The recent controversy over Bill Maher’s use of a racial epithet was yet another example of the power of language. Words have meaning, both good and bad. Words have power, both good and bad. Words make us feel things, both good and bad.
This post is not about Bill Maher, the politics of language or that specific epithet.
But that episode has shown us yet again that people can react strongly when we use powerful language. Language can inspire and motivate, it can align people, and create progress. Language can also sting and create anger.
We live in a world where the words we use carry great risk. Far too often, we have seen examples of people in the public eye — politicians, comedians, celebrities, athletes — make comments intended to be funny and off-the-cuff, get taken in an unintended way, causing a political firestorm and backlash. How many times have we seen people be forced to apologize for such comments?
The point for you today is a simple one… when we speak in a business context (which is always the focus of this blog), a lack of preparation has never carried more risk than it does today. When we don’t prepare and think about what we want/need to say, the jokes we think will be funny, aren’t… the casual language intended to show how relaxed and cool we are, creates a different reaction… the data we reference to prove our point leads the audience in a different direction, and questions we did not anticipate come at us.
Yes, today’s point is a simple one. Think about what you want to accomplish with your words. Think about who you are speaking to, and what their perspective is. Ask others for their input on what might work and what might not. Prepare. Your lack of preparation has never carried more risk than it does today.