John Oliver on Quotations

Regular readers of this blog know that I am a big fan of quotes. I have a running series of them which, as of the writing of this post, is more than 230. From Mark Twain (the first quote in the series) to Marcus Aurelius, from Bruce Lee to Eleanor Roosevelt, from Nelson Mandela to Anaïs Nin, I have collected quotes spanning centuries and nations that are relevant for speakers.

A quote can be a powerful addition to a speech or presentation. A relevant, well-timed quote can be memorable and meaningful. I will gladly use a quote that supports my message.

If you are going to use quotes, you have to do so in the right way. Here are some things to keep in mind:

1. Don’t overdo it. The more quotes you add to a speech, the more diluted each quote is. For most speeches, one or two quotes is plenty.

2. Always attribute your quotes to the source.

3. Make sure that the quote is correct.

4. Make sure that the source is correct.

Now, you might think that the last two points above would be obvious, but as John Oliver, the brilliant host of Last Week Tonight points out, speakers misattribute quotes more often than you might think.

If you are going to quote someone, get the quote and the speaker right. Before I post a quote, I will search different sites to make sure that they all say the same thing. And they often don’t. The Internet is chockablock with errors so, depending on the quote, you might need to check several sources to be sure.

QuotesTwo resources that I find helpful are The Quotations Page and Quote Investigator. The former is an excellent starting point for finding reliable quotes. The latter investigates specific quotations to find their source and is particularly useful when a quote is attributed to two or more people.

To see just how thorough Quote Investigator is, check out this post that cuts through the confusion over the source of the quote: “They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” Not only has that quote—which is No. 127 in the series on this blog—been attributed to multiple people, the name of the true source has frequently been misspelled.

Quotes are great. They pack a lot of wisdom into a few words and they can make a big impact in a speech. Just be sure to use them properly. And you can quote me on that.


About John Zimmer

International speaker, presentation skills expert, lawyer, improv performer
This entry was posted in Quotes for Public Speakers and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to John Oliver on Quotations

  1. Pingback: Analysis of a Speech by Andrew Solomon | Manner of Speaking

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  3. Mel Kelly says:

    Thanks John and John for a very educational and entertaining post!

  4. A couple of excellent resources there, John. And I’ve not seen the John Oliver clip before. Thank you.

    Two John’s in one article – I like it!

  5. Matt Pocock says:

    Fantastic – so worth saying! And it’s amazing how many times you see misattributed quotes, or quotes taken out of context!

    • John Zimmer says:

      Thanks for the comment, Matt. Even with all my double-, triple- and quadruple-checking, there are times when I still get it wrong. Fortunately, times are rare but they keep me on my toes when I do use quotes.

  6. Tamenji says:

    This one was awesome! I especially like the inclusion of the John Oliver show, it really drives the point home, I use A LOT of quotes in my presentations and write ups!

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