As public speakers, we make ethical choices when preparing and delivering a speech. We can easily be faced with a moral dilemma over what information to provide or how to accurately represent that information. Knowing the speaking setting, the audience, and our knowledge of the topic, we are able to confront ethical dilemmas with a strong moral compass.
This process is made easier by our ethical standards. Ethical standards, or moral principles, are the set of rules we abide by that make us “good” people and help us choose right from wrong. The virtuous standards to which we adhere influence our ethical understanding.
If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.
~ Dalai Lama
This stance informs one’s ethical standards. In fact, Merrill (2009) explains that the holy Dalai Lama, the Buddhist spiritual leader, believes compassion is even more essential than truth. Therefore, it is justifiable to be untruthful when the deception is part of the process of caring for another. This example illustrates how one’s belief system influences his or her ethical standards.
These ethical standards are the guidelines we use to interpret rightness and wrongness in life, in relationships, and in public speaking. Wallace (1955) claims, “ethical standards of communication should place emphasis upon the means used to secure the end, rather than upon achieving the end itself.” This argument suggests that speakers must consider moral standards through every step of the speech process.
“Questions of right and wrong arise whenever people communicate (NCA Credo for Ethical Communication, 1999). Once we have identified our ethical standards, we can apply these to make sure that we are communicating ethically.
Ethical communication is an exchange of responsible and trustworthy messages determined by our moral principles. Ethical communication can be enacted in written, oral, and non-verbal communication. In public speaking, we use ethical standards to determine what and how to exchange messages with our audience. As you read further in this chapter, you will begin to understand the guidelines for how ethical communication should occur in the public speaking process.
Ethical public speaking is not a one-time event. It does not just occur when you stand to give a 5-minute presentation to your classmates or co-workers. Ethical public speaking is a process. This process begins when you begin brainstorming the topic of your speech. Every time you plan to speak to an audience—whether it is at a formal speaking event or an impromptu pitch at your workplace—you have ethical responsibilities to fulfill. The two most important aspects in ethical communication include your ability to remain honest while avoiding plagiarism and to set and meet responsible speech goals.
Integrity is telling myself the truth. And honesty is telling the truth to other people.
~ Spencer Johnson
Be Honest and Avoid Plagiarism
Credible public speakers are open and honest with their audiences. Honesty includes telling your audience why you’re speaking (central idea - your thesis statement) and what you’ll address throughout your speech (preview). For instance, one example of dishonest speech is when a vacation destination offers “complimentary tours and sessions” which are really opportunities for a sales person to pitch a timeshare to unsuspecting tourists. In addition to being clear about the speech goal, honest speakers are clear with audience members when providing supporting information.
The first step of ethical speech preparation is to take notes as you research your speech topic. Careful notes will help you remember where you learned your information. Recalling your sources is important because it enables speaker honesty.
Passing off another’s work as your own or neglecting to cite the source for your information is considered plagiarism. This unethical act can result in several consequences, ranging from a loss in credibility to academic expulsion, or job loss.
Even with these potential consequences, plagiarism is unfortunately common. In a national survey, “87 percent of students claimed that their peers plagiarized from the Internet at least some of the time” (Cruikshank, 2004). This statistic does not take into account whether or not the plagiarism was intentional, occurring when the writer or speaker knowingly presented information as his or her own; or unintentional, occurring when careless citing leads to information being uncredited or miscredited. However, it is important to note that being unaware of how to credit sources should not be an excuse for unintentional plagiarism.
In other words, speakers are held accountable for intentional and unintentional plagiarism. The remainder of this section discusses how to ensure proper credit is given when preparing and presenting a speech.
There are three distinct types of plagiarism—global, patchwork, and incremental plagiarism (Lucas, 2001). Global plagiarism, the most obvious form of plagiarism, transpires when a speaker presents a speech that is not his or her own work. For example, if a student finds a speech on the Internet or borrows a former speech from a roommate and recites that speech verbatim, global plagiarism has occurred. Global plagiarism is the most obvious type of theft. However, other forms of plagiarism are less obvious but still represent dishonest public speaking.
If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.
~ Mark Twain
Sometimes a student neglects to cite a source simply because she or he forgot where the idea was first learned. Shi (2010) explains that many students struggle with plagiarism because they’ve reviewed multiple texts and changed wording so that ideas eventually feel like their own. Students engage in “‘patchwriting’” by copying from a source text and then deleting or changing a few words and altering the sentence structures” (Shi, 2010).
Patchwork plagiarism is plagiarism that occurs when one “patches” together bits and pieces from one or more sources and represents the end result as his or her own. Michael O’Neill (1980) also coined the term “paraplaging” to explain how an author simply uses partial text of sources with partial original writing. An example of patchwork plagiarism is if you create a speech by pasting together parts of another speech or author’s work. Read the following hypothetical scenario to get a better understanding of subtle plagiarism.
Three months ago, Carley was talking to her coworkers about expanding their company’s client base. Carley reported some of the ideas she’d been pondering with Stephen and Juan. The three employees shared ideas and provided constructive criticism in order to perfect each notion, and then mentioned they’d revisit the conversation over lunch sometime soon. A week later, Carley shared one of her ideas during the company’s Monday morning staff meeting. Carley came up with the idea, but Stephen and Juan helped her think through some of the logistics of bringing in more clients. Her peers’ input was key to making Carley’s client-building idea work. When Carley pitched her idea at the company staff meeting, she didn’t mention Stephen or Juan. She shared her idea with senior management and then waited for feedback.
Did Carley behave unethically? Some would say: “No!” since she shared her own idea. Did Carley speak honestly? Perhaps not because she didn’t account for how her idea took shape—with the help of Stephen and Juan. This scenario is an example of how complicated honesty becomes when speaking to an audience.
The third type of plagiarism is incremental plagiarism, or when most of the speech is the speaker’s original work, but quotes or other information have been used without being cited. Incremental plagiarism can occur if, for example, you provide a statistic to support your claim, but do not provide the source for that statistic. Another example would be if a student included a direct quote from former president Ronald Reagan without letting the audience know that those were Reagan’s exact words.
Understanding the different types of plagiarism is the first step in ensuring that you prepare an honest speech.
Do Not Cite
Words or ideas presented in a magazine, book, newspaper, song, TV program, movie, Web page, advertisement, or any other medium.
Your own lived experiences, your own observations and insights, your own thoughts, and your own conclusions about a subject.
Information you gain through interviewing or conversing with another person, face to face, over the phone, or in writing.
When you are writing up your own results obtained through lab or field experiments.
When you copy the exact words or a unique phrase.
When you use your own artwork, digital photographs, video, audio, etc.
When you reprint any diagrams, illustrations, charts, pictures, or other visual materials.
When you use common knowledge – e.g. folklore, common sense observations, myths, and historical events.
When you reuse or repost any electronically available media, including images, audio, video, or other media.
When you are using generally accepted facts.
The following pages will provide you will the appropriate guidelines and resources for making sure that your speech follows the format your instructor requires. When in doubt, make certain you check with your instructor to see if she or he is asking you to write in APA or MLA format.