Article Category: Speechwriting

How to Use Quotes in Your Speech:
8 Benefits and 21 Tips


Every speech does not need quotations, but every speaker needs to know why, how, and when to use quotations in their speeches.

In this article, we examine eight benefits of using quotations in your speech, and then discuss twenty-one tips for superpowering your speech with effective quotes.

Rhetorical Devices Article Series

Benefits of Using Quotations in Your Speech

There are numerous benefits to crafting quotations into your speech, including:

  1. The primary reason to quote material in your speech is that it reinforces your ideas. A quotation offers a second voice echoing your claims, but is more powerful than simply repeating yourself in different words.
  2. Quotations usually offer a concise, memorable phrasing of an idea. (This is why the quotation gets remembered and repeated, isn’t it?)
  3. Using a quotation boosts your credibility because it implies that the person you are quoting agrees with the rest of your argument.
  4. Most people do not have the ability to spontaneous offer relevant quotes to support their statements. So, when you deliver a quotation, it demonstrates your domain knowledge and preparation.
  5. Quotations are one way to add variety to your logical arguments, along with facts, statistics, stories, metaphors, and other material. Audiences get bored if you offer a one-dimensional string of arguments of the same type.
  6. Depending on how you deliver the quotation, you can create anticipation, suspense, or drama. For example, if you begin “Microsoft founder Bill Gates once said…” followed by a pause, then your audience will surely anticipate your next words. What did he say? What did he say?
  7. Conversely, you might choose a quotation which adds humor to your presentation, due to the content of the quote or perhaps the person you are quoting.
  8. If you are delivering with visuals, you might choose to display the quotation on a slide and let your audience read it. This creates a natural and purposeful pause in your vocal delivery, allowing you to check your notes, take a sip of water, and collect your thoughts.

Tips for Using Quotations in Your Speech

Okay, you are convinced of the benefits of incorporating quotations into your speech. But how do you do it? Who should you quote? When should you give the quotation? Read on to discover numerous tips for using quotes effectively in your presentations.

Do your Research

  1. Make sure you get the phrasing correct.
    A quotation should boost your credibility, but quoting inaccurately weakens your credibility. A sloppy quotation makes you look lazy.
  2. Get a reliable source.
    Wikipedia doesn’t count. Your credibility is on the line.
  3. Beware quoting out-of-context.
    Be careful when quoting material on controversial topics. Make sure you understand the intent of the speaker, not only their words. A quotation taken out of context where you’ve garbled the meaning makes you look like you are deliberately misleading your audience.

Quote People Your Audience Knows

  1. Quote a well-known expert in the field.
    Don’t quote individuals based purely on their fame or success; base your decision on their expertise in the subject area you are talking about. Quote Aristotle on philosophy or Serena Williams on tennis — doing the opposite gets you in trouble.
  2. Quote a lesser-known expert in the field, but only with background context.
    If your desired quote comes from someone who your audience won’t immediately recognize, you’ll need to introduce the speaker and establish their credibility before delivering their quote.
  3. Quote an earlier speaker at your event.
    Suppose you are speaking at an event where an earlier speaker made some statements relevant to your message. Referring back to their words will not only impress your audience, but also capitalize on the earlier speaker’s effectiveness.
  4. Quote yourself (playfully).
    I’ve done this many times, and it’s always receives a positive audience response. One way I do this is to introduce a particularly important point as “Dlugan’s First Law of (whatever topic I’m speaking on)”

Use your own words to open and close; quote in the middle.

  1. Open your speech with a quote (sparingly).
    Starting with a quote can be effective, but don’t assume just any quotation will grab your audience’s attention. I’ve watched speakers open with a quotation that wasn’t very powerful, and even irrelevant to their content. There are usually more powerful ways to grab your audience’s attention.
  2. Avoid closing your speech with a quote.
    I have heard speeches end strong with a quotation, usually when the quote refers back to the beginning. However, I would not advise it generally. Your final words should be your own. Ending with a quote is often a sign that you don’t have confidence in your own words.
  3. Quotations work best in the body of your speech.
    The best time to introduce a quote is when you need more support for one of your arguments. One particularly effective time is near the end of a section. Reinforcing your arguments with a quotation brings good closure to your argument.

Draw attention to the quote through your delivery.

  1. The traditional formula is okay.
    Most quotations are introduced simply: Albert Einstein once said “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” This simple formula is clear, direct, and acceptable.
  2. Reading the quote from notes is okay.
    When possible, I would advise delivering the quote from memory. But sometimes, reading it can be better. If the quote is lengthy, for example, it’s better to read it to ensure you are accurate. Even a short quote can be read from notes effectively. I once saw a speaker who produced the note paper from his pocket, and was almost reverent as he read it. In this case, it could be argued that not reading it would have been disrespectful.
  3. Or, let your audience read the quote.
    If you are using visuals, you might choose to display the quotation. When you do this, do NOT read it to your audience. Let them read it. (Remember, you should never read material to your audience when they can see the words.) This technique has an added benefit: you can stylize the slide to add impact. For example, you might add a photo of the speaker, or perhaps use a font which conveys mood.
  4. Pause before and after.
    You should pause briefly before the quote (a little suspense, and to grab attention) and then a little longer after the quote (to allow the meaning of the quotation to be absorbed by your audience.) Give the quotation respect, and let its impact be felt.
  5. Spice up your vocal delivery.
    Of course, you should be varying your voice throughout your presentation. Just like other key statements in your speech, a quotation deserves a little extra vocal emphasis. Maybe louder, maybe softer. Maybe happier, maybe sadder. Let the mood of the quote guide your delivery.
  6. Set the context when necessary.
    Some quotations stand on their own, but other quotations won’t be effective unless you establish the context first. A quotation which has your audience guessing is a missed opportunity. Perhaps you need to give the historical context, or explain something about the life of the speaker. Make sure the quotation has maximum impact.

