When teaching my students ways to open a presentation with a good “hook” to gain immediate audience interest, I tell them that using a quote is not at the top of my list.
Not that quotes are inherently bad, of course, but I’ve listened to many lazy speakers who haven’t taken the time to find a fresh quote that precisely fits their speech topic. Instead, they fall back on something that’s been overused; for instance: As Martin Luther King said, “I have a dream.”
Now that was a fitting and perfect repeated phrase for Dr. King’s August 28, 1963, speech for The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. In the six-page pdf version of the speech, the phrase isn’t used until the bottom of page four. But then “dream” is repeated eight more times. Dr. King emphasized that his dream for America was that the promises of democracy would become real for all people, regardless of race. Change was necessary. (And is still necessary.) King’s anaphoric use of “dream” was so appropriately positioned that this speech is referred to as the “I have a dream” speech.
For a speaker to borrow that legendary quote to lead us into a presentation on a “dream” vacation or a talk on a “dream” vocation, well, I find that disrespectful. Instead of hooking my interest, the speaker has gotten on my nerves.
With search capability online, there’s no need to be lazy about finding a perfect-fit quote to use in any presentation. And if you’re not online, there are library books waiting for you.
I like the site Values.com. It’s run by a non-profit called The Foundation for a Better Life. They offer interesting options on many topics and there is a search capability.
As an example, if I were speaking on the aspect of employee loyalty, I might use this succinct quote by Grace Hopper, Computer Scientist and Naval Officer: "Leadership is a two-way street, loyalty up and loyalty down. Respect for one’s superiors; care for one’s crew."
Or this one by much-admired motivational speaker and writer Stephen R. Covey: "You can buy a person’s hands but you can’t buy his heart. His heart is where his enthusiasm, his loyalty is."
When using a quotation as your opening line, there is no need to “announce” it; just launch into it.
WRONG WAY: I’d like to open my presentation on the value of meditation with a quote about breath by Dr. Robert Fulford. (Hit the snooze button, would you? And the speaker hasn’t even gotten to the quote yet.)
CORRECT WAY: “A life is defined by breath. You take your first breath when you’re born and your last the moment you die. Breath is the means by which you are connected to the universe.” (Then pause a moment.) This quote by Dr. Robert Fulford fell like music on my ears the first time I heard it. (Now repeat the quote again, then pause a second.) Let’s all take a deep breath and be thankful to be alive and connected to the universe. (You take a deep breath and smile warmly.)
Can you see/hear/feel how the correct way will draw your audience to you as well as to each other?
An opening quote should be short enough to be memorized so you don’t have to read it. And we always want to credit the author as well as say the quote a second time so it can really sink in and resonate with our audience.
And yes, you may indeed quote me on this.
This post was contributed by Norma Thatcher, founder of Lifted Up. It originally appeared on her blog here. You can learn more about public speaking training opportunities by visiting her website.