Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Speaking to Inform Project 5 - Ethics in Public Speaking

[With this speech I completed all the requirements for getting the Advanced  Communicator Bronze (ACB) Award from the Toastmasters International]

For this speech I have chosen a topic which is very relevant to each and every one of us.

Ethics in Public Speaking.

What is Ethics? It is an abstract concept which raises lots of questions.

Is Ethics something which I feel is right or correct?  Suppose I feel it is OK to use my office car for personal work, am I ethical?

Does it mean being a God-fearing person? If I am an atheist does that give me license to be unethical?

If I follow all the laws of my country am I ethical? What if the laws are like the old apartheid law of South Africa?

What then is Ethics? 

Ethics is a set of standards or guidelines for behavior.  It tells us how we as an individual or as a member of a group or a professional body should act in a given situation. 

Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, Santa Clara University studied the works of many philosophers and ethicists. Based on this study it classifies ethical standards in 5 categories.

The Utilitarian Approach - any action which does more good than harm is ethical.  For e.g. bombing the location where terrorists are hiding may cause death, injuries, and destruction of people, but it is for the greater good achieved in ending terrorism.

The Rights Approach - taking actions that best protects and respects the moral rights of people is ethical. For e.g. right to information, right to privacy.

The Fairness or Justice Approach - actions that treat all human beings equal or fairly based on some standard are ethical. For e.g. performance linked salary or bonuses in a company.

The Common Good Approach - actions which ensure common welfare conditions are ethical. For e.g. establishing systems for law and order, safety and health care, education etc.

The Virtue Approach - actions consistent with certain ideal virtues like honesty, compassion, self-control etc. are ethical.

Now let us come to the application of Ethics in Public Speaking.

The book “The Art of Public Speaking” by Stephen E. Lucas gives five guidelines for ethical public speaking.

Guideline # 1:  Make sure that your goals are ethically sound. We need to ensure that whatever we trying to achieve through our speech are consistent with the ethical standards I just talked about.  When in doubt one should ask himself “Will I be comfortable in truthfully declaring my goals or intention in front of a worldwide audience?” If the answer is NO, then the goals may not be ethical.

Guideline # 2Be fully informed about the subject you are going to speak about.  “A speech is a solemn responsibility” said Jenkins Lloyd Jones.  Imagine how badly a listener will be impacted if we unknowingly give wrong information or misleading advice in our speech.

Guideline#3: Be Honest in What You Say. Honesty is the best policy. Public speaking rests on the foundation of the unspoken assumption that “words can be trusted and people will be truthful”. And I as a speaker should ensure that I don’t break the trust of the listeners. In my speech - I should not lie for a personal gain. I should not present a fudged data. I should not plagiarize someone else work. Only then I can be called honest.

Guideline# 4:  Avoid Name-Calling and other forms of Abusive Language. It demeans the dignity of an individual or a group and risks their right to be fairly heard.

Guideline#5 – The Last Guideline: Put Ethical Principles into Practice. I should always practice what I preach. Otherwise my speech will have no credibility.  I will be a hypocrite.

The goal of public speaking is to inform, convince and persuade the audience.  But definitely not by compromising on ethics!
A good public speaking skill is a power, which comes with heavy ethical responsibilities. 

Plato said “All the public speakers should be truthful and devoted to the good of the society”. 

Yet so many excellent public speakers have often abused their skills.  Hitler a powerful orator instigated Nazis to exterminate the Jews!

And that’s the ultimate reason why the power of spoken word should be kept in check by a strong sense of ethics.

I would like to conclude with a beautiful quote by Albert Schweitzer 
“I can do no other than be reverent before everything that is called life. I can do no other than to have   compassion for all that is called life. That is the beginning and the foundation of all ethics.”
[Date delivered: June 18 2011

  • Research and analyze an abstract concept, theory, historical force or social/ political issue.
  • Present the ideas in a clear, interesting manner.
Time: Six to Eight minutes

My strong belief in ethics made me overcome my usual hesitation of delivering message-oriented speeches. However I took care to minimize using the word "you" to avoid sounding like a preacher on the pulpit.
The speech was largely based on material available from the following sources :
1. Markkula Center for AppliedEthics, Santa Clara University
2. The Art of Public Speaking, Stephen E. Lucas 

Download the Handout prepared for the speech.