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What This Course Asks of You

H opefully by now you are convinced that this course has much to offer in

terms of practical benefits, personal growth, and knowledge of an interactive,

dynamic process. Now it is time to consider: what does this course ask

of you in return?

Obviously, the course asks that you make a commitment of time and energy.

But beyond this commitment, the course asks that you take seriously your ethical

responsibilities as a communicator. Public speaking can be a powerful tool in shaping

the attitudes and actions of listeners. As such, it requires great respect for and

sensitivity to your responsibilities as a speaker.

Because just about every aspect of putting together and presenting speeches can

raise ethical questions, you will encounter relevant discussions and Ethics Alert!

features throughout this text. In addition, the code of ethics of the National

Communication Association, the Credo for Ethical Communication, is reprinted

at the end of this chapter. In this final section, we discuss three major considerations

that underlie ethical public speaking: respect for the integrity of ideas and information,

a genuine concern for consequences, and the shared responsibilities of listeners.

Respect for the Integrity of

Ideas and Information

Respect for the integrity of ideas and information requires that you speak from responsible

knowledge, use communication techniques carefully, and avoid plagiarism.

Speaking from Responsible Knowledge. No one expects you to be an

expert as you speak in class. You should, however, make an effort to acquire

responsible knowledge of your subject. As we discuss in detail in Chapter 7,

responsible knowledge of a topic includes

I knowing the main points of concern.

I understanding what experts believe about them.

Have students identify a speaker

they regard as credible and

charismatic. Discuss what factors

or behaviors contribute to this

perception. Note any differences

in responses between ESL students

and their classmates.

Have students keep a record of

the changes they notice in themselves

while they are in the public

speaking course. Are they

more willing to speak out in

other classes? Do they participate

more freely in groups?

Ask students to describe an incidence

of public communication

that they felt was unethical.

Consider what factors were

involved and whether this made

them change their opinion of the


responsible knowledge An understanding

of the major features, issues, information,

latest developments, and local

applications relevant to a topic.

Public Speaking, Eighth Edition, by Michael Osborn, Suzanne Osborn and Randall Osborn. Published by Allyn & Bacon.

Copyright 2007 by Pearson Education, Inc.

18 Part One The Foundations of Public Speaking

I being aware of the most recent events or discoveries concerning them.

I realizing how these points affect the lives of listeners.

Responsible knowledge requires that you know more about a topic than your audience

so that your speech has something useful to give them.

Consider how Stephen Huff, one of our students at the University of Memphis,

acquired responsible knowledge for an informative speech. Stephen knew little about

earthquakes before his speech, but he knew that Memphis was on the New Madrid

fault and that this location could mean trouble. He also knew that a major earthquake

research center was located on campus. Stephen arranged for an interview with the

center s director. During the interview, he asked a series of well-planned questions:

Where was the New Madrid fault, and what was the history of its activity?

What was the probability of a major quake in the area in the near future?

How prepared was Memphis for a major quake?

What kind of damage could result?

How could his listeners prepare for it?

What readings would the director recommend?

All these questions were designed to gain knowledge that would interest and benefit

his listeners. Armed with knowledge from the interview, Stephen went to the

library and found the readings suggested by the director. He was well on his way to

giving a good speech.

You should follow Stephen s example. Acquiring responsible knowledge takes

time and effort, but it is well worth the work.

Careful Use of Communication Techniques. Some of the most useful

techniques for communicating ideas and information can also be misused by speakers

to confuse or mislead an audience or to hide the speaker s agenda. Consider, for

instance, the practice called quoting out of context. In Chapter 8, we encourage you

to cite experts and respected authorities to support important and controversial

assertions. However, this becomes ethically troublesome when speakers distort the

meanings of such statements to support their own positions.

Many social activists, for instance, argue that certain leaders routinely invoke

Martin Luther King s dream of a color-blind society to roll back the progressive

social reforms that he helped to inspire. In his famous I Have a Dream speech, for

example, King offered his vision of a world in which we would judge people not

by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. One state official

offered these words to justify ending scholarships to the state s college and universities

targeted for black students. A prominent governor used the same dream to

explain why he was appointing only white men to the board running the university

system in his state. A well-known theater critic in New York invoked King s wisdom

to condemn the formation of black theatrical companies.18

The problem, of course, is that these people were using King s own words to

defeat the kinds of things he wanted to encourage. King wanted to remove the massive

barriers of segregation that had too long constrained the advancement of black

people. These manipulators of his words applied his principles out of the context of

that purpose to attack programs and policies specifically designed to help black people

recover from a history of oppression.

