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2.4: Set Responsible Speech Goals

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    Jensen coined the term “rightsabilities” to explain how a communicator must balance tensions between speaker rights and responsibility to others. Ensuring that you have responsible speech goals is one way to achieve ethical communication in public speaking. There are several speech goals that support this mission. This section will focus on five goals:

    1. promote diversity
    2. use inclusive language
    3. avoid hate speech
    4. raise social awareness
    5. employ respectful free speech.

    Promote Diversity

    One important responsibility speakers have is fostering diversity, or an appreciation for differences among individuals and groups. Diversity in public speaking is important when considering both your audience and your speech content.

    Promoting diversity allows audience members who may be different from the speaker to feel included and can present a perspective to which audience members had not previously been exposed. Speakers may choose a speech topic that introduces a multicultural issue to the audience or can promote diversity by choosing language and visual aids that relate to and support listeners of different backgrounds. Because of the diversity present in our lives, it is necessary to consider how speakers can promote diversity.

    One simple way of promoting diversity is to use both sexes in your hypothetical examples and to include co-cultural groups when creating a hypothetical situation. For example, you can use names that represent both sexes and that also stem from different cultural backgrounds. In the story about Carley and her co-workers, her co-workers were deliberately given male names so that both sexes were represented.

    Ethical speakers also encourage diversity in races, socioeconomic status, and other demographics. These choices promote diversity. In addition, ethical speakers can strive to break stereotypes. For instance, if you’re telling a hypothetical story about a top surgeon in the nation, why not make the specialized surgeon a female from a rural area? Or make the hypothetical secretary a man named Frank? You could also include a picture in your visual aid of the female surgeon or the male secretary at work. Ethical speakers should not assume that a nurse is female or that a firefighter is male. Sexist language can alienate your audience from your discussion (Driscoll & Brizee, 2010).

    Another way that sexist language occurs in speeches is when certain statements or ideas are directed at a particular sex. For example, some audience members could find the “Selecting a Florist” speech described at the beginning of this chapter to be sexist. Another example is the following statement, which implies only males might be interested in learning how to fix a car: “I think that fixing a car is one of the most important things you can learn how to do. Am I right, guys?” Rather, you can say, “I think that fixing a car is one of the most important things that everyone can learn to do.” Promoting diversity is related to using inclusive language, discussed in the following sections.

    Excellence is the best deterrent to racism or sexism.

    ~Oprah Winfrey

    Use Inclusive Language

    Avoiding sexist language is one way to use inclusive language. Another important way for speakers to develop responsible language is to use inclusionary pronouns and phrases.

    For example, novice speakers might tell their audience: “One way for you to get involved in the city’s Clean Community Program is to pick up trash on your street once a month.” Instead, an effective public speaker could exclaim: “One way for all of us to get involved in our local communities is by picking up trash on a regular basis.”

    This latter statement is an example of “welanguage—pronouns and phrases that unite the speaker to the audience. “We” language (instead of “I” or “You” language) is a simple way to build a connection between the speaker, speech content, and audience.

    Table \(\PageIndex{1}\): “You” vs. “We” Language
    Type of Language Sample statement

    “You” Language

    You may say that you’re too busy to volunteer, but I don’t agree. I’m here to tell you that you should be volunteering in your community.

    “We” Language

    As college students, we all get busy in our daily lives and helpful acts such as volunteering aren’t priorities in our schedules. Let’s explore how we can be more active volunteers in our community.

    In this exchange, the “you” language sets the speaker apart from the audience and could make listeners defensive about their time and lack of volunteering. On the other hand, the “we” language connects the speaker to the audience and lets the audience know that the speaker understands and has some ideas for how to fix the problem. This promotes a feeling of inclusiveness, one of the responsible speech goals.

    Avoid Hate Speech

    Another key aspect of ethical speaking is to develop an awareness of spoken words and the power of words. The NCA Credo of Ethical Communication highlights the importance of this awareness: “We condemn communication that degrades individuals and humanity through distortion, intimidation, coercion, and violence, and through the expression of intolerance and hatred” (1999).

