Chapter 3: Preparing for Your First Speech

Credibility and Ethics

When Aristotle used the term ethos in the 5th century B.C.E. to describe one of the means of persuasion, he defined it as the “wisdom, sagacity, and character of the rhetor” (see Chapter 13 for more coverage of ethos and Aristotle’s other artistic proofs). Modern scholars of communication and persuasion speak more about “credibility” as an attitude the audience has toward the speaker, based on both reality and perception, rather than an innate trait of the speaker. Audience members trust the speaker to varying degrees, based on the evidence and knowledge they have about the speaker and how that lines up with certain factors:

•     Similarity: does the speaker have experiences, values, and beliefs in common with the audience? Can the audience relate to the speaker because of these commonalities?

•    Character: does the speaker, in word and action, in the speech and in everyday life, show honesty and integrity?

•    Competence: does the speaker show that he/she has expertise and sound knowledge about the topic, especially through firsthand experience? And does the speaker show competence in his/her ability to communicate that expertise?

•    Good will: does the audience perceive the speaker to have ethical intentions toward the audience?

In addition to these key areas will be the audience’s perceptions, or even gut feelings, about more intangible characteristics of the speaker, such as appearance, friendliness, sense of humor, likability, appearance, poise, and communication ability. Many of these traits are conveyed through nonverbal aspects, such as facial expression, eye contact, good posture, and appropriate gestures (see Chapter 11 on Delivery).

Understandably, the same speaker will have a different level of credibility with different audiences. For example, in regard to presidential campaigns, it is interesting to listen to how different people respond to and “trust” different candidates. Donald Trump entered the presidential race as a Re- publican nominee and quickly became a frontrunner in many of the early polls and primaries, eventually winning the Electoral College votes, to the surprise of many. Those who voted for him often stated that they value his candor and willingness to say what he thinks because they perceive that as honest and different from other politicians. Others think he makes unwise and thoughtless statements, and they see that as a lack of competence and demeanor to be the national leader. Donald Trump is the same person, but different audiences respond to his behavior and statements in divergent ways.

The point is that character and competence are both valued by those who trust and those who distrust President Trump and the audience’s perceptions contribute to his credibility (or lack of it). However, these groups express their values in different ways. When trying to develop your own credibility as a speaker with an audience, you have to keep in mind all four of the factors listed above. To portray oneself as “similar” to the audience but to do so deceptively will not contribute to credibility in the long run.

To only pretend to have good will and want the best for the audience will also have a short-term effect. And to intentionally misrepresent your back- ground, such as experience and credentials, is clearly unethical.

Not only does a speaker’s level of credibility change or vary from audience to audience, it is also likely to change even during the presentation. These changes in credibility have been labeled as initial, derived, and terminal credibility.

Initial credibility is, as you would imagine, the speaker’s credibility at the beginning of or even before the speech. There are a number of factors that would contribute to the initial credibility, even such matters as the “recommendation” of the person who introduces the speaker to the audience. Any knowledge the audience has of the speaker prior to the speech adds to the initial credibility. The initial credibility is important, of course, because it will influence the receptivity of the audience or how well they will listen and be open to the speaker’s ideas. Initial credibility can be influenced also by the perception that the speaker is not well dressed, pre- pared, or confident at the very beginning. Initial credibility is why how you walk to the lectern and give your introduction matter.

Derived credibility is how the audience members judge the speaker’s credibility and trustworthiness throughout the process of the speech, which also can range from point to point in the speech. Perhaps you have seen those videos on a news program that show a political speaker on one pane of the video and a graph of the audience’s response in real time to the speaker’s message, usually noted as “approval rating” as the politician speaks. This could be based on the perception of the speaker’s presentation style (delivery), language, specific opinions or viewpoints on subjects, open-mindedness, honesty, and other factors. The point of the derived credibility is that credibility is an active concept that is always changing.

Finally, terminal credibility is, as you would think, credibility at the end of the speech. The obvious importance of terminal credibility is that it would factor into the audience’s final decision about what to do with the information, arguments, or appeals of the speaker – in other words, his or her persuasiveness. It would also determine whether the audience would listen to the speaker again in the future. The terminal credibility can be seen as a result of the initial and derived credibility.

