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Using Quotations Effectively
By Idea - Bank   Printer Friendly Version

Ask any professional speechwriter and he will tell you that most people in an audience will forget 90 percent of a speech by the morning after it is delivered. But amazingly, people in the same audience can repeat a well-chosen quotation or humorous item from a speech -- sometimes as long as several years later.

If a quotation exactly reinforces the point you want to make, it is almost impossible to misuse it. However, there are simple techniques you can use to make quotations blend into your natural language in a seamless way. Here are a few of them:

Problem: The quotation is terrific but it is by someone you or the audience never heard of. President Bush once told his speechwriter, "Don't ever give me any more quotations by that guy Thucydides."

Solution: Simply say, "An ancient Greek historian once said," etc. Or "A wise man once said," etc. Once you have decided not to use the author's name precisely, feel free to paraphrase or modernize the language to make your use of it completely natural.

Problem: How many quotations can I use in a speech without it sounding odd?

Solution: The answer to that is similar to Lincoln's answer when he was asked how long a person's legs should be. He replied, "Long enough to touch the ground."

When you want to drive a point home, a relevant quotation is a memorable way to do it. When you want to rekindle the audience's attention, a quotation that will shake up the audience a little is a good way to do it, again only if it is relevant.

One of America's most gifted speakers and writers is John Gardner, a former cabinet official and founder of "Common Cause." He once gave a speech to a group of management consultants on the subject of "personal renewal" and used 21 separate quotations in the process. But all of them were folded into his remarks so skillfully that they seemed perfectly bonded to his own language.

Problem: Do I have to use the entire quotation?

Solution: No. You might decide to use just a word or two to make your point. In a speech about declining educational standards in America, you might say something like: "As the comedian Steve Allen recently said, this 'dumbing down of America' strikes at the very foundations of our nation."

The IdeaBank Quotations file is filled with quotations loaded with wisdom, humor, advice and inspirational language to make your speeches and articles truly memorable. Put them to use!

©1999 IdeaBank

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