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It's A Matter of Trust - Presentation Ethics
By Chris King

Both weekly and monthly, I receive a large number of publications that deal with business and technology. Ever since the whole Enron scandal became news, these magazines have and are featuring more and more articles dealing with business ethics, honesty and trust. In every profession, business and career, attention to ethics, integrity, honesty and trust are paramount to ultimate success.

Whether we are full-time presenters or present part-time for our businesses, I suggest that there are ethics and principles that we, as speakers, should embrace and follow. In this article I will highlight and explain the speaker's ethics and principles in which I believe.

I will warn you that in this article I am more opinionated than ever, but these are the beliefs that have worked for me over the years and have worked for those speakers who are at the top of the speaking profession today. (Note: Many of these beliefs are included and/or referred to in the National Speakers Association's Code of Professional Ethics - members of this professional Association must subscribe to this Code, thus giving "notice that they recognize the vital need to preserve and encourage fair and equitable practices among all who are engaged in the profession of speaking.")

The true professional presenter walks his or her talk. This means that we don't pretend to be someone we aren't. We must be genuine. If, for example, we never set goals, I feel we shouldn't urge our listeners to set goals, "because they are so necessary for success." It is difficult to learn about business, leadership and success from someone who has never run a business, been a leader or experienced success. Also, I am turned off by the speaker who "pretends" to be so warm and friendly on the platform and then doesn't even have the time or graciousness to shake your hand. Two of the most genuine speakers I have ever experienced are Zig Ziglar and the late Leo Buscaglia. Zig, in person, acts as warm, sincere and giving as when presenting in front of a huge group. And I remember attending one of Leo's loving presentations when he told us that after leaving the stage he would stay "as long as it takes to give everyone a hug who wants one." His hug was by far the best hug I remember - not short and sweet, but long, firm and loving. He stayed for hours.

A professional presenter honestly and accurately communicates his or her qualifications. This follows directly from the previous paragraph. We must never create qualifications - like college degrees we didn't earn or clients we never had - to make ourselves look more experienced than we are. I know wonderful speakers who are in demand and don't have that coveted degree, wealthy background or clients from Fortune 500 companies. It is more important to have the message people want and need to hear along with the skills to deliver that message. It boggles my mind when I read about all of the falsification in resumes, let alone speakers' brochures and websites. Who would ever hire you for a job or presentation if they found out that you were lying in your written communications?

A professional presenter never, never uses another's material or materials without permission. A short quotation credited to the originator is fine, but when a speaker - and I have heard them - blatantly copies another speaker's words and/or style of presentation, it is outright robbery. What makes us special as presenters is our own uniqueness and knowledge. I feel strongly that if we have to take someone else's words, we shouldn't be presenting. Yes, we can observe and make note of what gives another presenter power, but then we must use that power in our own unique way. If we do hear a story or an idea that we want to use and are sure that it would enhance our presentation notably, then we must get permission from the person who created it, or not use it at all.

A professional presenter can be trusted completely by his or her clients and/or meeting planner to give the best presentation possible. When we are hired or asked to present for a group, we must be willing "to give it our all." That means proper preparation (the unethical speaker just "wings it"), excellent research, practice and sufficient contact and communication with the client and meeting planner. This also includes minute attention to details, never assuming, always confirming. It means arriving early, dressing as a professional, sharing helpful handouts and always "going the extra mile" to please. This effort to please, however, leads to my next opinion.

The trustworthy presenter doesn't agree to give a presentation outside of his or her expertise or interests. Once people and groups know that we are speakers, they often ask us to speak on a topic of their choice - not one of ours. I have even had someone ask if I would give mini-book reports - she knew that I read a lot of the current business books and magazines. I am not saying that we must have such a deep understanding of a topic before addressing it. I am saying that if this isn't in your field or one of your passions, don't agree to speak just because you would like to receive the fee. It is the surest way to "turn off" a client and word does travel. A much better approach that will pay off in the long run is to recommend a colleague well-versed and well-prepared in that topic.

The ethical presenter treats all clients and other speakers with respect and fairness. In my opinion this means never divulging confidentialities, charging different fees according to what the "traffic will bear" or speaking badly of or spreading rumors about another speaker or client. If, for example, someone asks what you think about another presenter's abilities and you are not impressed by that presenter, it is better to say nothing or make a suggestion of someone "I am more familiar with." I also feel, as a presenter, that when I attend another presenter's program or workshop, that even when I am not thrilled with the presentation, I respect the effort and act as an enthusiastic listener and participant. Just remember that not everyone in our audience will be thrilled with us either.

My all-time favorite marketing guru, Robert Middleton, says that people will hire those they know, like and trust. Can you be trusted as an ethical and honest presenter? I would love to hear from you with your opinions about my opinions and beliefs. Just send me your FEEDBACK!

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