Ethics in Public Speaking: Why Is It So Important?
Have you ever wondered why some public speakers seem to get it right while others just seem to screw it up? Why some find it so easy to captivate their audience and finish with resounding applause while others just make their audience feel that their time would have been better spent staying home?
The difference often lies in observing simple ethics in public speaking. The truth is: Ethics in public speaking can either make or break your aspiration of becoming an effective speaker depending on how well you observe them!
7 Guidelines for Public Speaking
Ethics in public speaking are guidelines, unwritten rules, or a code of conduct every ambitious public speaker should master and observe. Here are seven of these rules.
- Show Respect for Your Audience
- Respect Your Audience's Time
- Prepare Your Speech
- Be Honest and Don't Mislead Your Audience
- Avoid Plagiarism
- Ensure Your Objective Is Ethical
- Be Yourself
1. Show Respect for Your Audience
This is number one on my list because your audience ultimately determines how successful your speech is. One of the most important things you need to learn as a public speaker is showing respect for your audience. If you miss this point, you kill your presentation before you even begin!
Everyone loves to be respected, and your audience loves it too. It definitely does not show respect to talk down to them or any particular person in the audience irrespective of their gender, religion, ethnicity, race, educational, or social status. If getting your points across requires using practical examples, avoid using examples that will belittle or offend them.
Never—and I repeat ever—make a joke at the expense of your audience! Rather, make fun of yourself (if that is necessary anyway).
2. Respect Your Audience’s Time
In our fast-paced world, time is of the essence. It is a valuable asset. Your audience values their time too so don’t waste it.
Show respect for your their time by keeping to the allotted time for your speech. A good way to do this effectively is good preparation. If you prepare well in advance, it will keep you from running overtime.
Spending a few minutes more than necessary may make your audience uneasy and lose interest in your speech. That may defeat the very purpose of the speech. It may make all the hard work you've put into the delivery from the beginning a waste. So be careful!
3. Prepare Your Speech
Good preparation is an ethic in public speaking you dare not overlook. This is an ethical issue not just because the level of preparation determines the level of your success but also because it shows the value you place on your audience.
Remember that in listening to you, your audience has invested time, effort, and, in some cases, money they could have used for something else. In return, they expect something in return! It wouldn’t be fair and ethical for you to repay such investments with a wishy-washy presentation!
Prepare well in advance. Do research on the subject and gather all necessary facts and references. Then rehearse your speech. Practice until you gain mastery of your speech.
Such advance preparation will make your delivery flow. It will make your speech achieve its intended purpose. And more importantly, it will leave your audience satisfied. Your audience will be able to tell if you do not prepare well. And this can be really harmful. Apart from failing to achieve your objective, the audience may get angry.
Start early and don’t procrastinate. This can save you from a very big mess.
4. Be Honest and Don’t Mislead Your Audience
How would you feel if you listened to a speech, and you enjoyed it, but you later discovered that the facts presented in the speech were distorted to suit the speaker’s selfish motives? I bet you'd feel bad and greatly disappointed.
Ethics in public speaking demand that you are honest and accurate in the information you are presenting to your audience. Do not intentionally mislead them. Do not distort the facts to suit your aim. If you are not sure about a piece of information, fact, or statistics, don’t use it! Nothing can hurt a speaker’s credibility more than inaccurate, distorted information.
5. Avoid Plagiarism
Avoid using another person’s work without permission. Give credit whenever you reference someone else's work. This builds up your credibility too.
6. Ensure Your Objective Is Ethical
If the objective of your speech is to motivate people to get involved in harmful, illegal, or unethical activities, then you are not observing the ethics in public speaking. It is as simple as that!
For example, how do you perceive a very good public speaker who promotes terrorism or the use of hard drugs? Ethical? I doubt it.
As a further example, Adolf Hitler is considered a great public speaker. But his speech started one of the greatest atrocities known in human history.
7. Be Yourself
Everybody is unique. Even identical twins are different in some ways. While it is a good idea to learn from others, especially those we consider as role models, don’t try to be someone you are not!
Be natural in your delivery. When you try to be someone you are not, your audience will notice and you will only look and sound fake to them. This will harm your credibility and water down the effectiveness of your delivery.
Simply be yourself!
A Successful Public Speaking Career Is Built on Ethics
Suppose you attended a seminar and the speaker poked jokes at you, showed no respect for your time, muddled up their points due to lack of preparation, distorted the facts, and tried to be someone they're not. Would you attend another seminar (even if it is free) next time if you knew the presenter would be the same speaker? I bet you would rather stay home.
Ignore the ethics in public speaking, and you kill your public speaking dreams or career! Learn them, master them, put them to use, and you are on your way to becoming an effective public speaker. I can assure you of this.