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Three Things a Business Ethics Speaker Does
By Bruce Weinstein, Ph.D.
CEO, The Institute for High-Character Leadership
During my travels around the world, I’m often asked what I do for a living. “I’m a business ethics speaker,” I reply.
“But what exactly do you speak about, and who hires you?,” comes the follow-up question.
You may be asking this question yourself right now. Perhaps you’re a meeting planner charged with finding a business ethics speaker for your next convention.
Or you’re a compliance officer in an organization and are looking for someone to speak at your company’s annual Ethics Awareness Week.
Or you’re just curious about this unusual career choice.
I’m pleased to present to you three things that a business ethics speaker does and why meeting planners, C-suite executives, and others should care about this.
1. A business ethics speaker presents a new way of looking at success and failure in business.
For-profit businesses help people meet a need or desire they have. If they do it well, they earn a profit. Here’s a sample of recent headlines about business:
Microsoft Makes Skype for Business More Business like (Fortune)
Sears And Macy’s Need New Thinking — And One Of Them Is Getting It (Forbes)
Nestlé Drops Targets as Consumer Giants Struggle (The Wall Street Journal)
Many articles like the ones above discuss success and failure in terms of supply and demand, marketing skill, customer service, and similar economic and management criteria.
But there’s another way of looking at why some businesses succeed and others fail: the character of employees, hiring managers, and C-suite executives. That’s where a business ethics speaker can present a useful perspective. All it takes is one dishonest person to cause months of legal, financial, and PR nightmares for a company. And one honest person can help to avoid this.
Consider the story of Cari Dorman. Before she became senior vice president for strategy and business development at Xerox, Cari worked as an electrical engineer for a company that had been awarded a contract with the U.S. Navy. Her role was to develop a software program that would measure the likelihood that a transmitted electronic message had reached its intended target. Cari’s boss — I’ll call him Saul — asked her to change some data in her research because the results were not what Saul wanted or hoped they would be. Cari refused to make the changes.
“I knew that standing up to Saul might get me fired,” Cari told me. “But I asked myself, ‘What if my son were in the navy during a war, and he was relying on my software program for knowing whether a message he sent got through or not?’” With lives on the line, Cari was willing to risk her job for the sake of doing honest research. Her passion for the telling truth, her courage to be true to herself, and her commitment to preventing harm to others makes her one of the Good Ones—people whose high character consistently delivers positive results for their organizations.
A business ethics speaker draws attention to the role that character as well as competence plays in the success or failure of a business.
2. A business ethics speaker engages the audience.
“What is your biggest fear?,” I asked a meeting planner in the hospitality industry who had contacted me recently. He was as planning a meeting that would bring together several hundred C-suite executives from the corporation’s subsidiary companies to discuss how they could achieve their ambitious strategic goals in the coming years.
“I guess I’m worried that people will think it was a waste of time,” he said.
“Why would they think that?” I asked.
“Let’s just say that some of the speakers we’ve had put folks to sleep.”
I understand what he meant. It’s great to give the audience lots of useful information, but if the material is not presented in an engaging way, the session can be a colossal waste of time.
In one sense, it’s not the speakers’ fault that they’re focused too much on speaking and not enough on engagement. Many speakers at meetings don’t do this for a living. They’re sales managers, marketing experts, and other business leaders who are invited on occasion to present what they know to employees of the company. As such, they haven’t had training in the art of public speaking.
Looking back on my own graduate education, I’m shocked that we received a total of zero hours of instruction on how to speak effectively. This is bizarre, since everyone would eventually be called upon to present their work to a wide range of audiences. Getting a Ph.D. meant learning the subject matter well but not how to present effectively what we’ve learned to an audience in a classroom, boardroom, or convention center.
The key to a successful speech is keeping the audience engaged throughout the talk. This means stopping the presentation from time to time for small-group activities and individual writing exercises. Successful speakers don’t spew facts. They ask questions, which prompts listeners to become actively involved in the presentation. (I’ll admit I don’t like calling on people who haven’t raised their hands. It causes a lot of anxiety to many, so why do it?)
I love this quotation: “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I may remember. Involve me and I learn.”
This is often, but incorrectly, attributed to Benjamin Franklin. It is actually a reworking of a statement made by the Chinese Confucian philosopher Xun Kuang, who lived from 312-230 BC.
In any case, just as employee engagement is a crucial component of a business’s success, so is audience engagement a necessary aspect of a successful presentation.
3. A business ethics speaker doesn’t rely on a single keynote to cultivate a company’s ethical culture.
I’ve just suggested that a meeting planner’s fear of wasting people’s time could be alleviated by having an engaging speaker.
But suppose that the topic of the keynote is business ethics and leadership. Let’s further suppose that the speaker is fantastic, and the evaluations are all positive. “Best speaker I’ve heard in years!,” says one audience member. “Hurrah to the meeting planner for bringing in a terrific, engaging keynote speaker on business ethics!” says another. “This was a wise investment of my time,” says a third
You’d consider that a home run, right? A grand slam, even!
“Let’s just say that some of the speakers we’ve had put folks to sleep.”
But what if every single member of the audience went back to the office but failed to put a single lesson into practice? All of your hard work in putting together a meaningful event would ultimately be for naught.
That’s why, if the theme of the gathering is business ethics, a keynote isn’t enough. A keynote and a breakout session aren’t enough. If you really want to show everyone—employees, hiring managers, and C-suite executives alike—why cultivating an ethical culture is the key to long-term success, it’s crucial to have a follow-up meeting, 4-6 weeks after the conference
The business ethics speaker you’re looking for will ensure that the lessons from his or her keynote address will be brought to bear on the problems your company faces. High-character employees are the key to your company’s financial success, but how do you find such employees in the first place? What questions should you ask in job interviews to increase the likelihood that the candidate will be honest, accountable, and fair, among other things?
The business ethics speaker you want will tailor the lessons from his or her keynote to the specific problems your company faces and will work with you to make certain that the lessons from the keynote are put into practice.
Check my availability to present to your group here.