Foul Language In Presentations Distracts from Your Core Message

Most of us know that using foul language in a presentation is a bad idea. But now we have some research to help us understand why.   According to studies detailed in the New York Times, curse words certainly do a nice job of getting an audience’s attention. But they also distract the audience from your core message.

The article provided a fascinating overview of the history of vulgarity.  Who knew that “wretch”, “rascal”, “punk”, “gadzooks” and “meddle” were once considered no less vulgar than George Carlin’s famous “seven words you can’t say on television?”

But the article also detailed the scientific evidence for how foul language can impact listeners and ultimately undermine a presentation.

First, there is ample evidence that “bad words” do a great job of eliciting a response from listeners. The article detailed a study in which researchers measured the physiological response to curse words through the use of electrodes on the arms and fingertips. Upon hearing foul language, the article said, “Their skin conductance patterns spike, the hairs on their arms rise, their pulse quickens, and their breathing becomes shallow.”

So if you want to get a rise out of an audience, some juicy swear words will certainly do the trick.

The problem is what happens next.  Once they hear the words, the audience then becomes very distracted and has a hard time getting the rest of your message.  In another study, researchers showed subjects lists of words including a few obscenities.  The subjects did a great job at remembering the vulgarities.  But they had a very hard time remembering the other words. 

Once in a while we have discussions with our clients about the use of foul language and when, if ever, it’s appropriate.  The research on the issue is pretty clear.  Sure the bad words have impact.  But they also distract the audience from your message.

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