Use Quotation Marks to Find Unique Quotes

October 4, 2006

You get a lot of advice if you are beginning speakers. Some folks tell us to use quotations from famous people to give weight and authority to our speech. Some tell us to leave the quotations behind, because they’ve become a tired device that makes the audience yawn. Almost no one tells us to go out and find fresh new quotations that no other speakers can find.

When you use any of the major search engines like Google, Yahoo or Ask.com, limiting your search results by using quotation marks around phrases is a basic skill that yields faster, more targeted results. But, did you know that you can use those same quotation marks to go looking for compelling thoughts and quotations that no other speaker will find – ones that your audience will find fresh, thoughtful, compelling and darn close to unique?

First, you need to warm up a bit and practice the power of using quotation marks to find some famous quotations, songs, poems and even jokes. Perhaps you remember only a small part of a song or poem. Put the part you remember in quotation marks into your search engine and you are likely to immediately get the rest of the story – er, I mean, poem.

Suppose you could only remember:
“clean favored and imperially slim”
“walk a little slower when you walk by me”
“shoot if you must this old grey head”
“and don’t be afraid of the storm”

Google and other search engines will bail you out immediately, almost always giving you author, artist and complete lyrics or complete poem.

So, that was quick. And that’s how to retrieve the famous stuff you just can’t remember. Next, we’ll work on finding the stuff that no one else can find.

The easy part is that your speech (or book or article) has a theme of some sort. Sheryl and I speak about the effect of technology on our lives, for instance. The typical way to search the internet for a good quote would be the way everyone else would do it – go to a web site that features thousands of quotations, find their “search” box and type in the word “technology.” Pretty straightforward – but this is the very reason that so many speakers are using so many of the same quotations.

The hard part is to think about what kind of quotation you are really seeking – what kind of thought you are looking for behind the quotation. Dress up your word – technology – with some of the trappings of what you are looking for. So, for us, since we are somewhat skeptical of technology, we might dress up our term with something like “technology can sometimes,” “if technology continues to” or “the more dependent we become on technology.”

By putting the phrases above in quotation marks we are “fishing” to see if someone, somewhere on the Internet has said something interesting that completes your phrase. With the amount of web content, articles, newsletters, e-zines, blogs and other Internet content, it is likely that someone has said something about what you are seeking.

In the case above, in just a few searches we found these two quotations:

“The more dependent we become on technology, the less time we spend deepening our connections to others and to ourselves.”
Mark Sincevich
Photographer, Author, Speaker

“…the more dependent we become on technology… the more it conforms our behavior to its requirements rather than vise versa.”
Don Closson

Now, neither Mark Sincevich nor Don Closson are famous. The first is a photographer (and thinker) in Washington, D.C. The second is a minister (and thinker) from Texas. They are not famous, but both of these gentlemen write compellingly about the effect of modern technology on our lives. Better still, no other speakers who speak about our topic are likely to have ever run into Mr. Sincevich or Mr. Closson. And, our audiences are likewise not going to be familiar with these thoughtful quotes. They present fresh ideas for our audience to ponder.

So, let’s try one more. Our friend Barbara McNichol is a top writer and editor who has worked with tons of speakers and authors. She was revising a promotional piece for a company that delivers extraordinary planning to its clients in higher education. The promotional piece begged for a quotation about being extraordinary.

So, Barbara tried typing “extraordinary” into some of those famous quotation web sites, but didn’t get what she wanted.

Instead, she dressed up her term, extraordinary, and thought about the quotation she would love to have. How might it start? – “find the extraordinary,” “extraordinary people sometimes” and “extraordinary is simply.” Next, she did a Google, Yahoo and Ask.com search with those phrases in quotes to see what she could find. We can’t tell you what she found because, well, after all, her client is paying for it.

However, we tried it ourselves, and here’s one of the quotations we found:

“It has been proved that achieving the extraordinary is simply a question of making that little bit more effort, giving a little extra attention to detail and doing it consistently.”
Dr Anne Heaslett
Director, Limavady College
16 December 2004

You ever heard of Dr. Heaslett? No. By, the way, the Limavady College is located in the scenic North West part of Northern Ireland. I guarantee you – no one else is going to have her quote.

One last great thing about finding your own hidden quotes is that Thomas McCaulay, Emily Dickenson and Mark Twain are all dead. Ms. Heaslett, Mr. Sincevich and Mr. Closson are all very much alive. You could write to them, and learn more about their thoughts.

Amazing what will happen when you combine your own ingenuity with the power of Internet search. And, that, I’d say, is pretty darn extraordinary.


One comment

  1. This advice could not have come at a more opportune time! I am doing a website for a client that requires about ten different short quotes, all of them along the lines of the “Succesories” type. This is great advice, thanks.

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