Use trustworthy sources.

  1. Quotation compilations keep quotes within arm’s reach.
    Every serious speaker should own at least one quotation compilation. (Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations is my personal favorite, ever since I first found a copy of a previous edition on my brother’s bookshelf 30 years ago.) A well-edited compilation provides several sort indices to help you find the perfect quote faster. An added benefit is that these types of sources should be trustworthy.
  2. Biographies of famous people in your field are also rich sources.
    For example, a biography on Steve Jobs is sure to have numerous quotable lines on his business philosophy. Like quotation compilations, biographies are generally trustworthy.
  3. Online quotation search engines offer unparalleled breadth.
    Quotation websites help you find quotations using a given keyword or spoken by a given person. It’s quick and easy, but the sources cannot always be trusted. Whenever I use these sources, I seek out a second source to verify. (Be careful, many quotation websites might use the same flawed source…)
Rhetorical Devices Article Series

Be selective.

  1. Don’t use a quote that everyone knows.
    If your audience has heard the quote before, you will receive virtually no benefit from repeating it.
  2. Don’t overdo it.
    There’s no rule about how many quotes you should use, but their effectiveness gets diluted if you use too many. Remember that your speech should primarily be told with your words, not someone else’s. Keep just the best quotes you found in your research, and trim the others.

What do you think?

How do you like using quotations in your speeches? Please share with others by adding a comment.

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Comments icon13 Comments

  1. Andrew:

    Excellent post. Doing your research is vital. In January I blogged about some people who quoted Penn State football coach Joe Paterno after he’d gone from famous to infamous:
    http://joyfulpublicspeaking.blogspot.com/2012/01/preparation-is-vital-before-using.html

    Yesterday I blogged about how two apparently startling statistics weren’t really that impressive:
    http://joyfulpublicspeaking.blogspot.com/2012/09/is-540-million-minutes-per-day-large.html

    Richard

  2. Great advice! I appreciate that you tell speakers to use quotations that we DON’T already know. Too often, speakers use tired quotations and it doesn’t add benefit to the presentation.

  3. Laurel Lewis says:

    Andrew, I am trying something a bit different with quotes for one of my advanced Toastmaster speeches,…the speech is about the importance of the words we say as told to me by an elderly friend of mine who is a survivor of Auschwitz. There are two powerful, but simple, quotes during the speech and I’ve decided to imitate my friend’s German accent to make the quotes more meaningful and memorable. I’ve never heard anyone in my club purposely use a different accent to make quotes in their speech stand out more. I’m interested to see how this will work.

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      Laurel:

      Generally, I think delivering the quote using an accent is a great idea. This makes it much more like storytelling and is one way to create a meaningful context for your audience.

      A couple things to consider:
      1) Practice. Make sure that adding an accent doesn’t prevent you from accurately quoting.
      2) Make sure that the quote is still clear with an accent. If your audience cannot understand the words, it will be less effective.

  4. the article is so helpful and clearly understandable.thumbs up.

  5. Great topic to post about Andrew, You make some really good points!

  6. Grant Wragg says:

    Definitely agree re:using quotes not everyone knows.
    You see the same quotes repeated to death on the internet – and esp. twitter (“you are what you repeatedly do”, anyone?) that the audience rolls their eyes and thinks ‘you prepared this?’ when they hear one in a talk.

  7. Thanks for the tips. I have just referenced your article in my blog post about using quotes in high-tech presentations.

  8. Thanks Andrew – I really enjoyed this post.

    It inspired me to come up with 6 more tips for using quotes: http://remotepossibilities.wordpress.com/2012/10/05/how-to-use-quotes-in-your-presentation-tips-six-minutes/

    Hope you find them helpful!

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      Thanks for extending the discussion, Craig.

  9. Lots of good points here. But I disagree about never using familiar quotes. In some cases, if you using a known quote to say something new or unexpected, it can be very effective, and often funny and memorable.
    P.S. #11 “stay” with problems longer. :)

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      Yes, if the known quote can be interpreted in a fresh way from a new perspective, then it may have value. Unfortunately, these common quotes are used predictably… and that’s boring.

      Thanks for the typo alert, Shelly. It has been fixed.

  10. Andrew: Great advice to not read the quote, but let the audience read the quote and then have the presenter comment on the quote and it’s meaning as it relates to the topic.

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OvationCommunication @ovationcomm — Oct 23rd, 2012

Today's Article: Using quotations when #presenting. A helpful how-to: http://t.co/UGQrtQMo Thanks @6minutes and @thinkingonrfeet!

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Helpful tips on using quotes in presentations: http://t.co/2s5xhrDH #leaders

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How to Use Quotes in Your Speech:8 Benefits and 21 Tips http://t.co/VanzeeUi

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Check out these rad tips on how to use quotes in your speeches http://t.co/op3AxrwQ #quotes #presentation

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@6minutes Quotes – 8 Benefits and 21 Tips for adding quotes to your #presentation. http://t.co/e9JTIVlU

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