Terminal credibility may end up being lower than the initial credibility, but the goal of any speaker should be to have higher terminal credibility. From an ethics standpoint, of course, credibility should not be enhanced by being untruthful with an audience, by misrepresenting one’s viewpoint to please an audience, or by “pandering” to an audience (flattering them). One of the primary attributes of credibility at any stage should be transparency and honesty with the audience.

In conclusion, speaker credibility does not exist alone. It is supported by a number of factors, including Aristotle’s other two traditional forms of persuasion, logos (logic, evidence, good reasoning, lack of fallacious arguments) and pathos (personal and emotional appeals).

Although there are many ways that you could undermine your ethical stance before an audience, the one that stands out and is committed most commonly in academic contexts is plagiarism. A dictionary definition of plagiarism would be “the act of using another person’s words or ideaswithout giving credit to that person” (Merriam-Webster, 2015). According to the student help website, sponsored by WriteCheck, plagiarism is often thought of as “copying another’s work or borrowing someone else’s original ideas” (“What is Plagiarism?”, 2014). However, this source goes on to say that the common definition may mislead some people. Plagiarism also includes:•    Turning in someone else’s work as your own;•    Copying words or ideas from someone else without giving credit;•    Failing to put quotation marks around an exact quotation correctly;•    Giving incorrect information about the source of a quotation;

•    Changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source with- out giving credit;

•    Copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not.

Plagiarism exists outside of the classroom and is a temptation in business, creative endeavors, and politics. However, in the classroom, your instructor will probably take the most immediate action if he or she discovers your plagiarism either from personal experience or through using plagiarism detection (or what is also called “originality checking”) software. Many learning management systems, perhaps such as the one used at your institution, now have a plagiarism detection program embedded in the function where you submit assignments.

In the business or professional world, plagiarism is never tolerated be- cause using original work without permission (which usually includes paying fees to the author or artist) can end in serious legal action. The Internet has made plagiarism easier and thus increased the student’s responsibility to know how to cite and use source material correctly.

Types of Plagiarism

In our long experience of teaching, we have encountered many instances of students presenting work they claim to be original and their own when it is not. We have also seen that students often do not intend to plagiarize but, due to poor training in high school, still are committing an act that could result in a failing grade or worse. Generally, there are three levels of plagiarism: stealing, sneaking, and borrowing. Sometimes these types of plagiarism are intentional, and sometimes they occur unintentionally (you may not know you are plagiarizing). However, as everyone knows, “Igno-rance of the law is not an excuse for breaking it.” So let’s familiarize you with how plagiarism occurs in order to prevent it from happening.


There is a saying in academia: “If you steal from one source, that is plagiarism; if you steal from twelve, that is scholarship.” Whoever originated this saying may have intended for it to be humorous, but it is a misrepresentation of both plagiarism and scholarship.

No one wants to be the victim of theft; if it has ever happened to you, you know how awful it feels. When a student takes an essay, research paper, speech, or outline completely from another source, whether it is a classmate who submitted it for another instructor, from some sort of online essay mill, or from elsewhere, this is an act of theft no better or worse than going into a store and shoplifting. The wrongness of the act is compound- ed by the fact that then the student lies about it being his or her own. If you are tempted to do this, run the other way. Your instructor will probably have no mercy on you, and probably neither will the student conduct council.

Most colleges and universities have a policy that penalizes or forbids “self-plagiarism.” This means that you can’t use a paper or outline that you presented in another class a second time. You may think, “How can this be plagiarism or wrong if I wrote both and in my work I cited sources correctly?” The main reason is that by submitting it to your instructor, you are still claiming it is original, first-time work for the assignment in that particular class. Your instructor may not mind if you use some of the same sources from the first time it was submitted, but he or she expects you to follow the instructions for the assignment and prepare an original assignment. In a sense, this situation is also a case of unfairness, since the other students do not have the advantage of having written the paper or outline already.

Another issue that often comes up with students happens when two or more students, perhaps in the same section or different sections of the same course and same instructor, submit the same assignment. When confronted, the student say, “We worked on it together.” If your instructor wants you to work collaboratively, he or she will make that clear. Otherwise, do not do this–the situation usually ends quite badly for students.


In “sneaking plagiarism,” instead of taking work as a whole from another source, the student will copy two out of every three sentences and mix them up so they don’t appear in the same order as in the original work.

Perhaps the student will add a fresh introduction, a personal example or two, and an original conclusion. This “sneaky” plagiarism is easy today due to the Internet and the word processing functions of cutting and pasting.

