Ethical Speaking:Respecting the Honor Code

Public speakers have the opportunity to impart knowledge, change opinions, and prompt an audience to take action. The ethical speaker uses ethical means to achieve his or her ends and is careful to earn and maintain the trust of his or her audience. Everyone can cite examples of public figures who have misinformed or misled the public through unethical actions.

What constitutes ethical communication? What are the moral obligations of speaker to audience? Brydon and Scott in Between One and Many: the Art and Science of Public Speaking, offer the following suggestions based on the work of classical rhetoricians and modern scholars:

1. Be truthful. Learn the facts about your subject and present them honestly to your audience. Remember that omitting or distorting evidence can be as harmful to your credibility as a speaker as lying.

2. Show respect for the power of words. Be respectful of individual and cultural diversity -- avoid inflammatory and discriminatory language.

3. Invoke participatory democracy. Give your audience accurate information; present both sides of a controversial issue along with a refutation of the opposing view, and respect audience members' rights to disagree with your viewpoint.

4. Demonstrate tolerance for cultural diversity. Different cultures have different ethical standards; keep this fact in mind as you are formulating the presentation of your ideas.

5. Avoid plagiarism. Since listeners do not have the benefit of consulting your bibliography, you must cite the sources of your information orally. Failure to do so is a serious ethical offense and, if discovered, will destroy your credibility with your audience. You must cite ideas that are not your own, direct quotes from others, and the sources of your supporting evidence.

6. Build goodwill and trustworthiness with your audience. Let your audience members know that you are concerned about their needs and concerns. Doing so will enhance your credibility as well as your effectiveness as a speaker.

(Brydon, Steven R. and Michael D. Scott. Between One and Many: The Art and Science of Public Speaking. Third Edition. Mt. View, CA: Mayfield Publishing, 2000.)