Just last week I was scheduled to give a keynote presentation to a group of officers from a multi-billion dollar corporation. My job was to explain how story worked in screenplays and then explain how major corporations were using Hollywood plot structures in their marketing campaigns.
This is a talk I’ve given more than few times and it always goes well. But one part of the talk was bugging me.
You see, in order to give the keynote I break down the movie Moneyball, showing 7 critical scenes in which specific movement happens in the plot. All that’s fine, but what was bugging me was one of the scenes had profanity in it.
Normally, this wouldn’t bother me.
We all hear profanity at the movies and on television all the time. But in a room full of executives? Would there be consequences?
Would anybody be offended?
Luckily, I happened to be having lunch in the hotel restaurant when I noticed one of the executives sitting across the room, reading the paper. I stopped over and sat down and we caught up on life, then I asked him what he thought about showing that scene.
He was grateful I asked.
Even though he thought nobody would be truly offended, he wondered whether there was any way to cut that word out. I told him I could find out and do everything I could and he felt that would be best. As we talked, though, we uncovered the real reason I shouldn’t take the chance. And here’s what it was:
Showing the scene risked making me, the presenter, look immature and unprofessional.
It turns out it wasn’t the offensiveness of the word that would have gotten me into trouble, it would have been the fact I was willing to play fast and loose with proper business etiquette, which would have made me look bad.
I’ve plenty of friends who use profanity or off-color jokes in their writing.
They do so because they believe it will set them apart. I understand the temptation. But the reality is it has a downside. In the long run, people are looking for somebody they can trust. Getting a laugh or a gasp may make us feel powerful or influential, but that roller coaster high is most often followed by a dip.
I ended up cutting the profanity out of the clip and I assure you nobody missed it.
And nobody was distracted from the point I was trying to make either, a point that ended up hitting a home run with the group. Lesson learned.
Always choose long-term professionalism over short-term attention. (tweet this)