to say or sell, you should really count the cost.
Maybe your audience loves it. But maybe profanity means you’re also speaking to a far smaller audience.