Senator Joe Biden recently put his foot in his mouth when he said, Barak Obama is the "first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy." He meant it as a compliment. Instead, he may have hurt his political career due to outrage from the media.
Why are people taking offense? Obama is very articulate but not the first. By using the word first, the listeners hear it as meaning "only."
Secondly, the most objectionable word is "clean." I believe Biden meant that Obama didn't have any baggage or skeletons in his closet. People took the meaning literally which was insulting.
What's the lesson in all this? CHOOSE YOUR WORDS CAREFULLY and KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. This is true in business and politics. One poorly chosen word or phrase can bring an otherwise effective presentation spiralling downward to defeat. In corporate environments where political correctness is the rule, it's critical to review your presentation for language and humor. Take your presentation and run it by the savviest people in your company or agency. Practice the jokes out loud and review your terminology for the intended meaning and interpretation. Guard against being quoted out of context. Can the words stand alone? If not, go back and edit.
Success in public speaking is 90% preparation and 10% delivery. To be successul, it takes a lot of preparation, testing, and practice. The next time you give a speech, make sure they hear your pearls of wisdom and not the sound of feet.