In fact, many students do not see this as the same thing as stealing because they think “I did some research, I looked some stuff up, and I added some of my own work.” Unfortunately, this approach is only marginally better than stealing and will probably end up in the same penalties as the first type of plagiarism. Why? Because no source has been credited, and the student has “misappropriated” the expression of the ideas as well as the ideas themselves. Interestingly, this type of plagiarism can lead to copyright violation if the work with the plagiarism is published.

Most of the time students do not have to worry about copyright violation when they correctly use and cite material from a source. This is because in academic environments, “fair use” is the rule. In short, you are not making any money from using the copyrighted material, such as from a published book. You are only using it for learning purposes and not to make money, so “quoting” (using verbatim) with proper citation a small amount of the material is acceptable for a college class.

If, however, you were going to try to publish and sell an article or book and “borrowed” a large section of material without specifically obtaining permission from the original author, you would be guilty of copyright violation and by extension make your organization or company also guilty. When you enter your career field, the “fair use” principle no longer applies and you will need to obtain permission from the copyright holder and pay fees to use all or portions of a work. For more information on this very important and often misunderstood subject, visit the Creative Commons website and the Library of Congress.

One area in speeches where students are not careful about citing is on their presentational slides. If a graphic or photo is borrowed from a web- site (that is, you did not design it), there should be a citation in small letters on the slide. The same would be true of borrowed quotations, data, and ideas. Students also like to put their “works cited” or “references” on the last slide, but this really does not help the audience or get around the possibility of plagiarism.


The third type of plagiarism is “borrowing.” In this case, the student is not stealing wholesale. He or she may actually even give credit for the material, either correctly or incorrectly. He might say, “According to the official website of . . .” or “As found in an article in the Journal of Psychology, Dr. John Smith wrote . . .” Sounds good, right? Well, yes and no. It depends on whether the student has borrowed in a “sneaky way” (cutting and pasting passages together but this time indicating where the sections came from) or if the student is using the ideas but not the exact wording. In other words, has the student adequately, correctly, and honestly paraphrased or summarized the borrowed material, or just “strung the sources together” with some “according to’s”?

Students often are puzzled about what and when to cite borrowed material from sources. At this point, your instructor may have specific instructions, and you should always follow those first. However, in most cases you can go by the “repeated information” rule. If you are doing research and access ten sources, and over half of them have the same piece of information (usually a historical or scientific fact or statistic), you can assume this is “common knowledge.” That is, it is common to anyone who knows any- thing about the subject, and then you do not have to have a citation. If you find a piece of information in one source only, it probably represents the original research or viewpoint of that writer, and should be cited clearly. On the other hand, there are exceptions. An often-cited or used piece of information has an original source, such as a government agency, and you would be better off to find the original source and cite that. Secondly, citing sources adds to your credibility as a prepared speaker. Again, your instructor’s directions on what and how much your cite bear upon this advice. Generally, it is better to err on the side of citing more than less.

Ethically Crediting Sources

In using source material correctly, a speaker does three things:

1.    He or she clearly cites the source of the information. It is here that the oral mode of communication differs from the written mode. In a paper, such as for literature, you would only need to include a parenthetical citation such as (Jones 78) for Modern Language Association (MLA) format, indicating that a writer named Jones contributed this idea on page 78 of a source that the reader can find on the Works Cited Page. In a paper for a class in the social sciences, an American Psychological Association (APA) format citation would be (Jones, 2012) or (Jones, 2012, p. 78). The first would be used if you summarized or paraphrased information from the source, and second (with the page number) is used to indicate the words were quoted exactly from a source. Obviously, in that case, quotation marks are used around the quoted material. In both cases, if the reader wants more information, it can be found on the References Page (APA) or Works Cited Page (MLA).

(Note: This text and its examples use APA because the Communication discipline is considered a social science. As with other advice, use the format your instructor directs you to use.)

A speech is quite different. Saying “According to Jones, p. 78,” really does very little for the audience. They can’t turn to the back of the paper. They don’t have a way, other than oral communication, to understand the type of information being cited, how recent it is, the credibility of the author you are citing and why you think he or she is a valid source, or the title of the work. It is necessary in a speech to give more complete information that would help the audience understand its value. The page number, the publishing company, and city it was published in are probably not important, but what is important is whether it is a website, a scholarly article, or a book; whether it was written in 1950 or 2010; and what is the position, background, or credentials of the source.

