The Ethics in Public Speaking: Why So Important?

Updated on April 22, 2016

Ethics in public speaking… Does that sound familiar to you?

Have you ever wondered why some public speakers seem to get it right? While others just seem to screw it?

Why some find it so easy to captivate their audience and finish with a resounding applause? While others just make their audience feel that the time would have been better spent sleeping at home or perhaps, watching a cartoon?

If you care to know…

The difference often lies in observing simple ethics in public speaking!

You may have a speech prepared by angels. You may have all the confidence and poise to deliver what is to be known as the greatest speech ever to be given in human history...

But throw the ethics in public speaking to the wind and you throw your success to the wind as well!

The truth is: Ethics in public speaking can either make or break your aspiration of becoming an effective public speaker depending on how well you observe them!


What are the ethics in public speaking?

Generally speaking, ethics have to do with what is morally right. In other words, ethics in public speaking are more or less guidelines or unwritten rules or code of conduct every ambitious public speaker should master and observe.

I suggest you read that statement again, slowly this time and absorb it!

So let’s consider these ethics in public speaking one after the other...

1.Show Respect for Your Audience

This is number one on my list because who determines the ultimate success of your speech is your AUDIENCE.

One of the most important things you need to learn as a public speaker is showing respect for your audience.

Miss this point and you kill your presentation even before you begin!

Everyone loves to be respected and your audience loves that too.

It definitely does not show respect to talk down on your audience or any particular person in the audience irrespective of their gender, religion, ethnicity, race, educational or social status.

If getting your points across effectively requires making practical examples, then avoid making examples of your audience that will belittle them or harm their reputation.

Never… and I repeat… Never poke expensive jokes at any in your audience! Rather poke such jokes at yourself (if that is necessary anyway).

2. Respect Your Audience’s Time

In a fast-paced world such as we live in today, time is of essence. It is a valuable asset. Your audience value their time too… So don’t waste it!

Therefore, show respect for your audience's 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 Very Well

I had a very big problem choosing which one would appear as number one on my list between this point and 'showing respect for the audience'. This is because good preparation is an ethic in public speaking you dare not overlook.

There is nothing else that can compare with good preparation in public speaking. This is an ethical issue not just because the level of your 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 have ‘invested’ the time, effort (and in some cases) money they would have used for something else. In return, they expect value for their time, effort and money! It won’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. Thereafter, rehearse your speech. Remember that saying: ’Practice makes perfect? So practice, practice and 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.

Take it or leave it. 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 for taking them for granted.

So start early! Don’t wait for the dying minutes! Don’t procrastinate! This can save you from a very big, big mess! I'm dead serious!

4. Be Honest and Don’t Mislead Your Audience

How would you feel if you listened to a speech and you enjoyed it so much but you later discovered that the facts presented in the speech were distorted to suit the speaker’s selfish motives?

Bad and greatly disappointed! Isn't it?

Ethics in public speaking demand that you are honest and accurate in the information you are presenting to your audience. Do not mislead your audience intentionally. Do not distort the facts to suit your aim. If you are not sure about a piece of information or fact or statistics, don’t use it!

Nothing can hurt a speaker’s credibility more than inaccurate, distorted information. Once again, be careful!

5. Avoid Plagiarism

What is plagiarism? Hmmm… Plagiarism as defined by the Cambridge International Dictionary of English (1996 Edition) is to take another person’s idea or part of their work and pretend that it is your own.

Avoid using another person’s work without permission. Give credits to whomever you are using his or her work as your reference.

That 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 on the surface of the earth 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!

You can never be someone else… You can only be you!

Hence, 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!

Phew! That ends our discussion of ethics in public speaking.

But before I get off the ‘podium’, please answer me this…

Suppose you attended a seminar and the speaker poked expensive jokes at you, showed no respect for your time, muddled up his points due to lack of preparation, distorted the facts and tried to be a person he wasn't born to be…

would you attend another seminar (even if it is free) next time if you knew the presenter would be the same speaker?

I bet it. You would rather prefer to sleep at home!

That’s my point.

Ignore the ethics in public speaking and you kill your public speaking dreams or career!

But please, don’t let that happen to you. Just 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.


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    • profile image

      MASUMBUKO BASU 10 months ago

      Thanx for your article. ,,,,what are the importance of ethics guidelines in public speaking?

    • profile image

      ._. 12 months ago

      thank you for your article.

    • James Kudooski profile image

      James Kudooski 17 months ago from Lagos, Nigeria

      Hello Hannah & April, I'm glad you enjoyed and found the article helpful.

      Take care.

    • profile image

      April 17 months ago

      Thanks you for your article, I never know there was such a thing of Ethics in Public Speaking. I used it on a paper regarding ethics in a APA format. Thanks for your knowledge in this subject

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      Hannah 18 months ago

      Thank you so much for this upload on Ethics in Public Speaking, it helps in my presentation so much! I even put credits to this link :D