A Purdue University student walked into a public relations class wearing a T-shirt that read, “You can never relive a party, but you can always retake a class.” I’ve gotten lots of smiles from people in my audiences as I’ve used that quotation over the past several months. I didn’t coin it, but the saying still came from my speech and the audience connected it to me. You can even see me make a point with this quotation at Retake a Class.
You don’t have to be an expert wordsmith to have clever or humorous content. When people can express ideas better or more creatively than you, quote them! Michel de Montage said, “I quote others only the better to express myself.” That thought is why the speaker should look for quotations that he or she can use to increase the value of content as well as motivating the audience to pay attention to the thought expressed from the quotation.
You can find great quotations in all kinds of places if you are simply alert to opportunities. On a sightseeing bus in Australia a number of years ago, the driver at the first break encouraged us to be back on time, saying, “The difference between a passenger and a hitchhiker is about two minutes.” I use this line in presentations to emphasize the importance of humor even in serious matters.
A sign on the front door of the Malibu Seafood Restaurant reads, “The reason we don’t open for breakfast is we’re out catching lunch.” This quotation has helped me support the point that we should use positive language whenever possible.
Quotations can help you paint pictures with words and create an orality that you might not be able to do on your own. Dr. Kenneth Cooper said, “Walk your dog twice a day, even if you don’t have one.” That made a great impression on me as to the importance of walking for a healthier life style. On the horrors of war, Robert E. Lee said, “It is well that war is so terrible lest we should grow too fond of it.”
You know that relating to people is crucial in any career, but Aldous Huxley dramatized the thought when he said, “It is a little embarrassing that after 45 years of research and study, the best advice I can give to people is to be a little kinder to each other.”
Identify your area of expertise and look for quotations on the topic. My area is public speaking and effective listening. I’m always on the lookout for quotations that have punch for my audiences. In talking about the difference in written and oral style in my presentations, I use the statement from William Norwood Brigance, “A speech is not an essay on its hind legs.” On the importance of effective listening, Voltaire said, “When you listen, you have power. When you talk, you give it away.” Earl Nightingale said about stage fright: “Getting up to give a speech, you may feel like you are in the terminal stages of some type of tropical fever.”
Finally, quotations help you get your message into the minds of the audience. As James Thurber wrote, “A word to the wise is not sufficient if it doesn’t make sense.”
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, in the Cincinnati area. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. See additional articles and resources at www.sboyd.com. He can be reached at 800-727-6520 or through his website.