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Speaker's Corner

The Integrity of the Speaker


There is no question that the same message, delivered by two different speakers, will be received differently by the audience. Several things make a difference. To be sure, technique is important, but technique can be manipulative. Some of the most terrifying cult leaders and the worst con men in history have had technique–even Charisma.

But unless you want to manipulate or be manipulated, there is something far more important to the public speaker. It is called integrity. Monroe noted that people never listen merely to a speech; they listen to a person speaking. He thought that "a man’s words and manner mirror what he is, the self and the expression can never be divorced." This is probably true, but one wonders if the German people realized the true self of the Hitler they voted into power. In the normal course of events, people are going to listen to you as a person, and if your words don’t match your character you can do no good.

The word "integrity" comes from the Latin word meaning "entire." What we are interested in here is the whole person. Integrity is defined as: "firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values; the quality or state of being complete or undivided."

Anyone who hopes to speak in public needs to give careful attention to who he is, what he stands for, what he really believes. We need to recognize the difference between what we lightly hold as an opinion and what we will go to the wall for. And we need to be careful what ideas we risk our integrity for.

We need to be especially careful to be scrupulously honest in the presentation of facts or arguments. Suppressing facts that are contrary to your case or misquoting sources may work in the short term, but once found out will destroy your effectiveness forever. So will the dogmatic presentation of arguments that cannot finally be proved.

Be very careful never to pretend to knowledge or experience. This doesn’t mean you can’t speak until you are 50. But it does mean you speak with care and humility. And don’t pretend to speak for God unless He explicitly tells you to...personally. And then expect to be disbelieved. Jeremiah was.



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