Environmentalists also point to an example of quoting out of context, which

they feel may have grave consequences for our planet s future. They allege that the

quoting out of context An unethical

use of a quotation that changes or distorts

the original speaker s meaning or

intent by not including parts of the quote.

Public Speaking, Eighth Edition, by Michael Osborn, Suzanne Osborn and Randall Osborn. Published by Allyn & Bacon.

Copyright 2007 by Pearson Education, Inc.

Chapter 1 Public Speaking and You 19

Bush administration distorted a National Academy of Sciences report in 2001 to justify

not taking decisive action sooner to counter global warming. After pointing out

alarming signs of climate change, the report had concluded: The changes observed

over the last several decades are likely mostly due to human activities, but we cannot

rule out that some significant part of these changes are also a reflection of natural

variability. In responding to the report, government representatives focused on

the natural variability qualifier to make the claim that the report was inconclusive

as to whether global warming was caused by humans.19

To avoid such ethical problems, be sure you are representing experts positions

fairly when you cite them in your speeches. Throughout this text, we discuss

the potential misuse of evidence, reasoning, language, visual aids, and other

powerful communication techniques. You should avoid such practices like

the plague!

Avoiding Academic Dishonesty. For a variety of reasons, rates of academic

dishonesty are apparently rising on college campuses.20 Most colleges consider this

increase a serious threat to the integrity of higher education, and they stipulate

penalties ranging from a major grade reduction to suspension or even expulsion

from the university. You can probably find your university s policy in your student

handbook or on your college Web site. Your communication department or instructor

may have additional definitions and rules regarding academic dishonesty.

The most blatant form of such dishonesty is plagiarism, presenting the ideas or

words of others as though they were your own. Related abuses include parroting an

article or speech from a newspaper, magazine, or Internet site as if it were your own

creation; cutting and pasting passages verbatim from multiple sources and splicing

them together as your own speech; collusion, or working with another student

to present the same speech in different sections of the public speaking course, and

the willful misuse or fabrication of sources of information.

We strongly discourage you from committing academic dishonesty in this or

any other college classes. Instructors are better at spotting academic dishonesty than

some students may realize. Many departments keep files of speeches and speech

outlines, instructors do talk to each other, and there are Internet resources that

instructors can use for looking up stock speeches that have been pulled or purchased

from the Internet. If you misrepresent information, you are only cheating

yourself regardless of whether you get caught. You likely will not speak well when

you do not prepare and present your own work. You end up compromising all the

benefits we have described.

A Concern for Consequences

Recognizing the power of communication leads ethical speakers to a genuine concern

for how their words might affect the lives of others. Serious speeches most

often convey moral visions or dreams of communities that speakers want to promote.

Speakers must reflect upon the larger consequences of making these dreams

into reality.

Another related concern is the impact of our speaking on the quality and

integrity of public communication itself. There can be occasions that tempt us,

times when the right ends might seem to justify unethical means. In the final days

of a heated political campaign, for example, when we know that we re right and

they re wrong, it might seem acceptable for our preferred candidates to rely on

ugly character attacks, shameless fear-mongering, and fallacies such as we discuss in

plagiarism Presenting the ideas and

words of others without crediting them as


Public Speaking, Eighth Edition, by Michael Osborn, Suzanne Osborn and Randall Osborn. Published by Allyn & Bacon.

Copyright 2007 by Pearson Education, Inc.

20 Part One The Foundations of Public Speaking

Ethics Alert 1.1

Avoiding Plagiarism

Avoiding plagiarism is a matter of faith between yourself, your instructor, and your classmates.

Be especially alert to the following:

6. Identify your sources of information:

According to The 2008 American

Almanac, tin cans were first used in

1811 as a means of preserving food ; or

The latest issue of Time magazine notes

that . . . .

7. Introduce your sources as lead-ins to

direct quotations: Studs Terkel has said

that a book about work is, by its very

nature, about violence to the spirit as

well as the body.

