8.21.2020

Ethics in Public Speaking

Ethics in Public Speaking

I wrote this for the new edition of Essential Elements of Public Speaking, 7th edition (Hoboken, NJ: Pearson, 2021) but I thought it might be useful for any class in public speaking as a way of introducing the dimension of ethics and clarifying what is and what is not plagiarism.

Because your speech will have an effect on your audience, you have an obligation to consider

ethics—issues of right and wrong, or the moral implications of your message. When

you develop your topic, present your research, create persuasive appeals, and do any of

the other tasks related to public speaking, there are ethical issues to be considered (Bok,

1978; Jaksa & Pritchard, 1994; Johannesen, 1996; Neher & Sandin, 2007; Tompkins, 2011).

Think about your own beliefs and respond to the following situations in this quiz,

indicating whether each scenario is ethical or unethical.

1. _____ A speaker talks about evidence supporting the position advocated but omits

contradictory evidence. Or, similarly, a speaker cites testimony and gives the

person’s positive qualifications but omits the person’s negative disqualifications.

2. _____ A speaker reworks a quotation by a famous scientist, say, to support the

advocated position.

3. _____ A speaker uses a visual aid found on the internet.

4. _____ A speaker uses emotional appeals–for example, fear of getting ill or the desire

for status–to persuade an audience.

5. _____ A speaker crops a photo, omitting the part that contradicts the position

advocated.

6. _____ A speaker uses figures from a poll taken twenty years ago on a fast-changing

topic, but doesn’t mention when the poll was taken.

7. _____ A speaker copies a speech off the internet and presents it as original.

Here are some responses that most writers on and instructors of public speaking

and ethics would likely give. But, not all; some writers, instructors, and students may

disagree with one or all of these responses. All of these issues are raised again and covered

more fully throughout this text.

1. A speaker talks about evidence supporting the position advocated but omits

contradictory evidence. A speaker isn’t obligated to discuss evidence and argument

that does not support his or her position or to identify the negative qualities

of a witness’s testimony. That’s the opponent’s job. But, if the speaker deliberately

conceals relevant details that would influence the audience against the position

advocated, it would be unethical.

2. A speaker reworks a quotation by a famous scientist, say, to support the advocated

position. This would be unethical. Quotations need to be presented in full

and presented with the original intention of the author. However, a speaker may

change a quotation for special effect if it’s identified as such, as in cases of paraphrasing

or adding special emphasis.

3. A speaker uses a visual aid found on the internet. If this is for your class speech

(that is a non-profit, educational activity), it’s generally considered acceptable to

use it if you identify its origin. If you were to profit financially from the speech

with the visual aid, then you would need to secure permission.

4. A speaker uses emotional appeals–for example, fear or the desire for status–

to persuade an audience. Emotional appeals are frequently a large part of public

speaking, and especially persuasive speaking, and there is generally nothing

unethical about using emotional appeals. However, if the speaker uses emotional

appeals to cover up the absence of sound argument and evidence or to undermine

the thought processes of the listeners, then it would be unethical.

5. A speaker crops a photo, omitting the part that contradicts the position advocated.

This would be unethical because the speaker is preventing the audience from seeing

the truth as presented in the entire photo and as the photographer photographed it.

6. A speaker uses figures from a poll taken twenty years ago on a fast-changing

topic, but doesn’t mention when the poll was taken. This would be unethical.

The speaker is deliberately concealing information that is relevant to the audience

thinking clearly and logically about the issue.

7. A speaker copies a speech off the internet and presents it as original. This is clearly

unethical and illustrates one of the most important ethical concepts in all college

courses, plagiarism, a topic discussed in detail in Chapter 5, Researching Your Speech.

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