By William Buist, PSA Ethics Officer
Back in 1980 I joined a professional organisation and was asked to agree to abide by their Code of Conduct. Since then, I’ve been striving to work as professionally, as responsibly and as decently as I can. That’s probably true for most of speakers and for anybody who’s a member of the Professional Speaking Association it is true today, too.
A Code of Conduct or Ethics isn’t just about setting a standard by which to abide. It’s an opportunity to create a broader sense of trust and certainty for all the people, audiences, bookers, clients, suppliers and the public who interact with any member of an organisation. That trust is critical to creating the reputation and unlocking opportunities for members of an association to be recognised for the standards defined. A Code of Ethics creates a consistency at a minimum level. Did you know that the PSA has such a Code of Ethics, which you have agreed to, as a paid up member?
Whilst it provides a certainty of a minimum standard that everybody should adhere to, a Code of Ethics can only do that if there is also a clear mechanism for dealing with those rare occasions when someone does not adhere. An effective, fair policy becomes a powerful marketing tool for members of the Association. I was talking to a Fellow of the PSA a few weeks ago who had just secured an important speaking opportunity. In the course of negotiating the gig, they’d been asked by the client for a copy of their Code of Conduct. The PSA’s Code of Ethics provided that standard – at no extra cost to the Fellow. The PSA’s website provides details of both the standards that we all agree to adhere to and the mechanism for raising a concern. The Fellow’s client felt significantly comforted by the presence of the Code and the process for independent review. The speaker won the gig, delivered professionally and everyone was happy.
In a situation where your client is making a choice of speaker based on having such a Code of Ethics and an unaffiliated speaker who does not, it provides another reason for you to be selected.
I was asked a couple of years ago to help develop a new Code of Ethics for the PSA and I have been the Association’s Ethics Officer since then. In that role I evaluate any concerns that are raised. There have been a few during that time and I think that’s healthy.
Most of the concerns raised have been due to misunderstandings, some unrelated to the PSA. Some have been more about clarifying how to respond to a situation professionally and in line with the Code. Most have been resolved quickly and easily by clarifying the position, or offering advice to the parties involved that has allowed a resolution to be reached.
We are a very diverse group, with keynote speakers, trainers, stand-up comedians, after dinner speakers, Masters of Ceremonies and more. Of course, most professional speakers will upset the status quo through their speaking in order to entertain, inform and engage their audiences. It’s not just as an acceptable approach, but an ethical and professional way to get your message across. The skills of the Fellows and Members of the PSA, the collective wisdom that is shared by us all to support the profession and to deliver value to the clients and audience we serve is second to none. Yet it is not referred to often enough or widely enough, particularly beyond the boundaries of the Association. We can’t control that, but we can influence it, not least when we are referring speakers (or the Association) to clients, bookers and our other connections. I know that when I make a referral, I am referring the particular speaker’s skills and their specialist knowledge; I am also referring my reputation. Referring members of the PSA to others, knowing that you will act in line with our Code of Ethics, should give us greater confidence to make the referral.
If you haven’t read the code of ethics lately, take a look here. Put a link in your email signature when you are emailing someone about your speaking or when making a referral, and when you meet a prospective member of the Association. It’s your Code, so use it to your advantage. If you have any questions about how you can use the Code, email me at [email protected].