Your Quotable Quotes

Relevant, Relatable, and Repeatable my three R’s when selecting quotes

Quotations can add life and luster to your narrative when used effectively. They can provide credibility, a fresh voice, and new perspectives to your point of view. Conversely, if used ineffectively, they can clutter your presentation, interrupt your flow, and distract your audience from focusing on your message.

After carefully selecting a quote to use in your presentation, you should ask yourself, is my quote relevant, relatable, and repeatable? If the answer is yes to all three questions, you have completed the first test of the selection process.  When your selection is relevant, relatable, and repeatable, you must then decide how, when, and where that selection will fit to add credibility, life, and luster to your story or message. I call Relevant, Relatable, and Repeatable my three R’s when selecting quotes.

I agree; there is nothing you will ever say in your lifetime that has not already been said by someone, somewhere, and at some time.  There is nothing new under the sun. However, I believe in our spontaneous everyday human interactions; we spew wisdom and quotable quotes that naturally creep into our communication with others. Some are bits of knowledge, quotes, and phrases that are appealing to the ear.  We seldom take note of those “isms”   until we hear those same expressions we have used for years in a book, song, or text by someone famous. How often have you said, if only I “would-er,” I “should-er,” I “could-er.”  

Phrases with good ear appeal come naturally to many, but few write them down. When we use our own words of wisdom in our presentations, they are remembered long after leaving the platform. When your audience can relate to your repeatable phrase, like a haunting song, even if they wish to forget what they heard, they can’t. Therefore, speakers should strive to have a few ear-appealing phrases in their speeches. Some call them soundbites. Others refer to them as quotable quotes. To name just a few, “Read my lips.” – “no pain, no gain.” and this “Yogism” – “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

A question often asked is, how much is too much when selecting a quote?  While you should try to present your own words as much as possible, you should cite only the most memorable parts of the source you have selected. Once you have carefully chosen a quote, make sure you have an appropriate setup and follow-up. What precedes and follows the insertion of your selection are just as crucial as your quotation.

Next, you must decide how to weave that quotation into your text. Think of the quotation as the books between your bookends. Your quote is supported by your setup on one side and your follow-up on the other. If one side provides too much or too little support, everything collapses. Again, I must stress that the quote must be relevant to the context preceding and following your selection. If it does not fit, it is better to quit. Move on. The setup and follow-up are just as important or even more critical than the quote you selected.

When using the words of others, get out of the habit of saying “he or she said.” Instead, use a verb to give a voice to the person you are quoting. The person spoken about can become the person speaking; when you use instead, he/she declared, proclaimed, suggested, exclaimed, complained, or remarked. And, this is where it gets a bit tricky for speakers. How do you provide a citation for your quotation? All quotations and paraphrases require a formal source.

Regardless of who you are quoting, give them their due.  One of my favorite references in my everyday communication is: “In the immortal words of the great Marvin Gaye – what’s going on.”  I also love this bit of wisdom from John Lennon: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” But, of course, my favorite sources of quotable quotes will always be the Holy Bible and the songwriters of the seventies, eighties, and nineties.  Listen to the lyrics of many of those songs, and you too will discover a treasure trove of quotable quotes.

Since your speaking is about your perspective, it is a good idea to start quoting yourself. All the great ones do it. Why bring the wisdom and language of others to the platform and let their language and works usurp yours? When you are on the platform, give yourself the permission and liberty to be yourself. First, think of the context that will make your quotation relevant and relatable to your presentations. Remember the three R’s when selecting. Next, think about how you can weave and produce that same message with your own words. Finally, let your audience know who is speaking, and for sure, they will soon be repeating your quotable quotes. And yes, you can quote me on that!

Author: HenryOMiller

Henry joined Toastmaster in March of 1997. He is presently a member of five clubs in the Santa Cruz and San Jose area. Henry is an executive speech coach, humorist, and speechwriter. He is also a musician and a lyricist​ who likes to approaches his speechwriting similar to his approach to songwriting.