Tech & Work

Watch your mouth and your audience

Humor is a good way to get a class going and put everyone at ease, but it will backfire completely if the joke is in bad taste. Are your slips of the tongue alienating your students? Read on to see if you need to revisit your presentation style.

Okay, I know this seems like a no-brainer, and you may think, “This shouldn’t even be an issue,” but I’ve seen it happen once too often. I can’t be quiet any longer:


Don’t tell off-color jokes, don’t make sexual innuendoes, and don’t insult people who aren’t like you.

Don’t talk about “getting some,” don’t make jokes about “doing something with the monkey” (wink, wink, nod, nod), and don’t use Web sites with animations of scantily clad cheerleaders as a good example of Flash technology.

You may even think, “Hey, we’re all hip, Internet-age dudes. It doesn’t matter what I say, everyone will get it and laugh.” Well, no, actually that’s not true.

After a class recently, another student and I decided that the trainer we had just listened to was not accustomed to having women in his class. The items I mentioned above all happened in a real, live, filled-with-students classroom. It’s true that there were more men than women in this class, but that’s no excuse. Training rooms should be like democracies where the interests of every group of people, no matter how small, carry the same weight.

It’s not the language; it’s the topic
The problem that I’m talking about doesn’t involve using vulgar language in a class. While using foul language might not be the most professional method a trainer can take, most women have heard all the same four-letter words that men have. Who doesn’t have cable TV these days?

Plus, that really seems like a throwback attitude, hesitating or making a big deal about using curse words and talking about mixed company. I mean, the Victorian era is long-since gone. There are very few “virgin” ears out there any more.

Also, why would you speak one way in front of one group of people and another way in front of another group? In what other ways are you treating people differently?

A trainer’s basic style and approach should be the same, no matter who is in the audience. I’m not talking about the subject of the class or the technical degree of difficulty. I’m talking about the language you use and the jokes you tell. If you can’t tell it in front of both of your parents, you shouldn’t tell it at all.

Try a critical self-assessment
Part of this has to do with moving out of your comfort zone or questioning your “standard” approach. Maybe you are accustomed to teaching classes full of students who look just like you or who use the same bathroom that you do. It’s nice to develop a routine you can feel comfortable with, but you don’t want to become so lax as to alienate your audience or lose the respect of your students.

Don’t say farmers are goobers or that people from different parts of the country are stupid or flaky. (Not all Kentuckians are country bumpkins, and not all Californians are fruity.)

I won’t even get into insulting different races or nationalities. Surely the stupidity and foolishness of these remarks has sunk into even the thickest skull.

If you’re wondering about your presentation, or your attitude in the classroom, or why certain segments of the class suddenly tune you out, try these review methods to see if you need to change anything:
  • Ask someone from the opposite sex to observe your class. Neither gender should use stereotypes or tell sexist jokes about the other. Some men do ask for directions, and not all women love shopping.
  • If you’re a traveling trainer, ask someone from that market to observe your class and watch for expressions or colloquialisms that might not work in that part of the country. The same goes doubly so if you work in a foreign country.
  • Videotape one of your classes and watch it with an objective eye (as objective as you can be). If anything seems iffy in terms of appropriateness, cut it out of your presentation.

Equality for all
This isn’t about political correctness or saying that any one group of people is special, or better, or more deserving of a certain kind of treatment. In fact, we all should be treated the same way: with respect. To quote the wilderness author and activist Edward Abbey, “That was the trouble with Indians. They’re just as stupid as the rest of us.”

It sounds harsh, but what he’s saying is that, really, no one is special, we’re all the same in terms of faults and foibles, and we all deserve the same treatment—the same, respectful treatment.
Was there a memorable moment when something totally unexpected or uncalled for slipped out of an instructor’s mouth? Have you ever put your foot in it and had to extricate yourself somehow? Send us your bloopers and blunders that you wish had never happened.

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