The Ethics of Public Speaking

Motto: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”


Accountability and responsibility

Certainly, if you believe the message of putting on seat belts is a good and safe message to deliver, you will want to be as persuasive as possible. Certainly, comparing each of the three scenarios before, you will have made a difference in degrees of conviction. In the first example, you presented some data and used some influencing language (“naturally”, “more and more interesting”, “before thinking further”, etc.). In the second case, you provided an experience to remember for the participants, in an advertising kind of way. That was persuasion. In the end, you emotionally manipulated the public from the beginning to the end. At the end of the day, you feel good because you think maybe some of what you said and did will have saved some lives.

Of course, one important aspect which didn’t get mentioned in all three presentations is that after more than 80 km / h, the seat belt is no longer a protecting benefit, but a traumatizing instrument. One of the participants to your presentation, let’s call him Michael, drives with 125 km / h, gets in an accident and because he was wearing the seatbelt, he ruptures is spine and breaks his ribs. In the first case, Michael might remember he did surrender to the common wisdom of wearing a seat belt. He might remember that someone made a presentation and suggested it might be a good idea. In the second case, Michael will certainly remember the road fantasy ad you made him pass through and he will hate you for giving him incomplete information. In the third case, you can count on the fact that this time, Michael’s wife, Diane, will remember you, because when Michael got home he couldn’t keep from ranting over and over again on the brilliant presentation you made and the important message for all the family. Diane sews you and the company you work for, for more money than you, your sons and your nieces can pay in a lifetime for misleading information resulting in lifelong infirmity for her husband and all the health bills.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. The intensity of using persuasion about a certain message you want to carry across doesn’t only make you responsible, but also accountable for some of the results your listeners experience.

Often times, in our lives, we are convinced the beliefs we hold are good and healthy, and we hurry to share them in all good faith. But, in time, especially when we really get informed on a certain topic, we can understand how what we once thought does not hold the same value anymore. So keep in mind you solely are responsible, in front of yourself, in front of your listeners, in front of the organizers, in front of the organization you are representing when doing public speaking, and, above all, in front of God. “Always act like your granny is watching you!” 


Message and intention in public speaking

The meaning of communication is to influence. We only communicate to influence others. “The human communication is a process through which an individual (the communicator) transmits stimuli with the purpose of changing other individuals’ behavior (the auditorium). “ (1). Therefore, any public speaking must either influence, or persuade, or manipulate. During the previous century, someone could have conceived a purpose for a presentation to inform. To offer information. Today, we live in the XXIth century. Nobody cares about information anymore. Information can be found for free on the internet, about almost anything. It’s at everybody’s fingertips. If you want to inform, go back to the stone age and play for a change.

Ethics in this context is simply a matter of how well you know the actual information on the topic you’re presenting and what is your intent. Any person able to manipulate must be aware of the fact that determining change which is improper in the long term in the manipulated person(s) will lose the effect and generate loss of credibility for you. Integrity is a notion that some people started training on: “How to resonate with your message”, “How to be connected with your inner self when delivering the message” and crap like this. It’s simple. If you believe in your message and your intentions, you will be congruent. If you don’t believe, you won’t. Anything less is like painting vulture wings on a chicken and hoping it will fly.

You wanna know why the legend says that Edison was so determined to invent the light bulb after he has supposedly discovered 1000 ways of not inventing it, after his whole lab burned to the ground? He wrote 9 pages of how would the world be better if he brought his invention to life. I don’t think Edison needed any inner congruence exercises.

There is even a deeper look into this. Let’s say we see someone doing something wrong to themselves, in their life, like victimizing and searching for rescuers. We may explain the whole mechanism and make that person aware of a lesson (s)he needs to learn, but in the same time, we deprive them by a lesson they need to learn by themselves. I see this especially in young people when they start to get an understanding of how psychic processes work, they are tempted to apply it everywhere, sometimes with people who are not prepared to face some of their own truths. It’s one thing to determine someone not to drink alcohol or not to smoke anymore, or to be firm with a friend. And it’s another telling to someone, or an audience, they’re on a wrong path. When we take away someone’s power to learn from their own mistakes, we often position ourselves in the perspective of the know-it-all, although we might have good intentions. It’s simply a similar matter to giving someone fish opposite to teaching them to fish.

I remember a positive experience, when Bogdan Enoiu, the entrepreneur who started McCann Erickson România and one of the wealthiest advertising experts in Romania, at the Business Club Conferences in Spring 2010, Bucharest, asked the students from ASE (Romania’s most prestigious economic university) what professional choices do they have for their future. Some answered “branding”. Others answered “PR”. But they weren’t very convinced. He simply said there aren’t so many open places in branding. And there are no more than 500 jobs in PR, in the whole Romania. He was a diplomat. In an industry where branding agencies strive to live and can barely make, all of them, 1 million euros a year, in an industry where organizations look for more measurability and less for PR. In the same industry all the advertisers work three times as hard for half the same money as two years ago, these students and who knows how many more, dream of becoming communicators. He could have told them they have no chance, but then everybody would have hated him. In a few years, they will see for themselves. He simply suggested. But for those who understand beyond words and know the market dynamics, he said more than enough. It was a memorable impact presentation through its simplicity.

We usually retain:

  • 10 % of what we read

  • 20 % of what we hear

  • 30 % of what we see

  • 50 % of what we see and hear

  • 70 % of what we talk with others

  • 80 % of what we experience

  • 95 % of what we teach others (2).

We tend to remember more what we said ourselves than what others said. When public speaking, we have the chance to communicate our message to hundreds, thousands, and due to present technology, instantly communicate with millions of persons, that means exercising one of the most difficult tasks possible these days: making our message memorable.


1. Dinu, Mihai – Comunicarea, Ed. Ştiinţifică, Bucureşti, 1997, apud Prutianu, Ştefan, – Tratat de comunicare şi negociere în afaceri, 2007, Polirom, first chapter.

2. William Glassere


Books to read

  • Carnegie, Dale (1934) – The Art of Public Speaking

  • James, Tad (1997) – Presenting Magically

  • Hoff, Ron (1992) – I Can See You Naked, A New Revised edition of the National Bestseller on Making Fearless Presentations, Andrews & McMeel, USA

  • Prutianu, Ştefan – Tratat de comunicare şi negociere în afaceri, Polirom, 2007

  • Cleveland, Kenrick E. – „How to Use the 36 Chinese Stratagems to Win”, Influence Marketing LLC, 1997


Films to see

  • Patch Adams (1998) Directed by Tom Shadyac

  • Julius Caesar (1953) Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

  • Thank you for Smoking (2004) Directed by Jason Reitman

  • The Network (1976) Directed by Sidney Lumet

  • Kramer vs. Kramer (1977) Directed by Sydney Pollack

  • The Verdict (1982) Directed by Sydney Lumet

  • A Time to Kill (1995) Directed by Joel Schumacher

  • Amy’s Orgasm (1998) Directed by Julie Harris

  • Shakespeare in Love (1998) Directed by John Madden

  • There Will Be Blood (2007) Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

  • City Hall (1995) Directed by Martin Brest


3 thoughts on “The Ethics of Public Speaking

  1. Everyone is frigthened when it comes to public speaking but with practice, speaking in front of an audience would become natural. ;


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