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Bad Publicity 

The at the workshop opened her talk with, “It's a funny story…”

“…I went to the funeral of an old student of mine. She died when she was 48… so it was sad, but it's a funny story.”



I've never ever heard someone complete the sentence, “It's a funny story…” with the word “funeral” before.

I was a bit taken aback. But I'll admit I did have to keep listening simply to find out what was so funny.
Here's a spoiler alert: it wasn't funny. Not funny, ha-ha, anyway.

At best, it was funny, odd.

It turns out that the speaker met a potential client at her student's funeral, and that lead eventually turned into a big contract for her.

That was the “funny” part.

But regardless of the speaker's definition of “funny,” the 48-year-old was still dead. And I doubt that either the deceased or her grieving family would have found the story funny.

This was the first time I had seen this particular speaker. And chances are pretty good that I'll never see her again. But if I do, I'll remember her and her stunning lack of empathy.

Bad Publicity 

Studies show that audiences decide whether or not they will listen to a speaker in the first three to seven seconds that a speaker is on stage. Keynote speakers will tell you how important it is to capture your audience's attention immediately.

Moreover, successful speakers will also tell you that if you give a speech and the audience members don't remember who you are, what you told them, what you stand for, or why they should follow up with you, you didn't do your job.

Based on that, let's get back to the speaker I saw.

Did she get my attention? Sure.

Was she memorable? Sadly, yes.

But does that mean that macabre opening was a good way to start a ?

Uh, no.

Bad Publicity 

I know, I know, “There's no such thing as bad publicity.”  That saying is credited to 19th-century American showman P.T. Barnum. And that maxim has been repeated, unchallenged, for as long as I've studied .

The trouble is, it's not true.

Sure, bad publicity can be dramatic and compelling. And it can help establish and even keep other, less troubling news off the front pages. And yes, some consumers are both intrigued and attracted by negative news.

But that doesn't mean it's good.

The use of negative sayings and slogans tends to be manipulative. For proof, consider how governments, religions, and advertisers use negative or misleading language to influence and control their intended audiences.

George Orwell's prescient  1984 provides great insight here. In Orwell's book, the totalitarian government of Oceania inscribed the following paradoxical slogans on the Ministry of Truth's gleaming white pyramid:

“War is peace.”
“Freedom is slavery.”
“Ignorance is strength.”

As Orwell's protagonist Winston said, “In the end, the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the of their position demanded it.”

Thanks to these outbursts, of course, Winston was imprisoned in the Ministry of Love, the authority responsible for repression and brainwashing.

And, thanks to her statement that her student's funeral was “funny,” that speaker whom I started this blog with is chained to a negative opinion in my memory.

Bad Publicity 

Why? Because bad and misleading publicity is exactly what it sounds like. Let the listener beware.

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