Want to make your next speech more powerful? Use superb quotations and use them well. In this article, I will share 20 of my favorite quotations for beginning and professional speakers. And I will tell you when and how to use them.
But before we get into these specific sayings, here are a few introductory suggestions for using quotations when you are a keynote speaker, giving an inspirational message, annual report, sales presentation, after-dinner talk, Sunday sermon, teaching lesson, or any speech you are preparing.
- Use no more than 3 to 5 quotations in your speech.
Remember that a quotation is like seasoning on a fine meal. Don’t overuse quotations in your talk. That’s like dumping an entire saltshaker worth of salt on top of your meal. Think of quotes as delicious flavor additives, not the main dish.
- Avoid using quotes that are already well known to your audience.
The real (secret) power of a great quotation is its ability to surprise your listeners.
- Take the time to find the ideal quotes for your talk.
Go deeper than a google search. Read inspiring books, check out relevant articles, visit your local bookstore or library. Keep a journal and collect the sayings, proverbs, quotations, and bits of wisdom that move your heart and mind.
- Whenever possible, cite the source of your quotation.
Give credit where credit is due. And be sure your source is accurate. You will lose credibility if you quote George Washington as an expert on social media! If you cannot track down the original source of your quote, you can simply say, “It has been said…”
- Make sure your quotations support your main message.
Sometimes it’s tempting to sneak a great quip or quote into your talk because you love it. First decide if it’s apt for what you want to communicate.
Here Are 20 of the Best Quotations for Your Next Speech
Use One of These Great Quotes When You Want to…
Quoting a comedian, famous wit, ancient proverb, or even a child’s wisdom can generate an instant laugh during your presentation. And trust me, your audience wants to laugh! Here’s the key: Pause before and after you share the funny quotation or short joke. A humorous quotation will surprise, shock, exaggerate, and often convey a tough truth in a way that delights.
“If you’re looking for a helping hand, there’s one at the end of your arm.”
Make them THINK
A powerful quotation will give your audience food for thought. First of course, you must determine what you want your audience to understand, believe, and embrace. Then, choose a quotation that packs a punch.
“He not busy being born, is busy dying.”
Grab their ATTENTION
Usually the shorter the quotation, the more powerful the punch. Long quotes, like long speeches, will leave your audiences yawning. To open your speech, you may want to grab your listener’s attention with a short quotation or aphorism. If you are giving a talk about dream casting or goal-setting for example, here’s a fine quotation:
“If you know what you want, you can have it.”
Prove your POINT
You don’t have to agree with every source you quote. Sometimes who you quote, is as important as what you quote. Here’s an example. Though I obviously detest this famous leader, this quotation makes a powerful point. When I am stressing the power of passion, I sometimes share this one. Note: After I give the source—which always shocks the audience—I remind them that he was evil and that we must use the power of passion for good.
“Only a storm of hot passion can turn the destinies of people.
And he alone can arouse passion who bears it within himself.”
Illustrate an IDEA
A good quotation is like a good story. It’s a window in your house. Use it to let the light in. Help your audience see what you are saying. A good metaphor is one of the most helpful tools in a speaker’s toolbox. To get your idea across, use a strong word picture. Imagine giving a talk to a group of schoolteachers. Your goal is to affirm them for the great work they are doing. You want to remind them that what they do—educating children—matters forever.
“A school is a building with four walls, with tomorrow inside.”
INSPIRE your audience
The best speeches lift hearts! If your goal is to motivate your audience, insert a quotation designed to inspire the dreams of your audience members. Connect with their emotions. Choose a statement that is filled with hope and encouragement. Here’s one of my favorites, because it strikes such an emotional chord:
“If your heart is in your dream, no request is too extreme.”
~Jiminy Cricket, Pinocchio
Issue a WARNING
You can use a quotation to sound an alarm. You may want to shake your hearers into stopping/starting a behavior. The key here is choosing a quotation that lights a fire under your people. What mindset do you want them to change? What do you want them to do?
“Unassertive salespeople have skinny kids!”
Make people CARE
Many speakers make the mistake of thinking that their talk is primarily about content. While content is important, the best speakers transfer their conviction to an audience. Your group doesn’t want more information. They are looking for takeaways and transformation.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Capture an INSIGHT
Many times the quotes that will rock your speech are what I call “zingers.” What is a “zinger”? It’s a pithy statement that expresses a flash of insight. Zap your audience with a truth in capsule form. People love to read the fortune inside their fortune cookie—and often the words apply to their lives. When I am giving a speech that talks about how we learn, I love to share this one:
“I respect wisdom but I obey pain.”
~12 Step Recovery Saying
EDUCATE your attendees
Don’t make the mistake many speakers make. Never confuse a statistic with a quotation. Remember: facts tell, stories sell. Search out stories and quotations for your talk that provide “teaching moments.” Tip: Do an Amazon search for aphorism. You’ll discover some great gems and nuggets for your next speech. An aphorism, like a proverb, teaches a memorable lesson-in-a-few-words.
