Motivational Speakers, Swearing and the Science of Honesty
I’m old school on this – I don’t swear during my presentations. I even removed “crap” as I thought it distracted the audience from the key point I was trying to make (Thanks to feedback from attending Keynote Kamp, which I highly recommend for professional speakers). However, and I don’t know if it is a guilty pleasure or not, I do like it when some speakers swear. And, I think I just figured out why.
A January 2017 study from the journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science titled, “Frankly, We Do Give a Damn – The Relationship Between Profanity and Honesty,” says that swearing can be a strong signal that the swearer is being honest. Specifically, the study states:
“We found a consistent positive relationship between profanity and honesty; profanity was associated with less lying and deception at the individual level and with higher integrity at the society level.”
Like most of the world right now, I’m sick of politicians and advertisers clearly trying to pull the wool over my eyes. I want less deception and more no-holds-barred truth. Hold the B.S. (Bull Stuff) and be real and honest.
Here is my theory – some popular keynote speakers, especially in the marketing space, got a strong positive response to swearing because audiences, now more than ever, want honesty and authenticity. I can tell you from experience, when professional speakers feel a positive response from an audience, they will replicate it from that point on. Other speakers watching in the audience will feel it too. We speakers are not immune to a little hero worship, so many will replicate it as well. Thus the spread of profanity in professional presentations.
Even if you love an occasional F-bomb in a presentation, I think there is a potentially huge cost for the speaker and those who hired her or him. The speaker may come across as more honest, but will often lose connection with more audience members than they connect with. The caveat is that for some speakers and audiences swearing is congruent and it works all the way around.
So, what do you think? Do you like or dislike it? This could be a fun discussion, comment below – I really want to hear what you have to say – four letter words and all.
P.S. If you are a speaker and do swear, warn the meeting planners beforehand. They can prepare their committees and audience members and help you be more successful.