May I Quote You On That?

Quotes in public speaking

Photo by Elijah Hiett on Unsplash

When teaching my students ways to open a presentation with a good “hook” to gain immediate audience interest, I tell them that using a quote is not at the top of my list.

Not that quotes are inherently bad, of course, but I’ve listened to many lazy speakers who haven’t taken the time to find a fresh quote that precisely fits their speech topic. Instead, they fall back on something that’s been overused; for instance: As Martin Luther King said, “I have a dream.”

Now that was a fitting and perfect repeated phrase for Dr. King’s August 28, 1963, speech for The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. In the six-page pdf version of the speech, the phrase isn’t used until the bottom of page four. But then “dream” is repeated eight more times. Dr. King emphasized that his dream for America was that the promises of democracy would become real for all people, regardless of race. Change was necessary. (And is still necessary.) King’s anaphoric use of “dream” was so appropriately positioned that this speech is referred to as the “I have a dream” speech.

For a speaker to borrow that legendary quote to lead us into a presentation on a “dream” vacation or a talk on a “dream” vocation, well, I find that disrespectful. Instead of hooking my interest, the speaker has gotten on my nerves.

With search capability online, there’s no need to be lazy about finding a perfect-fit quote to use in any presentation. And if you’re not online, there are library books waiting for you.

I like the site   It’s run by a non-profit called The Foundation for a Better Life.  They offer interesting options on many topics and there is a search capability.

As an example, if I were speaking on the aspect of employee loyalty, I might use this succinct quote by Grace Hopper, Computer Scientist and Naval Officer: Leadership is a two-way street, loyalty up and loyalty down. Respect for one’s superiors; care for one’s crew.

Or this one by much-admired motivational speaker and writer Stephen R. Covey: You can buy a person’s hands but you can’t buy his heart. His heart is where his enthusiasm, his loyalty is.

When using a quotation as your opening line, there is no need to “announce” it; just launch into it.

WRONG WAY:  I’d like to open my presentation on the value of meditation with a quote about breath by Dr. Robert Fulford. (Hit the snooze button, would you? And the speaker hasn’t even gotten to the quote yet.)

CORRECT WAY: “A life is defined by breath. You take your first breath when you’re born and your last the moment you die. Breath is the means by which you are connected to the universe.” (Then pause a moment.) This quote by Dr. Robert Fulford fell like music on my ears the first time I heard it. (Now repeat the quote again, then pause a second.) Let’s all take a deep breath and be thankful to be alive and connected to the universe. (You take a deep breath and smile warmly.)

Can you see/hear/feel how the correct way will draw your audience to you as well as to each other?

An opening quote should be short enough to be memorized so you don’t have to read it. And we always want to credit the author as well as say the quote a second time so it can really sink in and resonate with our audience.

And yes, you may indeed quote me on this.

9 thoughts on “May I Quote You On That?

    • Norma Thatcher says:

      You are so kind to give me feedback. You know, this is NOT what I was going to write about today. I was going to write about my own favorite quote. But these other words got in the way, and I was happy they did!

  1. Bill Thatcher says:

    One of my very most favorite quotes, is from my Dad, who used to always remind us that: “There is a pay-day”, and to which I add: “God keeps the accurate records”, to remind me when I see all of the dishonesty and shenanigans that go on in this world, particularly by politicians, it gives me peace to know that I don’t have to seek revenge or get even with anyone!!! That’s God’s job and I never need to tell Him how to conduct his business.

    • Norma Thatcher says:

      It’s timely for you to write this–Just yesterday at church I was the lector and the reading from Exodus contained God’s reminder for us not to seek revenge. That’s not up to us.

  2. Betsy says:

    As you and I, Norma, discussed recently, many of us have already been “public speakers” but truly have no idea we’ve done such. The more you write on the subject the more I am reminded of times I spoke to the “public” but have forgotten until something you say reminds me of one of those instances. This blog has jogged one of my memories from the mid 1990s. When I was working for a community hospital, I had to make a presentation. I have to be truthful and say I cannot remember anything about that speech or its purpose other than the “quote” I used and that I did not use it as an opener but more towards the end as I recall. The words were actually from a song and had to do with the dramatic changes which were taking place in healthcare at that time, particularly in regard to the medical transcription profession, and continue to this day. Maybe you and some of your readers are already thinking of those words, which are also the title of the song “The Times They Are A-Changin” by Bob Dylan from 1964. Thanks once again, my friend, for jogging that old memory of mine!

  3. Judy Jones says:

    Your blog is amazing and always triggers a memory. Thank you!
    At a funeral service, the minister talked about the name of God. Yahweh, originally had no vowels and was meant to be unspoken. But he said that is the name of God that we say with out first breath and our last. Now breathe in and out and it truly does sounds like “Yahweh”!
    Love you Norma <3

    • Norma Thatcher says:

      What a beautiful sentiment. It’s makes deep breathing an even more peaceful practice. Thanks so much for sharing this.

  4. Kathy says:

    My friend, I’m still trying to catch up with reading your wonderful blogs and again , this was a great one.

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