“Don’t expect your ship to come in—unless you’ve sent one out.”
STRENGTHEN your case
Know exactly what you want to say to an audience. Then you will be in a position to find the perfect quote(s) for your next keynote speech, workshop or seminar. If you are giving a talk on leadership, select a quotation from an inspiring leader. Are you motivating athletes? Choose a motivational saying from an accomplished football, basketball, or soccer player. Most importantly, know your audience. This will help you know which quotation will best support your speech.
“We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.”
Make your speech MATTER
A good question to ask yourself is: “Who cares about what I am saying?” By the way, this is the very question your audience is asking when you start your speech. How does this matter to me? Reverse engineer your speech. Think about the big takeaway you want your group to get from your presentation. Then craft your message—and the quotes that will make it pop—based on the actions you want your audience to take.
“The meaning of communication is the response you get.”
Use the power of REPETITION
One of the great speeches in U.S. history is Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. And one of the factors that makes it so powerful? MLK’s repeated use of his awesome title: “I Have a Dream.” Consider repeating a strong quotation again and again during your talk. This can help you re-state your core message. You can also hammer home a big point with a quotation that repeats certain words to great effect. Notice how Winston Churchill did this often. (“Never, never, never give in…”), He and MLK are two of the greatest orators of the 20th century. Both leaders repeated words to maximize the impact of their language.
“We are all worms. But I do believe that I am a glow-worm.”
Enhance a CELEBRATION
Maybe you will give your speech at a wedding, an anniversary party, or an awards program. You can pump up the proceedings with a special quote. Identify a sparkling statement that will raise spirits…and maybe wine glasses. Here’s the key to doing this well: Keep the focus on who/what is being celebrated. Your quotation should amplify the purpose of the event. Honor the bride, toast the award-winner, congratulate the champion. Get clear on the reason for festivities. Your quotation should put a spotlight on what your guests are celebrating together.
“Life is short, wear your party pants.”
Want to make sport of a competitor? Handle a heckler? Or lampoon an idea you don’t like? A good quote can work wonders. Just be careful about coming across as mean-spirited. Humor helps.
“Lord, help me make my enemies look ridiculous.”
~Voltaire (French Philosopher)
Increase your AUTHORITY
Don’t get the wrong idea here. Quotations are not the source of your authority, you are. But a compelling quote can boost your credibility as a speaker. Select a quote that comes from a recognized name or organization that will resonate with your audience. Quote an expert. Better yet, become one.
“I am the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was.”
Speak with CONFIDENCE
Want to know a speaking secret? Your listeners aren’t paying that much attention to what you say. But they are tuned in to how you say it. They are listening for your confidence. What do you do if you don’t feel confident? Act like you are. And to take it to the next level—instill confidence in your audience too. Model it.
“Feel the fear and do it anyway.”
One of the gifts you can bring people via your message is clarity. Help your audience see the path, cut through the clutter, and take decisive action. Make a statement, or share a quotation, that simplifies things for people. Sometimes this can be phrased as a question like, “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” Other times you will want to give them the answer straight up. A great quote can help you do just that. You want to communicate with great clarity. And show your audience the way forward.
“If you don’t have a plan for your life, somebody else does.”
Issue a call to ACTION!
You can wrap-up your speech with a mighty quotation to finish strong. Make sure that your final phrase captures the heart of your main message. Don’t end on something cliché like, “Thanks for listening” or “My name is Blah Blah.” Your end quote, if you use one, should empower your audience and echo the main thrust of your talk. And get this: You want to invite your audience to take action.
“The way to get started is to quit talking and start doing.”
Create your own CATCH PHRASE
Few people remember speeches, but many people remember speakers. Can you create an original quotation that fits your personal brand? Tap into what makes you unique. What makes your message special? The final words of your speech can remind people about who you are and what you had to say. What is your signature “sign off” sentence? It might be a parting piece of advice. It could also be a statement you design to capture the way you want the group to remember the experience you created for them.
“The tribe has spoken.”
~Jeff Probst, “Survivor”
By finding and utilizing quotations that appeal to you, you will heighten the impact of your speech. Plug one or two of the above quotations into your next speech or special presentation. Better yet, discover the pitch-perfect quotes for your talk. Weave them into your speech and speak with gusto. You’ll be glad you did. And your audience will be pleased too. You can quote me on that.
Adam Christing is a professional keynote speaker, master of ceremonies, and author. He has written four humor and personal transformation books including: Comedy Comes Clean 1 & 2: A Hilarious Collection of Wholesome Jokes, Quotes, and One-liners, Your Life is a Joke: 12 Ways to Go from Ha Ha to AHA! and Bob Dylan Can Change Your Life: 61 Ways to Invent a Legendary You. Adam has been studying and collecting quotations for more than 25 years.