Lesson 11 Speaking Responsibly

americans are fercely protective of the right to free speech, to the point that this right is guaranteed by the very document that defnes U.S. government: the United States Constitution. Yet, we must also be aware that the right to free speech carries with it a corresponding expectation that we will use speech responsibly. The right to freedom of speech, for example, may technically include the right to randomly scream “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater. But that does not make such speech a good idea. In fact, to use speech in this way would be incredibly careless, as it would cause unnecessary panic and potential chaos.

Similarly, your opportunity to speak before an audience carries with it a weight of responsibility. An invita- tion to speak at a conference does not give you the freedom to stand up and tell lies; on the contrary, the people who invited you to speak did so because they trust you to tell the truth. Therefore, we should spend a little time considering the responsibility of a public speaker.



–SPeaking reSPonSiblY–

tell the truth

The foremost rule is the one we’ve already suggested: Tell the truth. This probably seems self-evident, but its implications are more wide-ranging than you might expect. In fact, most of the principles covered in this lesson can be summarized under this overall notion.

The frst application of this principle is to strive for accuracy. This means that you will want to do broad research before starting your outline. It is not enough to read one or two books or journal articles on your topic; you need to gather information from numerous sources. This ensures that your information is accurate and precise, and not the viewpoints of a single source.

It also requires that you take good notes, as we discussed in previous lessons. If you want to quote an author, you must be certain that you are quoting exactly what was written. It’s an easy temptation to fudge it by quoting someone as best you can recall without both- ering to look it up again, but this is dishonest. If you can’t relocate something you want to quote, let your audience know that it’s not a direct quotation: “Mark Twain once said something along the lines of. . . .” It’s really quite easy to be honest.

Present all Sides to an argument

This is another element of honesty in public speaking. This principle holds true in all types of speeches, but is most profound in the persuasive speech. The goal of the persuasive speech, after all, is to prove that your opinion is correct and persuade the audience to embrace your opinion—so it can be very tempting to strengthen your argument by ignoring data that contradicts it.

Ironically, by ignoring contradictory informa- tion, you will actually weaken your argument in the long run, rather than strengthen it. It is almost certain that someone in your audience will be familiar with

such information; and if they don’t know it while you’re speaking, they will undoubtedly learn it later. This signals to your listeners that you are being dishon- est with them, and that is an absolute guarantee of losing their trust.

Conversely, you can actually strengthen your argument by presenting contradictory information. First, it demonstrates to your audience that you have done your research completely, not simply drawing from sources that are in agreement with you, and it reassures them that you are trying to be straightfor- ward in your presentation. This will gain you more credibility and make your listeners more likely to con- sider your viewpoints.

But one of the best advantages of presenting con- tradictory information is that it forces you to refne your own viewpoints. It is possible that you’ll fnd some startling information you’d never considered before, thereby reassessing your own opinion on the matter. If that information does not sway your opin- ion, it will make you ask yourself why—and when you answer the question of why that information is not enough to change your opinion, you will know how to refute it in your speech.

A good persuasive speech does just that: It pres- ents a counterargument from a source that holds a different opinion, and then explains to the audience why that information cannot change the truth of your basicthesis.Andallofthisissimplypartofbeinghon- est in your speech.

do not Plagiarize

Plagiarism is the crime of taking someone else’s work and claiming it as your own. Note my wording here: It’s a crime. That means that this is not merely an issue of being responsible or ethical; this is an issue of obeying the law. It’s the reason that we have copyright protec- tions on books, recordings, flm, and many other media—because plagiarism is stealing.


–SPeaking reSPonSiblY–

There is another side to this issue that many fail to recognize: Pretending material is yours is lying. This, of course, takes us back to the frst principle, and it will destroy any speaker’s credibility—sometimes permanently—to be caught in the act.

This applies to “borrowed” material as well as that which is outright stolen from another source. Bor- rowed material includes canned speeches that are free to use by anyone. You could probably fnd such sample speeches on the Internet or from books in the library. In this case, you are not breaking any laws by giving those speeches, since the author has given permission for anyone to use them. But you would be breaking a higher law by presenting that speech as though it were your own—the law of trust. (These principles, inci- dentally, apply just as much to written essays as they do to verbal speeches.)

Finally, plagiarism also includes using visual aids or printed material without crediting where you got it. (Of course, if you create your own, this does not apply.) If you’re using PowerPoint slides in your presentation that you downloaded from the Internet, for example, be sure to credit the source. This can be done by writ- ing it directly on the slide, or by stating where you got the slide during your presentation.

Here are the things you’ll need to include when citing a printed source:

n Author’s name
n Title of work cited
n Publisher, including publisher’s location n Copyright date
n Page number, if appropriate

Here is what you need if citing something found on the Internet:

n Complete URL
n Title of website
n Title of specifc work within the website n Date when you viewed it

Here are samples:

Printed Hand-Out:

This material is quoted from John Smith, How to Paint Realistic Miniature Figures (New York: Mini Painting Guild, 2010), 215.

PowerPoint Slide:

From John Smith, How to Paint Realistic Miniature Figures (New York: Mini Painting Guild, 2010), 215.

Oral Quotation:

“As John Smith memorably stated in his book How to Paint Realistic Miniature Figures, ‘Paint selection is the lifeblood of any painting project. Selecting the wrong paint for your project is like eating poison—bad paint can kill your favorite fgure.’”

The thing to realize is that crediting your sources actually works in your favor. It enables your audience to recognize that you’ve done your research, and it builds their confdence in your credibility. And it’s so easy to do! Just tell the audience whom you’re quoting, and move on. That’s all that is asked.