Fucking Your Way Out
- Tuesday, November 08, 2011
I'm not opposed to swearing in presentations, or anywhere for that matter. I don't cringe when I read F-bombs nor do I care if you have the word "Fuck" embroidered on your Calvins. Swearing says more about your abilities as a speaker then it does your content... that's the problem.
A Tale of Two Points
You're at a conference and you're preparing your slides, outlining your talk. You're in the speaker's room, sweating a bit... hoping that your talk has a beginning, middle, and end... just like Conference Speaker Guide 101 tells you to.
That same little phantom handbook - the one that doesn't exist but people keep referencing - also tells you to "lead with the punchline". Come out with a BANG and pop the money shot in the first 60 seconds... so what do you do?
You compromise. "I'll hit em with something to wake them up - something to bring them in, just like [Every Action Movie Ever Made] leads with an action scene to rev up the audience".
You know you need to hit it within the first 3 slides. But how? This isn't Terminator and there's no dramatic music behind your slides (though yes, I did that once... but it was at the end). How do you pull this off?
Your skill as a presenter and story-teller are now under serious strain. You're prepping your talk - do you take a chance? A Risk? Do you GO BIG? Or play it safe?
Zach's heard a lot about his slides. I've been thinking a lot about writing this post but as with most things, Hanselman beat me to it. It might look like I'm "piling on" - but my take is different than Scott's. I'm not opposed out of principle, I just think Zach is more talented - A whole lot more talented. It's a bit of a shame to resort to Grunting Monkey Tricks when you're clearly a whole lot more clever...
You Can Do Better
The slide above is taken from a talk by Zach Holman. It's a gorgeous slide deck and Zach shows a deft hand at communicating ideas in a very concise way. I want to make this clear again: I'm not offended at the presence of the F-bomb, I'm offended that someone with his talent takes the easy way out.
Making your point with profanity is what the general population uses as punctuation to emphasize a point. It's conversational punctual shorthand. As an example, let's take my previous paragraph, where I describe Zach's talk. It's just up there... read it again.
I could have just as easily said "Zach is the fucking bomb" or "Zach's slide deck is fucking awesome!!". Instead I decided to pick some words that I think convey what I'm thinking: the slide deck is gorgeous and Zach is apparently gifted at presenting.
So why use Walmart words? Why turn a grammatical trick and think it's going shock your audience? It doesn't. They don't feel it like you think they do. Fuck is just a word and it's a blanket word and it actually doesn't mean anything most of the time it's attached to a sentence.
This is the true irony of it all. Profanity is considered... profane (for some reason) and yet each word, if you consider it as a word, actually has very little meaning. For instance the word "shit" when spoken probably refers to actual poop perhaps 1 time out of 10... maybe even less than that. "Fuck" is ridiculously meaningless and (unfortunately for most of us) only means what it's supposed to mean 1 out of maybe 50 times it's spoken.
These words are simply aural punctuation points. It's like FLIPPING ON ALL CAPS when you speak. I mean YELL. It has the precise same negative effect in that it makes you look like you can't use words to illustrate your point - so you FLIP ON ALL CAPS.
That's the core of it. Sure, if you're writing up a rant about a frustrating problem and you're talking about something that was actually said then F-bombs are real and authentic and deserve a place on the page.
But dropping some F-pepper in your slides is not spice, it's cheap. It's dishonest to yourself and your abilities - and worst of all it's boring.
A Good Presentation Is Hard
If you've never given one, well you will at some point. Nerves tighten your throat and your voice raises an octave or two, you fight to maintain good posture so your breath comes evenly and you don't hyperventilate. You struggle to make eye-contact and, as you try to remember all of these tips you forget what you're trying to say.
It's flat obvious when watching someone who's thrown, and it's uncomfortable. It's moves into "sad" territory when the speaker resorts to gimmicks like inserting cat pictures, LOL-speak, and yes, F-bombs. It's sad because we've seen it before and you're better than that.
When I walk out of your talk, I want to know you thought about it for more than 45 minutes in the speaker room. I want to believe that you actually had an idea you felt was important enough to communicate clearly and concisely.
The minute you drop that F-bomb, that's when you lose me. If you don't care enough to flex the language at your disposal, why should I give a fuck about what you have to say?