And now I’d like to move onto the expected financial expenditure for the next three months.  Balanced against the improved performance in sales, demonstrated state wide, and the percentage increase on returns on investment …..”

Ah! Financial reports; don’t you just love them!      

I think we have made it quite clear that boring your audience to sleep is not a good way to achieve agreement or action.  A degree of emotional appeal must be included in your speeches to engage your audience on a personal level.

Which is all well and good, but what happens if the outcome you are trying to achieve is not really … well, ethical? 

History abounds with examples of charismatic speakers who used their talents to lead the population to take actions which had deadly consequences.

It is claimed that the Funeral Speech of Pericles so inflamed the citizens of Athens that they voted to continue the deadly Peloponnesian War. A decision that ultimately led to the destruction of the power of Athens.

And coming closer in time, we have the picture of Hitler rousing the emotional temperature to achieve his ambition.  His history gives a perfect example of why public speaking needs to be guided by ethical aims.

Someone who understands the process of public speaking; who has the ability to move and persuade their listeners also needs to understand their responsibility.

Ethics cannot be laid down by law, although breaches of ethical standards can become breaches of law.  Ethics is about our personal view of what is right and wrong.  Every time we make a choice of action, we make a decision about what is fair, what is right, what is honest and what is just. 

So the person who only just makes it to the platform for the train and leaps on board, only to realise that they do not have a ticket, has an ethical decision to make.  When we decide to spend the extra $10 incorrectly given in our change, we have made a decision to disregard honesty.

It is impossible to formulate inflexible ethical rules, for circumstances are different and standards change.  And even people who would claim strict ethical standards for themselves can dismiss the occasional lapses as ‘unimportant’.

But in our speeches we need to be accepted as a credible speaker, for without that assumption of honesty there is no trust; and without trust there is no communication.  Once our audience starts to question our credibility that bond of trust between speaker and listener is broken, and once broken it can very rarely be restored.

So the first standard in ethical speaking is to be honest in what we say.  And that goes further than just verifying our facts.

If we hold a passionate view on a subject we can often find that our research will bring up information that does not support our cause; it may in fact raise doubts about it.

We are then faced with a number of responses which are open to us. 

1. We can ignore the information, dismissing its impact on our position. 
2. We can misrepresent the information, downplaying its importance.
3. We can face it head on and find further evidence to refute it;
4. We can acknowledge that it needs to be presented and addressed in our speech.

There are two ethical decisions and two unethical decisions described– which would you choose?  It is easy to decide in abstract, but evidence shows that in the heat of debate we often choose differently.

At the present time Australian society is in the midst of a number of highly emotional debates with passionate proponents on both sides.  Topics such as immigration, carbon taxes, gambling, sustainable energy and our engagement in Afghanistan are all being aired on radio and TV nightly.

The speakers on both sides of these debates want to convince us that they are credible speakers; that they provide believable evidence to support their point of view and that we can trust them.  How well do you think they are doing?

On the other hand,  they could be full of emotional rhetoric, appealing to the worst case scenario, ignoring evidence that refutes their position and downplaying information that would question their opinion.  They could even be resorting to personal attacks on their opposition to avoid having to address issues or answer difficult questions.  Have we seen any examples? How well do you think they are doing this?

And, if there is a real responsibility for public speakers to demonstrate openness and honesty, then the audience also needs to be honest and to listen with an open mind. 

If we have a decided opinion on a subject we can be equally dishonest by ignoring argument or evidence that might disturb our personal view.  We can filter out the uncomfortable information brought by our opposition speakers in order for us to remain comfortable in our own belief.

Democracy, we are told, depends on a well informed population.  But we can only be well informed if we can depend on the truthfulness of our leaders.  People who promise one thing and deliver something different cannot complain if they are seen to be dishonest.  Once a public figure has been caught out in deceiving the population their credibility suffers – the trust between the speaker and the listener has been broken.

We may not have that much power to wield; but every public speech is a contract between the speaker and their audience. Whatever our reason is for standing up and speaking in public we should present our evidence and our argument being mindful of our ethical responsibilities.  Then our audience can truly trust us; and while we may not be able to change everyone’s opinion we could get grudging respect for presenting a good case. 

If after giving a speech in support of your passionate cause even one person comes up to you and says “Well, you have given me something to think about.” you will know that you have presented your case with honesty and integrity; and your listeners have judged you, without question, a credible speaker.

And that is the best credential for any speaker.
Michele @ Trischel

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