When To Use Quotes in Public Speaking

When giving a speech or presentation, it’s a good skill to know how and how often one should employ quotes from others. You want your material to be original, so some speakers get nervous about referencing another’s statement or idea. But if used correctly, quoting an expert is almost always a boon to a presentation. Showing that others of significance are like-minded on your subject can build credibility. Additionally, experts in their fields or who have succeeded in developing their own brands normally enjoy being quoted–as long as proper credit is given.

It’s hard to go wrong using quotes and then adding one’s own points, experiences, and perspectives. This tells an audience, I’m practiced and insightful, like the individuals I’m quoting. Quotes with attribution can help add a high-impact element to your content mix. At the very least, you can tell your audience what the quote means to you. That’s where you make it clear that no one but you could have originated the presentation you’re giving. Also, it’s an opportunity to be creative and show your audience how they can bring their own perspective to an idea made famous by someone else. The best speakers are those that can help people make ideas practical and meaningful to them individually. If you can apply well-known ideas to an individual’s unique circumstances and desires, you’ll be well-received.

Now let’s look at how quotes should be delivered. Good speakers know that unless you’re giving a formal speech, your content should never be written word for word or even memorized word for word. However, it’s perfectly normal and acceptable to read quotes. Obviously, a quote with few words can be recited, but even then you may read it verbatim from notes. This way your audience knows you want to make sure the quote is accurate and exactly how it’s originator intended it to be.

In the whole business of quoting others, the subject of overdoing it needs to be addressed. If you quote too often, your audience may begin to wish all these smart and interesting people being cited were there giving the talk instead of you. So quote away, but make the majority of the talk your own ideas. Also, if a speech is predominantly quotes from others, an audience may begin to think you’ve little or nothing original to contribute. Quoting authorities and research is appropriate, but overkill is just that. Not to worry though, there’s a happy middle, it’s called “balance.” Yes, certainly quote others in moderation, and always give credit when you do. It not only shows humility, but also demonstrates that you keep abreast of the relevant thinking of experts.

If you’re still uncertain as to whether or not quoting is something you should do, consider this. If a speaker never utilizes the knowledge and expertise of others, one might begin to wonder if he or she comes up with all the answers alone or is just “borrowing” from others. Borrowing, of course, is actually stealing if proper credit is not given.

You may be asking, so should quotes always be used? That depends on what kind of talk you’re giving. If you’re there to entertain, then people want original material. It’s never a good thing to try to mimic entertainment–you can quote, but you can rarely replicate style and delivery. Also, in the realm of entertainment and even a lot of motivational speaking, quotes are often tightly tied to another’s brand. In that case, you need to be careful about using material that isn’t yours, even if you give credit. Positive Thinking Quotes

But if you’re a trainer, teacher, or an expert on a certain topic, then your work is going to be based a lot on research done by others. Quoting for these kind of presentations is expected and in some cases even required. This will actually add value to your material because it shows you’ve researched other experts and have gained knowledge and wisdom from them. This is especially true if you’re teaching a sales method like internet marketing.

One final concern many have over quoting is using material that cannot be properly credited. One rule of thumb is that it’s nearly impossible to go wrong when quoting something that’s been published in writing. After all, the publisher is responsible for making sure their authors are not plagiarizing. But grabbing quotes from some speaker you’ve heard somewhere is another story. Sometimes it’s hard to find the actual origins of certain quotes or ideas. For obvious reasons, utilizing such material could get a person in trouble.

Many ambitious speakers have stood before audiences and quite deliberately pawned another’s statements or ideas off as their own. Say you were listening to a speaker doing this and had no idea that’s what was happening. You write down a few things and then later when giving your presentation, quote this person. Now you’re quoting a quote thief! In another scenario, say you asked a speaker about a certain quote and he or she tells you it was drawn elsewhere, but does not remember where. In such a case, what would be your credit strategy? The bottom line is, if you don’t know for sure, do your research before quoting. And if you really want to use a quote but are unsure of its origins, you can always say, I don’t know who said this, but I love this quote: ___. By doing this, you’re showing humility and professionalism, and who knows, someone in the audience may be able to tell you.


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