So, instead of “According to Jones, p. 78,” a better approach would be, “According to Dr. Samuel Jones, Head of Cardiology at Vanderbilt University, in a 2010 article in a prestigious medical journal…”


“In her 2012 book, The Iraq War in Context, historian Mary Smith of the University of Georgia states that…”


“In consulting the website for the American Humane Society, I found these statistics about animal abuse compiled by the Society in 2012…”

This approach shows more clearly that you have done proper research to support your ideas and arguments. It also allows your audience to find the material if they want more information. Notice that in all three examples the citation precedes the fact or information being cited. This order allows the audience to recognize the borrowed material better. The use of a clear citation up-front makes it more noticeable as well as more credible to the audience.

2.   The speaker should take special care to use information that is in context and relevant. This step takes more critical thinking skills. For example, it is often easy to misinterpret statistical information (more on that in Chapter 7), or to take a quotation from an expert in one field and apply it to another field. It is also important to label facts as facts and opinions as opinions, especially when dealing with controversial subjects. In addition, be sure you understand the material you are citing before using it. If you are unsure of any words,

look their definitions up so you are sure to be using the material as it is intended. Finally, it is important that you understand the type of publication or source you are using, for example, a scholarly publication in contrast to a journalistic one.

3.    The speaker should phrase or summarize the ideas of the source into his or her own words. Paraphrasing, which is putting the words and ideas of others into one’s own authentic or personal language, is often misunderstood by students. Your instructor may walk you through an exercise to help your class understand that paraphrasing is not changing 10% of the words in a long quotation (such as two or three out of twenty) but still keeping most of the vocabulary and word order (called syntax) of the source. You should compose the information in your own “voice” or way of expressing yourself.

In fact, you would be better off to think in terms of summarizing your source material rather than paraphrasing. For one thing, you will be less likely to use too much of the original and therefore be skirting the edge of plagiarism. Secondly, you will usually want to put the main arguments of a source in your own words and make it shorter.

Here is an example of an original source and three possible ways to deal with it.

Original information, posted on website, Octo- ber 31, 2015:

“The biggest federal inmate release on record will take place this weekend. About 6,600 inmates will be released, with 16,500 expected to get out the first year. More than 40,000 federal felons could be released early over the next several years, the U.S. Sentencing Commission said. The sentencing commission decided a year ago to lower maximum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders and to make the change retro-active, with the inmate releases effective November 1, 2015. Sentences were reduced an average of 18%, the commission said. Early release will be a challenge for the inmates as well as the judicial bureaucracy” (Casarez, 2015).

With that as our original source, which of the following is truly paraphrasing?

The CNN News website says the federal government is releasing 40,000 felons from prison in the next few years.

According to a report posted on CNN’s website on October 31 of 2015, the federal government’s Sentencing Commission is beginning to release prisoners in November based on a decision made in 2014. That decision was to make maximum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders shorter by an average of 18%. Over the next several years over 40,000 federal felons could be let go. However, this policy change to early release will not be easy for the justice system or those released.

The largest release ever of federal inmates will take place in early November. At first 6,600 inmates will be released, and then over 16,000 over the first year. The U.S. Sentencing Commission says it could release over 40,000 federal felons over the upcoming years because the sentencing commission decided a year ago to lessen maximum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders and to make this happen for those already in jail. When the Sentencing Com- mission says that when it made that decision, the sentences were reduced an average of 18%. Early release will be a challenge for the felons as well as the judicial system. This came from a story on CNN News website in later October 2015.

If you chose the second citation, you would be correct. The first version does not really interpret the original statement correctly, and the third choice imitates the original almost entirely. Choice 2, on the other hand, is in completely different language and identifies the source of the informa- tion clearly and at the beginning.

This exercises may raise the question, “Should I always paraphrase or summarize rather than directly quote a source?” There are times when it is appropriate to use a source’s exact wording, but quoting a source exactly should be done sparingly—sort of like using hot sauce! You should have a good reason for it, such as that the source is highly respected, has said the idea in a compelling way, or the material is well known and others would recognize it. If you do, you should make it clear you are quoting them exactly by the way you introduce and end the borrowed material.


As mentioned before, students often have not been trained to use source material correctly and plagiarize unintentionally. But like the old saying goes, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” You will still be held accountable whether you understand or not, so now, in your early college career, is the time you should learn to cite source material correctly in oral and written communication.



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