8. Allow yourself enough time to research

and prepare your presentation.

9. Take careful notes as you do your

research so that you don t later confuse

your own thoughts and words with

those of others.

1. Don t present or summarize someone

else s speech, article, or essay as though

it were your own.

2. Draw information and ideas from a variety

of sources, then interpret them to

create your own point of view.

3. Don t parrot other people s language and

ideas as though they were your own.

4. Always provide oral citations for direct

quotations, paraphrased material, or

especially striking language, letting listeners

know who said the words, where,

and when.

5. Credit those who originate ideas: John

Sheets, director of secondary curriculum

and instruction at Duke University, suggests

there are three criteria we should

apply in evaluating our high schools.

Chapter 15. But we need to always ask ourselves whether

short-term benefits are worth the long-term damage of creating

a communication climate in which such blatantly

unethical practices are now seen to be justifiable under certain

circumstances. Public communication in democratic

societies should foster informed and rational decision making

while reinforcing a commitment to open, tolerant, and

civil discussion of issues.21

The Shared Responsibilities

of Listeners

Finally, no discussion of public speaking ethics would be

complete without considering the shared responsibilities of

listeners. Often we talk to people who have grown disenchanted

with the quality of public discourse and the very

prospect of democracy. It is disheartening to hear them cite

their cynicism as an excuse for tuning out and ignoring

public issues altogether. Nothing does more to reinforce dishonesty

and demagoguery in public discussions than ignorance

born of cynical indifference among otherwise good

and intelligent citizens. Listeners are the ultimate arbiters

of communication transactions. If public speaking is to be

Constructive listeners encourage speakers, listen to

speeches with open minds, and emphasize the positive

values of messages.

Public Speaking, Eighth Edition, by Michael Osborn, Suzanne Osborn and Randall Osborn. Published by Allyn & Bacon.

Copyright 2007 by Pearson Education, Inc.

Chapter 1 Public Speaking and You 21

Your public speaking class offers you many benefits.

First, it helps you develop an array of practical skills

ranging from techniques for the control of communication

anxiety to learning how to express yourself with

power and conviction. It increases your chances of success

both in school and in your later professional life.

It also helps you to become a better citizen, ready to

participate in the communication life of a democratic


Second, the class offers important opportunities for

personal growth. It helps you understand better your

own strengths and limitations and introduces you to a

rich tradition of learning, the wisdom concerning public

speaking that has accumulated since the time of

Plato and Aristotle. It also helps you expand your cultural

horizons by exposing you to the variety of backgrounds

represented in the typical public speaking class.

Third, the class helps you develop knowledge of

an interactive, dynamic process that can enrich many

dimensions of your life. As an interactive process,

public speaking touches upon such factors as source,

message, medium, encoding and decoding, interference,

receiver, feedback, and communication setting.

As a dynamic process, public speaking helps replace

division among people with identification among

them. It helps people overcome the barriers that separate

them, and it encourages their spiritual growth in


The public speaking class asks several things from

you in return. First, it asks for an appropriate commitment

of time and energy. Second, it asks that you treat

the power of speech with respect and ethical sensitivity.

You must speak from responsible knowledge, and avoid

the misuse of public speaking techniques and the temptations

of plagiarism. You should cultivate concern for

how your words might affect others. You should also

take seriously your role as a critical and constructive listener

for classroom speeches.

In Summary

1. Visualize yourself as the speaker you hope to

become by the end of this class. What specific skills

will you have to acquire to make this ideal a reality?

2. Bring to class examples of advertisements that

you think are ethical and unethical, and explain


3. Do you agree that it is better to think of American

culture as a bouillabaisse or chorus rather than

as a melting pot ? Can you think of other desirable

metaphors for American identity?

4. Begin keeping a speech evaluation diary in which

you record comments on effective and ineffective,

ethical and unethical speeches you hear both in

and out of class. As you observe speeches, ask

yourself the following questions:

(1) How did the speaker rate in terms of credibility?

(2) Was the speech well adapted to its listeners

needs and interests?

(3) Did the speech take into account the cultural

complexity of its audience?

(4) Was the message clear and well structured?

(5) Did the medium pose any problems?

(6) Was the language and presentation of the

speech effective?

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