Point: The ends justify the means. Anything the speaker and client
agree to is ethical. Most speakers work in a free market economy,
where the market governs through those who hire and pay speakers.
So Tom Peters is paid $85,000 for a speech and another speaker is
paid less than $1,000 for a similar speech. The market decides.
Also, embellishing a story if the result makes your point and inspires
your audience can be ethical. The distinction between “
embellishing” and telling a total untruth is clear to professional speakers.
Counterpoint: The ends do not always justify the means. A recent
example is the author whose memoir turned out to not be a memoir at all. The book was still a good book, and the story had apparently helped many people. The point was made by some that
because of this, the end justifying the means, the fact that it was
not a memoir was inconsequential. Many people disagreed with
Counterpoint: Of course one can negotiate fees, as long as there is
a client willing to pay that fee. Additionally, one can ethically negotiate fees as long as one has good reasons. For example, is it ethical to
negotiate fees at certain times of the year, such as when a speaker’s
calendar needs bookings, as in July and August?
What ethical standard applies here, other than the speaker
needs bookings? Is it ethical to provide basically the same presentation to different audiences in the same geographical area in the
same general time period for significantly different fees? What are
“significantly different fees?” Hundreds of dollars,
Ethical guidelines some speakers use
include: a discounted local rate; a discounted rate when other financially
lucrative options are available, including product sales; or a lower fee
structure for groups with lower budgets, such as non-profits and educational groups.
Is the speaker most accountable to the meeting
planner who hires the speaker or the audience?
Point: The speaker is most accountable to the one who pays
the bill or writes the check, figuratively or literally. The meeting
planner is the hiring agent, the one to whom the speaker is
Counterpoint: The speaker is accountable to both, the audience
as well as the meeting planner, and is usually able to satisfy both.
When that is not possible, the speaker should choose to meet the
audience’s needs over satisfying the meeting planner.
Are there ethical issues involved in a speaker accepting a
speaking engagement, knowing she is likely to be used by the
client in ways that are not in the audience’s best interest? What
obligation does the speaker have to refuse such, even when
doing so loses business? If the speaker can still deliver a good presentation in spite of the internal politics, is there an ethical issue
Is fee integrity an ethical issue?
Point: Fee integrity is an ethical issue. One should never negotiate
fees. This perspective makes no allowance for client-budget constraints or a speaker’s willingness to discount fees for other potential benefits.