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Being an Ethical Speaker: Guidelines & Issues

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Instructor: Kat Kadian-Baumeyer

Kat has a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership and Management and teaches Business courses.

To be an ethical speaker one must present values that reflect good moral ethics. Learn the principles of ethical public speaking, such as trustworthiness, integrity in the subject matter, respect for others, dignity in conduct, and truthfulness in message. Updated: 10/02/2021

Ethics and Public Speaking

The First Amendment of the Constitution protects our right to free speech. That's a given right to all citizens of the United States.

But is freedom of speech always ethical? Let's explore this question. If you define ethics as rules of conduct all human beings should possess that reflect what's right and just, then just how far can a public speaker stretch the boundaries of what is legal and what is right?

Good question! As far back as Aristotle's days, there was evidence that public speakers should adhere to five simple principles:

  • Trustworthiness
  • Integrity in the subject matter
  • Respect for others
  • Dignity in conduct
  • Truthfulness in message

Even in modern times, people expect that speakers will uphold these timeless standards. So, how does a speaker earn an audience's approval?

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The Ethical Public Speaker

It is difficult to ignore the hate-filled speeches of people, like Adolf Hitler or the Ku Klux Klan. The messages of violence, extreme power and supremacy are enough to make our skin crawl.

Suppose you are commissioned to write a speech for your company. In that assignment, you must wage an argument for something that you do not believe in. For example, some people don't believe in wearing fur coats. If you are one of those people, you are faced with a challenge to write a positive speech about the benefits of wearing fur. You may decide to side with your own value system and choose not to get involved. Or you may have little choice but to hit the keys and start writing.

So, how would you gain the trust of the audience through the message? Here are a few tips:

  • Make sure that the message you are sending is ethically sound
  • Use information that is truthful
  • Avoid biases and stereotypes
  • Believe in your own claims
  • Show respect for the audience
  • Be prepared

In our example, the subject of the speech may be unethical, but the message doesn't have to be. You might begin your speech by stating the facts about the humane treatment of the animals used for fur coats. Your choice of words will help send a more positive message.

You should avoid using biases or stereotypes when speaking to a group. If you are promoting a line of fur coats, it is best to remain objective about it. Avoid generalizing or specifically bashing those who do not agree with your argument.

For as much as you can, believe in what you are saying. It may be difficult to agree with the topic at times, but as long as there is some part of the speech that you do agree with, it will come across as truthful.

Respect your audience's beliefs and values, as well. While you don't have to share the exact same moral code, it's best to align your speech so that there are overlapping beliefs and values. Be prepared. Not only for the speech but also for questions that may follow afterwards.

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