What If You Had Gumption and Ethics in the Time of Corona?

What If You Had Gumption and Ethics in the Time of Corona?
Published Speaker Magazine October 2021


Ethics are more than a required box to check in our professional credentials. They represent our branded promise of trustworthy expertise. They offer a bedrock of guidance toward success. They establish or destroy reputations.

Think about ethical challenges you face and brainstorm solutions as you step up ethically.

Ethics in the Time of Corona

In times of a pandemic crisis, our guts may be silenced, overwhelmed, or confused. Routines, contracts, models, financial funnels, calendars, and teams have been disrupted. Desperation, anxiety, depression, isolation, and fear erode our lifestyle, confidence, security, and even competence. In short, our ethical foundations are tested.

  • Are You Ethical?

When asked, almost everyone says they are ethical. How can this be when each of us faces tough choices in the ethical gray zones, especially in times of crisis? Accidental or not, due to ignorance, arrogance, fatigue, desperation, or ego, ethical blunders happen even to speakers who strive to be ethical.

At first, the pandemic abruptly herded speakers onto online platforms. We groomed, dressed, bought high-tech cameras and microphones, and spiffed up our backgrounds as we mastered the art of speaking and connecting within a rectangle. We grappled with the mirky ethical zones of lying or pretending to be in impressive places vs openly sharing our green screen magic.

Day after day, month after month, we became so accustomed to being recorded that we dropped our guard. Manners slipped, professionalism faded, and intimate, less-respectful personal ways of communicating snuck into our professional styles. Collegiality and respect seemed to wane. We witnessed folks being unkind, pointing out errors as if they were accusations, and openly competing with the speaker, upstaging them with unprofessional criticism and complaints.

Too often, speakers either remained uncharacteristically silent or spoke up harshly.

  • Did we fail to recognize ethical mis-steps and were thus rendered speechless?
  • Did we know what, when, where, and how to say and do?
  • How did you step up during a recent ethical crisis?
  • Did you reference one of the National Speakers Association (NSA) Code of Professional Ethics: 1. Representation, 2. Professionalism, 3. Research, 4. Intellectual Property, 5. Respect and Collegiality, 6. Confidentiality, 7. Business Practices, and 8. Diversity? (https://nsaspeaker.org/code-of-ethics/)
  • Did anyone help you out?


Four Reputation-Killers

During the COVID19 pandemic, I noticed a quartet of common ethical blunders, reputation-killers for emerging and seasoned speakers.

  1. Online Misbehavior
  2. Unprofessional Social Media Posts and Responses
  3. Storytelling Blunders
  4. Lowered Standards and Expectations

1st Solution: Speak out and step up as a leader.

Online Misbehavior. It’s tempting to let ourselves and others off the hook for ethical mis-steps. as it’s easy, for example, to write an unkind private chat and send it to everyone in error. But is it ethical to trash another speaker privately during a meeting or ever? Nope. It’s not respectful, collegial, or professional.

  • Why are we misbehaving so publicly?

On the stage, it’s obvious that all eyes, ears, and video recorders are tuned to us. Still, how many of us have forgotten to silence our lavalier mics?

Online, we are lulled into false comfort by the feeling of home as we sit in at our computers. In our intimate settings, some forget that private whispers are global shouts that last forever. Video recordings and social media posts live on.

  • Have you been in a virtual meeting and heard or read chat comments that lowered your view of a speaker’s standing?
  • Have you lowered your own reputation by making this mistake?
  • When you see a fiery social media exchange, will you criticize the efforts of others, or leverage your professionals by calling respectful communications?

2nd Solution. Inspire civility in social media posts and responses.

Unprofessional, Hateful, Rude, and Social Media Posts and Responses Unsupported by Facts. Even NSA speakers have been known to initiate or contribute to unprofessional, hateful, and baseless reputation-attacking posts. As with a traffic accident, we are grimly glued to the events as if entertained. Engrossed in our keyboards, we distance ourselves and engage in ways we would never consider doing or saying in person.

  • Have you been shocked by social media posts and responses?

More shocking is the paucity of speakers attempting to inspire civility in these unseemly discussion chains. A colleague once called for civility in a particularly vitriolic exchange. Surprising is that theirs was the only voice of reason.

Civility demands respect for all persons and listening to understand with an active application of a diversity mindset.

When facing a crisis event, it’s easy to react instead of responding. It is essential to manage spikes in emotions in ourselves and others, and to hone the communication skills required to be impactful speakers.

  • Will you inspire civility or remain silent?
  • What will you say and do during the next murky ethical situations?

3rd Solution. When in doubt, be original.


Storytelling Blunders. Storytelling blunders abound. Human nature lends itself to forgetting the authors of stories, ideas, images, and models.


When referencing others’ work, give credit and cite sources. An old NSA bit of lore serves as a cautionary tale for us all. The first time we tell a story, we cite it properly. The second time, we don’t. The third time, the story has become ours. Even the best of us coin a phrase or write a lyric that turns out to have been authored by another professional. Innocent mistakes happen. What we do next matters most.


The simplest way to avoid veering into the world of pretending, lying, and stealing is to be original. Original speakers shine authentically.


  • Where do you draw the line between referencing others’ work and stealing material?
  • How much of your content is original?
  • Are you generous and consistent in crediting and citing others?


4th Solution. Have gumption.

Lowered Standards and Expectations (Because Times are Tough). Recently, a client faced a dilemma. A troublesome employee with a unique talent was allowed to stay because their services were critical to the functioning of the business. Stretched thin with pandemic workforce shortages, leadership set aside nagging feelings that this person was not to be trusted. Instead of distancing from or firing them, leadership included this person in their inner circle, sharing personal thoughts, feelings, insights, and wishes that would make any Human Resources professional or lawyer cringe.

When it became obvious that this person was causing harm by creating discord via false rumors and sabotage, the saboteur was let go.

This individual soon threatened the company with a skewed lawsuit, presenting personal knowledge of events in the worst possible light. The lowering of standards harmed morale and cost the company big money.

  • How have you experienced a version of this story, personally or professionally?
  • Are your perceptions skewed because of need, stress, fear, or fatigue?
  • Ask yourself if the people you are counting on are trustworthy?

Cherished and trustworthy advisers are essential if we are to maneuver ethical, legal, and sociocultural challenges. They help steer around our biases, guide our gumption, and help us avoid rash decisions.

  • Who are your advisors?
  • Do you hinder them by not telling them the truth or do you use them wisely?

Bottom Line

If you practice gumption and strengthen your ethical muscles, you can thrive as a speaker. Even better together, we can raise the reputation of the speaking industry.

About Dr. Red Shoe solves people problems so leaders can bring out the best in everyone through conflict, crisis, and ethical challenges. Contact Margarita Gurri, PhD, CSP | +1-954-609-9904 ET | Margarita@DrRedShoe.com | author: The Ethical Speaker | host: The Rabbi and The Shrink: Everyday Ethics Unscripted | For more information on Dr. Red Shoe’s business, check out: https://www.DrRedShoe.com