Ethics in Speaking: A Practical Point of View

Often managers have to deliver presentations with unpleasant content. The vice president has to announce that there is a hiring freeze or a downsizing. The human resource director speaks to the employees about a benefits package with fewer benefits. Because executives are often speaking in difficult situations, the more credibility they can develop, the more the content will be considered and accepted. Speakers will have little or no impact on audiences if audience members don't respect them and what they have to say.

What makes us trust a speaker or believe that he or she is a reliable source? Whom can we trust to have our best interests at heart? Let's look at some practical ways a speaker can maintain and enhance credibility.

Act in ways consistent with the message of the presentation. This can be as simple as showing concern in tone of voice and facial expression when talking about an issue that is facing the company. Acting disinterested or unconcerned when presenting bad news can offend your listeners. Showing enthusiasm in delivery by quicker movements, more variety, and a faster rate of speech when reading an exciting climax of a positive presentation can produce the same enthusiasm in your audience.

A student began a persuasive speech by spreading garbage out on a table. She said, "What do all of these pieces of trash have in common? They can all be recycled." She gave a good speech on the need for recycling and how to set up community recycling programs. She finished to a nice round of applause; then she gathered up all of the recyclables from the table--and threw them away in the wastebasket in the corner. She obviously didn't understand the need for speakers to act in ways consistent with their messages in order to maintain credibility.

Good preparation is an ethical requirement as well as a practical one. Your audience has given you time and an opportunity, and audience members deserve to hear your best effort. That only comes through careful preparation. If the audience can tell you didn't prepare for them specifically, they will feel betrayed and won't respond positively to your message. Thus the executive should start preparing several days or weeks before an important presentation is delivered. It is hard to cram for a speech, and the audience can tell when preparation has not been adequate.

Show respect for your audience. Don't insult your audience in any way. Racial slurs and profanity are obviously unethical, but in addition, don't show disrespect for people's gender, backgrounds, positions, appearances, or nationalities. Don't put people down because of their lack of knowledge of a topic; sometimes their lack of information is the very reason you have been asked to speak. Don't embarrass any member of your audience. Don't play a joke on anyone without seeking permission first. Even if you do receive permission, playing a joke on an audience member can backfire because the rest of your group might become fearful they will bear the brunt of your next joke, causing them to lose trust in you. Poke fun at yourself instead.

Base your conclusions in your presentation on clear evidence. Support your assertions with relevant facts, statistics, and testimony. Keep track of your sources and be ready to produce them if an audience member has a question. Don't make assertions you can't support or justify. Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca write in their book, The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation, that whatever support you use should be able to satisfy the "universal audience"--that group of all reasonable, rational people. In your outline each major point should show a variety of evidence. If that is not the case, then eliminate the point or, if it fits, place the evidence with another point you are making.

Choose topics that are consistent with your personal beliefs. Pick topics important to you that you live out on a daily basis. You might be able to craft effective speeches advocating views you do not agree with, but you will be much more effective and ethical if you advocate opinions you actually hold. If you advocate a position which is not something you feel completely comfortable with, this will be communicated to your audience by your delivery style. In choosing material for your presentation, one major criterion is how strongly you feel about the point or support. This is an excellent way to cut out materials when you have more content than time allotted.

Respect the time of your audience. Know what time you are expected to finish--and finish at that time. It is an insult to your audience members and an abuse of your opportunity to speak to keep them ten, fifteen, or thirty minutes more than what is expected of you.

History gives us a good example of the power of an actual presentation to create credibility. The year was 1952, and Dwight Eisenhower was running for president with Richard Nixon as his vice-presidential candidate. Charges surfaced, however, that Nixon had illegally used some campaign contributions, and Eisenhower considered dropping Nixon from the ticket. In what became known as the "Checkers Speech," Nixon defended himself in a 30-minute, nationally televised speech. With his wife Pat sitting in the background, he defended his ethics, at one point holding up a piece of paper he claimed was the result of an audit of his books finding him blameless. Nixon did admit, however, that some supporters had given his children a dog. He said the kids had named the dog "Checkers," and no matter what anyone said, he wasn't going to let them take that dog away. He concluded by asking people to telegraph or mail to the Republican National Committee their opinion of whether or nothe should continue to run with Eisenhower. The overwhelmingly positive response assured his place in the campaign. Who knows how much of American history for the next twenty years was changed because of a little dog and a presentation that convinced people of Richard M. Nixon's credibility.

