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Chapter 12. The Spoken Word Language and... > Effective Language Is Appropriate

Effective Language Is Appropriate

One of the fastest ways to lose an audience is to offend it. Few speakers are so foolish as to offend listeners deliberately, but many have innocently done so. Knowing your audience is fundamental to using language wisely. Here are two primary offenders:

  1. Profanity. Be wary of telling dirty jokes, flashing pictures of naked models on the screen to wake people up, or using locker room language. I have seen this backfire on many speakers who used profanity excessively for shock effect or because they hadn't given a thought to doing otherwise.

  2. Affiliation-Offensive Language. This means language that will turn off members of the audience because of who they are. It's surprisingly easy to fall into that trap. Just tell a Polish joke to an audience containing some Poles. Or start an answer to a woman questioner with "Well, honey. . . ." Or to a Navy audience, praise the way the Air Force managed a program better than the Navy did. These all occurred during actual presentations, and the predictable effects also occurred.


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