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Should You Use Profanity in Your Presentations and Media Interviews?

In addressing financial analysts, Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, made headlines when he uttered a profanity in describing the firm’s legal issues a few years ago.

He used a fairly mild swear word when he said the company needs to be “…careful to “stop stepping in dog****, which we do now and then.”

The Wrong Focus

The media pounced. His slight slip of the tongue turned his presentation into a story about his profanity and not the company’s efforts to overcome its legal battles with regulators.

This isn’t the first time Dimon was caught with his foot in his mouth. Nor is he the only Wall Street titan who uses profanity.

Back in 2010 Business Insider did a story about the executives on Wall Street “swearing their a**es off.” That list included Dimon, Warren Buffet, Sandy Weill (Dimon’s mentor) and former U.S. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson. So profanity was news then, too.

But just because VIPs use profanity, should you? Our advice is “No.”

Dimon’s use of a distasteful word cast aspersions on his bank. He didn’t show leadership with his off-the-cuff remark. As the top executive at JP Morgan Chase, he had a responsibility to show dignity and restraint as the public face of the bank.

When you hear people swear it can also be an indication that they have a limited vocabulary. It’s lazy and easier to use profanity than to come up with carefully nuanced words.

Your audience – or a reporter if you’re being interviewed – will be embarrassed if you use a swear word. It makes people squirm in discomfort.

At fundraiser recently with friends, a well-known celebrity board member had the audience gasping because every other word out of his mouth was s**t or f**k. Everyone was squirming in their seats. He wasn’t funny and we couldn’t wait to get out of there.

What to Say Instead

If you find yourself at a loss for words, instead of uttering a swear word, take a breath, and say, “I really need to take a second to think of the right word, because this is important.”

Possibly a bad word slipped out unintentionally. It happens. In that case, you might say, “Let me correct myself and rephrase that.”

Some people use profanity for effect. Maybe your boss comes out with an occasional swear word himself. If that’s your boss’s style, you may more readily catch his attention with a mild profanity.

Use your judgment, especially if you’re a woman working for a male boss. A man can get away with an occasional curse word. A woman who curses often is considered coarse and, behind her back, her boss and co-workers may call her a “b***ch.”

So whether you’re man or a woman, take the high road. Don’t stoop to profanity to make your point. You can do much better than that with advance preparation and practice for your presentations and media interviews.

Should You Use Profanity in Your Presentations and Media Interviews?
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