All of these ethical principles can be condensed to one, a "golden rule" of speaking ethics: Treat each audience member as you would like to be treated if you were in your audience.

About The Author

Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is a professor of speech communication at Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights, Kentucky. He is also a trainer who presents communication seminars and workshops to corporations and associations. See additional articles and resources at http://www.sboyd.com. He can be reached at 800-727-6520 or at info@sboyd.com.

In The News:


pen paper and inkwell


cat break through


Public Speaking Tips

1. No speech is ever perfect. Perfectionism creates more fear.... Read More

Fee Credibility is a Must

Think of it like this: your fee credibility is as... Read More

Let Your Products Sell Your Name: For Public Speakers

Wouldn't it be great if you didn't have to be... Read More

Foreign Translations of Your Talk - How Do You Ensure Your Message is Delivered Properly?

There are a number of possibilities as to how this... Read More

Getting Results from Your Writing & Speaking

When we communicate, we usually want something to happen. We... Read More

Talk May Be Cheap but Your Speech Should Be Priceless!

Take a moment and imagine if you will any one... Read More

Lessons in Love for the Shy at Heart

One of the biggest regrets of my life is that... Read More

Is Information Delivery Instruction?

Do you work for one of those organisations whose "training"... Read More

A Perfect Meeting: AKA When You Dont Want to Strangle the Speaker

Have you ever worked for weeks or even months, often... Read More

Speaking On Your Feet

Your ability to communicate effectively will account for most of... Read More

Speech Presenting - Seven Ways to Tailor Your Speech to the Audience

Every speech has an audience and every audience is different.... Read More

Getting on the Speakers List

How do you get your name on a speakers list?Speaking... Read More

Ethics in Speaking: A Practical Point of View

Often managers have to deliver presentations with unpleasant content. The... Read More

SOS - Goal Setting

... --- ... SOS This is the traditional seafaring emergency... Read More

The Little-Known Speechwriting Secrets That Won George W Bush The US Election

He's been accused of "mangling the language, destroying its meaning... Read More

How To Dramatically Improve Your Public Speaking Skills

This Article Is For Those Who Understand How Persuasive Communication,... Read More

For Speaking Ease, Forgive Your Younger Self

I love the Disney movie The Kid with Bruce Willis.... Read More

Speech Training - Building Your Voice, Tips from a Professional

Having a clear and confident voice is an essential business... Read More

How To Make A Blue Ribbon Presentation Every Time

You can make a Blue Ribbon presentation each and every... Read More

7 Sure Fire Ways To Overcome Stage Fright When Speaking Or Performing

Prayer or Meditation: If you're a believer you can pray... Read More

Analyzing Your Audience and Assessing Comprehension Through Feedback

Aside from fielding and asking questions, there are other ways... Read More

How To Write Powerful Presentations, Speeches And Talks

Most of us get nervous about making a speech, whether... Read More

How to Create a Compelling Media Kit

A well-built media kit is vital for effective marketing. Without... Read More

Performance Feedback: Why Were Scared and How Not to Be

Effective communication is not a one-way street. It involves an... Read More

Overcome Your Fear of Public Speaking

Knocking knees, butterflies (who came up with that word?) in... Read More

Voice Coaching - Training Your Voice to Give Better Presentations

Picture a cool crisp autumn morning in the wide open... Read More

Time Management

I'm late, I'm late, for a very important date. No... Read More

Etiquette - An Essential Ingredient to Your Success As a Public Speaker

Sadly, the public speaking circle has its fair share of... Read More

Public Speaking Tips: The More You Know, The More It Will Flow - Tips For Knowing Your Audience

The more you know about your audience, the better your... Read More

How to Become a More Persuasive Speaker: A Systems Approach

There is no surer way to get ahead in business... Read More

Public Speaking - How to Make Your Next Speech Count

Along with the opening two minutes of a speech, the... Read More

How VALUABLE is Your Speaking Topic?

What information can be used immediately by the audience and... Read More

So Youre Going to Make a Speech

What Do I Talk About?Start by asking yourself three questions:1.... Read More