Find It in an Obituary!

Great sources for new material in your next presentation can come from unusual places–such as obituaries!

I’ve always sought to find in nonfiction books original or creative stories or information that I might adapt to a particular speech, but my wife introduced me to the obituary as an additional source. She shared with me an unusual obituary she found in our local newspaper. The account was short, regarding the life of an 89-year-old lady from Covington, Kentucky. The statement that took my breath away was this: “Survived by many, remembered by few.” 

One can’t help but speculate on how this sad commentary came to be included in the obit. Perhaps the woman had requested the line before she died. Or maybe one of the few who did remember wanted to remind those who knew her that they had pretty much ignored her in life. Whatever the source, this piece of nonfiction could be applied to several components of human relations, including the importance of giving attention to our senior relatives and friends.

Audience members are attracted to material they have not heard before, and this is tough considering the ease of finding information on the Internet. To keep your material fresh, seek out unusual sources for material besides the usual sources such as biographies. Think of what intrigues you and might interest others.

Strolling through a cemetery has given me ideas for illustrations, including epitaphs on tombstones or drawings, such as a page from a hymnal, carved into the stone. Recently we found Bud Light Cans on each side of a gravestone.  One can only speculate on the significance of those.

Guides on tours of significant landmarks provide captivating lectures to share. As we passed through a small town in Alaska, the guide informed us that law enforcement agents used to check out the town occasionally because the place was so removed from civilization. When satellite television reception arrived there, several arrests were made in response to “America’s Most Wanted.”

Pick up a brochure when you visit a landmark. I learned much about Kentucky Bourbon from brochures while touring the Bourbon Trail in central Kentucky. When chatting with older people, ask what their childhood was like.

Seek information about a topic when you meet an expert on a given subject.  I learned much about coffee beans in talking to a key executive in charge of purchasing coffee for a large manufacturing company. Keep a pen and paper close by when you are watching a movie. Dialogue from the movie sometimes has great quotations you can use in a speech. For example, in the 1992 movie, A League of Their Own, Tom Hanks, as manager of the team says, “It’s supposed to be hard. If it weren’t hard, everyone would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great.”  I’ve used this quote for years.    

Another classic quotation I still use was from a homeless man I met in the Bowery of New York City. I told him where I was from and that we were sightseeing.  His response: “Ten years ago I came to see the sights, and now I am one of the sights.” 

Don’t limit your sources for thought-provoking information for your next presentation. You may find a memorable line in a simple conversation—or in an obituary.


Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at

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