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5 Ethics in Public Speaking

You Must Use Ethics in Public Speaking At All Times

In today’s world you can count on reading or listening to many examples of ethical problems. People take advantage of other people in less fortunate situations. For example, consider the scam artist who sells worthless stocks, the doctor who performs unnecessary surgery, the politician who doesn’t keep his promises, or the journalist who publishes unsupported allegations. In every profession exists the potential to cross the line into unethical behavior. This is equally true of public speakers.

As a society we are very concerned with abuse. We are all concerned with the larger-than-life abuses we see, such as abuse of children, abuse of the political system, and abuse of property by criminals. But it’s the small abuses where we intentionally begin to blur the line between good and bad and forfeit our integrity one piece at a time. I am talking about things like using office paper for personal use, keeping extra change, and neglecting to admit you have borrowed someone else's ideas.

It is a speaker’s responsibility to communicate with integrity and ethics at all times. Several areas of speech preparation and delivery call for ethical decisions.

Choosing Your Topic: In selecting a topic, you should let your conscience be your guide. For example, it would be unethical to present a speech on how to steal money.

Avoiding Plagiarism: It is unethical not to credit your sources. This includes using direct quotes and using any ideas that are not your own or public knowledge. Even if you paraphrase someone else’s words, if you are borrowing the “gist” of their statement, you must acknowledge them. My favorite approach to this principle is from Bruce E. Gronbeck: “Give your source credit for the material and give yourself credit for having taken the time to do the research.”

Bruce E. Bronbeck, Kathleen German, Douglas Ehninger, and Alan H. Monroe,Principles of Speech Communication (NY: Harper Collins, 1995), 83.