    Words can be powerful—both in helping you achieve your speech goal and in affecting your audience in significant ways. It is essential that public speakers refrain from hate or sexist language.

    Hate speech, according to Verderber, Sellnow, and Verderber (2012) is “the use of words and phrases not only to demean another person or group but also to express hatred and prejudice.” Hate language isolates a particular person or group in a derogatory manner.

    Michael Richards, famous for the role of Cosmo Kramer on Seinfeld, came under fire for his hate speech during a comedy routine in 2006. Richards used several racial epithets and directed his hate language towards African-Americans and Mexicans (Farhi, 2006). Richards apologized for his outbursts, but the damage to his reputation and career was irrevocable. Likewise, using hate speech in any public speaking situation can alienate your audience and take away your credibility, leading to more serious implications for your grade, your job, or other serious outcomes. It is your responsibility as the speaker to be aware of sensitive material and be able to navigate language choices to avoid offending your audience.

    No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.

    ~ Robin Williams

    Raise Social Awareness

    Speakers should consider it their ethical responsibility to educate listeners by introducing ideas of racial, gender, or cultural diversity, but also by raising social awareness, or the recognition of important issues that affect societies.

    Raising social awareness is a task for ethical speakers because educating peers on important causes empowers others to make a positive change in the world. Many times when you present a speech, you have the opportunity to raise awareness about growing social issues. For example, if you’re asked to present an informative speech to your classmates, you could tell them about your school’s athletic tradition or you could discuss Peace One Day—a campaign that promotes a single of worldwide cease-fire, allowing crucial food and medicine supplies to be shipped into warzone areas (

    If your assignment is to present a persuasive speech, you could look at the assignment as an opportunity to convince your classmates to (a) stop texting while they drive, (b) participate in a program that supports US troops by writing personal letters to deployed soldiers or (c) buy a pair of TOMS ( and find other ways to provide basic needs to impoverished families around the world.

    Of course, those are just a few ideas for how an informative or persuasive speech can be used to raise awareness about current social issues. It is your responsibility, as a person and speaker, to share information that provides knowledge or activates your audience toward the common good (Mill, 1987).

    One way to be successful in attaining your speech goal while also remaining ethical is to consider your audience’s moral base. Moon (1993) identifies a principle that allows the speaker to justify his or her perspective by finding common moral ground with the audience. This illustrates to the audience that you have goodwill but allows you to still use your moral base as a guide for responsible speech use.

    For example, even though you are a vegetarian and believe that killing animals for food is murder, you know that the majority of your audience does not feel the same way. Rather than focusing on this argument, you decide to use Moon’s principle and focus on animal cruelty. By highlighting the inhumane ways that animals are raised for food, you appeal to the audience’s moral frame that abusing animals is wrong—something that you and your audience can both agree upon.

    If we lose love and self-respect for each other, this is how we finally die.

    ~ Maya Angelou

    Employ Respectful Free Speech

    We live in a nation that values freedom of speech. Of course, due to the First Amendment, you have the right and ability to voice your opinions and values to an audience. However, that freedom of speech must be balanced with your responsibility as a speaker to respect your audience.

    Offending or degrading the values of your audience members will not inform or persuade them. For example, let’s say you want to give a persuasive speech on why abortion is morally wrong. It’s your right to voice that opinion. Nevertheless, it’s important that you build your case without offending your audience members— since you don’t know everyone’s history or stance on the subject.

    Showing disturbing pictures on your visual aid may not “make your point” in the way you intended. Instead, these pictures may send audience members into an emotional tailspin (making it difficult for them to hear your persuasive points because of their own psychological noise). Freedom of speech is a beautiful American value, but ethical speakers must learn to balance their speech freedom with their obligation to respect each audience member.

    Fortunately for serious minds, a bias recognized is a bias sterilized.

    ~ Benjamin Haydon

    Contributors and Attributions

    2.4: Set Responsible Speech Goals is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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