The 2015 Golden Globes included its fair share of controversy. Should you join in or keep silent? The Public Speaker explains how to talk about controversial topics.
"These days you get into a lot of trouble no matter what you say ... I know this for a fact, so I'm just going to say thank you," - Billy Bob Thornton’s acceptance speech at the 2015 Golden Globes.
Billy Bob Thornton has created plenty of controversy over the years. This year he chose to keep quiet. But not everyone did. This year’s Golden Globes featured a wide range of controversial topics such as free speech, the Bill Cosby allegations, North Korea, racism, violence against police officers, and transgendered people..
My father always said, ”Everyone is entitled to their own misguided opinions.” For me, that means anyone is free to express their opinions, but that doesn’t mean I need to agree with them or be influenced by them.
Having said that, research clearly shows we are influenced by “experts” or by people we admire or trust. Although we prefer to believe that we make up our own minds, we are in fact heavily influenced by celebrities. That’s why companies hire celebrities to endorse products. Even minor celebrities (think Alex Trebek selling insurance) are more influential that you might expect.
Celebrity and Controversy
This means celebrities have both greater risk and responsibility. Celebrities can face serious backlash when they take a strong stand. Remember when the Dixie Chicks were banned from radio stations for negative comments they made about President Bush? But celebrities can also help society with their remarks and actions. Remember after 9/11 dozens of stars put together a telethon that raised $150 million for victims’ families?
With the prevalence of social media, it’s become much more commonplace for everyone, including celebrities, to make statements on controversial issues. I believe celebrities have the right to speak their minds, just as everyone else. However, they also have a duty to be factual and to recognize their scope of influence.
Comedians and Controversy
There is only one exception to that rule: comedians. When it comes to comedians, it’s their job to help us find humor in painful events. Comedy and controversy go hand in hand. We should expect comedians to occasionally cross the line.
See also: 4 Speech Techniques Learned from Comedy
Here’s the advice I would give to a celebrity or to anyone who discusses controversial issues publicly:
Be sensitive that the topic is controversial. Choose your words carefully and deliberately. Don’t say something that you haven’t thought through.
Be respectful and open to listening to another’s point of view. But don’t expect to convert your staunch opponents. Accept that sometimes you have to agree to disagree. Like Margaret Cho tweeted of her controversial appearance as a North Korean general, “I’m of mixed North/South Korean descent – you imprison, starve and brainwash my people you get made fun of by me #hatersgonhate #FreeSpeech.”
Be factual. Keep the discussion about the issue, not about the people having the discussion.
Be mindful of the venue you choose for the discussion. Is the Golden Globes awards ceremony really the best place to discuss the Bill Cosby controversy? Perhaps there is a more appropriate time and place?
Be prepared to apologize if in the heat of the moment you step over the line. There is a difference between a spirited debate (which is perfectly acceptable) and a disrespectful attack of an individual.
It’s getting harder and harder not to talk about controversial issues because we see them so often in the press and on social media. When we see our friends making comments or see a statement we disagree with, it’s natural to want to share our opinion too.
You don’t have to stay silent on issues that are important to you. But do be aware of how your words are being received and be respectful to your audience.
This is Lisa B. Marshall, Helping you maximize sales, manage perceptions, and enhance leadership through keynotes, workshops, books, and online courses. Passionate about communication; your success is my business.
If you want even more success in your life, I invite you to read my latest book, Smart Talk and listen to my other podcast, Smart Talk: Inspiring Conversations with Exceptional People.