Using Quotations

A misplaced or misused quote can be a distraction to your audience.

Quotations! Are you a grateful user or a woeful abuser?  All speakers use quotations for different reasons in their presentations. When placed and used correctly, quotes can achieve the intended effect the speaker seeks. Ironically, just as a quote is often referred to as the price you pay for goods and services, speakers should also be mindful that they pay dearly when quotations are perceived to be misused or abused. Speakers often add quotes in three main areas of their speeches. The most common placements are at the opening of their presentation. When closing to drive home their message. To add credibility to their point of view. Or to reinforce their message. The speaker should also ensure that the focus remains on you and your message, not the person you quoted.

Speakers must remember that when quoting an author or speaker, they are repeating the words taken from an author’s work or a speaker’s speech. As such, two rules should always be maintained. First, the speaker should repeat the quotation as it was precisely written or said.  Second, credit must be given to the author or speaker you are referencing. Break any of those two rules, and your credibility with your audience is destroyed.  No one, dead or alive, likes to be misquoted. A misplaced or misused quote can be a distraction to your audience. Your selection should also be timely, relevant, and well-known to your audience.

Opening with a quotation gives a speaker the latitude to introduce and develop their topic.  A witty introduction can break an audience’s icy steers. A quotation can help a speaker grab their audience’s attention. Quotes can also protect you should anyone take exception to your quote. One technique is to bring the person you are quoting to the platform as your backup. In the minds of the audience, you are not the one speaking. The person mentioned is: Here is an example – Perhaps your presentation is about doctors who keep you waiting even when you have an appointment. Your opening statement can be: Humorist Erma Bombeck suggests “never using a doctor whose plants have died in the waiting room.” You then shift from the person quoted to yourself with a comment or tagline: My first thoughts are always – “Thank God I am not one of their plants.” Immediately, you shift your audience’s attention back to you, the speaker. Also, be sure your audience knows where your quote ends and your words begin. Don’t leave your audience in limbo.

Closing with a quotation is an excellent way to drive home your message. Many presenters use the words of speakers who are no longer with us. A speaker like Sir Winston Churchill, who rallied a nation when the world was at war, is a popular choice.  His words to this day, still inspire audiences to – never give up and to never give in, even in their darkest moments. But it’s always a good idea to revisit your opening statement before closing with a quote.  Elizabeth Dole, in her book – My 500 Favorite Inspirational Quotations, reminded me of the importance of a call to action when closing with this story about Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was leaving church one Sunday morning and was asked what he thought of the minister’s sermon. “The minister had a strong voice and a good delivery,” said Lincoln. “But he forgot the most important part of the sermon. He forgot to ask us to do something great.” The lesson – inspire your audience to take action or do something significant before closing with a quotation.

How and when you introduce the words of others to reinforce your ideas, message, or point of view is also crucial. Instead of saying:  Mr. X. or Mrs. Y said XYZ, a better introduction to the quotation could be: As Mr. X or Mrs. Y have often said. In the immortal words of the great Mr. X or Mrs. Y.  Or, today, I echo the words of Mr. or Mrs. Y.  Whenever the opportunity presents itself, using the author or speaker’s voice when delivering their quote often adds a nice touch to your presentation. The flow of your speech should not be disrupted. Your transitions to your selection should be smooth, continuous, and seamless as you proceed with your presentation.  

Every speaker has their favorite quotes. Some are soundbites or stories they wished they were the first to have said.  Over the years, world champions Darren LaCroix and Lance Miller encouraged me to keep a collection of my isms – Henry isms, and I now have quite a collection. Today, I encourage you to do the same.  Someday one of your isms may be just as well-known as one of Aristotle’s, Steve Job’s, or Mia Angelo’s.  My friends, it takes some of us a while to figure out that every speech does not need a quotation.  But if you decide to use one, ensure the person you’re quoting is recognizable, well-liked, and appropriate as you deliver their words of wisdom with gratitude and the reverence their quotation deserves.

Author: HenryOMiller

Henry joined Toastmasters in 1997. He is presently a member of 4 Toastmasters clubs; two in Santa Cruz and two in San Jose. He is a DTM-4. Henry is an executive speech coach, humorist, and speechwriter. He is also a musician and a lyricist​ whose speechwriting approach is similar to his approach to songwriting.

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