On February 1, 2004, Janet Jackson suffered a ‘wardrobe malfunction’ during the Super Bowl halftime show. In the aftermath, the FCC cracked down on what it perceived to be indecent material, and broadcast media, especially radio, were forced to change their standards.
Ironically, since that time, I have noticed that acceptable standards in public speaking seem to have lowered. This is especially true in humorous speaking. Subjects which were once taboo have worked their way into business and professional settings. Bathroom humor, body functions, and sexual humor have become acceptable.
I am by no means a prude… ask those who know me best. In a comedy club or the privacy of my own home, there is little that I find offensive. Bawdy or ‘blue’ humor has it’s place. However, in the field of public speaking, there is a ‘line’ which should not be crossed. As speakers, we have a responsibility to provide audiences with material that is thought-provoking, inspiring, and entertaining within the bounds of good taste.
Far too often, I have heard speakers attempt to gain favor with an audience by tossing out a ‘joke’ or structure a story centered around questionable subjects. This not only makes the speaker look bad, but shines a bad light on public speakers in general. Moreover, it’s simply not necessary.
Darren LaCroix, World Champion Speaker and one-tine professional comic, points out that many new comics often lean on four letter words to elicit laughs as they develop confidence in their material. This makes them sound like every other new comic and keeps them from standing out from the crowd. I’ve noticed that a greater number of speakers also use questionable subject material to create a laugh, typically because they lack confidence.
In a world that is full of tasteful, humorous situations, you can rise above this trend. As you write your next presentation, challenge yourself with material that has nothing to do with questionable or taboo subjects. For example, children, pets, and the workplace provide relatable material that is very funny, and will connect you with any audience.
When preparing your speech, ask yourself one question…”Could this be offensive to my audience”. If you have any doubt, you have your answer. Leave it out. Let’s raise the bar…rise above the current trend of questionable material and, you will stand out from the crowd.
© 2011 – 2013, Michael Davis. All rights reserved.