There are as many reasons not to use a quotation in a speech as there are to use one.
I’ll confess. I like using a quotation in a speech. And I do it quite often. Still, it’s perfectly permissible — and sometimes recommended — not to use a quotation.
Why Use a Quotation in a Speech
Quotations can add credibility to your speech. Quoting someone famous or important makes it seem like they’re agreeing with you or your idea.
Quotations can add poetry and punch to your speech, because they are often well phrased and to the point.
Quotations make your speech memorable, because (again) they are often well phrased and to the point.
Why Not Use a Quotation in a Speech
Using a quotation can lessen your credibility. Why do you have to call on some higher authority to back up what you’re saying? Don’t you have any authority of your own? Isn’t the idea you’re proposing clear, strong, and persuasive on its own merits?
Using a quotation to add poetry and punch to your speech is an admission that your own words are prosaic and uninspiring. Why not make your own words sing?
Using a quotation to drive home your point and make it memorable is lazy. I believe that, for the most part, you should be able to sum up your speech in a single sentence. But it should be your sentence. One that you’ve labored over and honed to a fine point.
How to Use a Quotation in a Speech
Use only one quotation per speech. You don’t strengthen your speech by citing several quotations; you weaken it. Be selective.
Get it right. Get the words right. A quotation is only a quotation if it is word-for-word accurate. And make sure you cite the right person as the source of the quotation. (Just because you see it on the internet doesn’t make it so.)
Know who you’re quoting. By quoting someone without qualification you are in essence endorsing that person and what they stand for.
Make sure the audience knows who you’re quoting. Most of the time it’s best to quote someone you know the audience knows: Einstein, Gandhi, Roosevelt, Steve Jobs (in certain fields). When quoting someone your audience may not know, you need to frame the quote, providing just enough information to give your audience reason to believe the quote.
Emphasize the quotation by pausing before and after saying it. Mark Twain said, [pause] “Loyalty to a petrified opinion never broke a chain or freed a human soul.” [Pause]
Keep it short.
How Not to Use a Quotation in a Speech
Avoid opening or closing your speech with a quotation. The first and last words of your speech carry the most weight; make them your own.
Don’t use a quotation that everyone already knows.
Don’t expect the quotation to prove anything. At best, a quotation adds credibility. Resorting to authority is a weak argument.
How about you? Any thoughts? When and how do you use quotes in your speeches?