Raising Your Voice, Part 2

(The second in a series on effective public speaking.)

On my first day on the job as Director of Speechwriting to then U.S. Secretary of Labor Elizabeth Dole, Mrs. Dole handed me a file that contained 25 or so quotations that she found particularly eloquent.

During the course of my years writing for her at the Department of Labor and later at the American Red Cross, we continued to add to that file whenever one of us found a quote we liked. Eventually, our file grew so large that the folks at Avalon Publishing asked Mrs. Dole to share our file in book form, and “Hearts Touched With Fire; My 500 Favorite Inspirational Quotations” was published in 2004.

Mrs. Dole believed – and I agree – that a particularly compelling quote, inserted at just the right place, can transform a speech, making it more successful and more memorable. Or, to use a quote about quotations, the great British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, once said, “The wisdom of the wise and the experience of the ages are perpetuated by quotations.

I used to say that every good public speaker needed a good book of quotations. You can guess which one I recommended. However, the Internet more or less has rendered quote books obsolete, as you can type in “quotes about (fill in subject)” and your screen will be filled with more websites than you can count.

171,000 chimps

Don’t believe me? Just to check, I entered “Quotes about chimpanzees,” hit search and was told there were about 171,000 matches. Now I just have to be invited somewhere to speak about chimpanzees.

The most important rules about using quotes are that you use them judiciously – no more than two or three per speech, and that they serve a purpose, whether to entertain, educate, inspire or convince.

That said, and to save you some time on the Internet, here are a few of Mrs. Dole’s and my favorite quotes:

  • Looking to inspire an audience to take action? Try this one from Teddy Roosevelt: “We are face to face with our destiny and we must meet it with a high and resolute courage. For ours is the life of action, of strenuous performance of duty. Let us live in the harness, striving mightily. Let us run the risk of wearing out, rather than rusting out.”
  • Speaking to a volunteer organization? Let them know of their importance by quoting the late columnist Erma Bombeck: “I had a dream where all America’s volunteers were on a ship sailing for another country. This is what I saw: The hospital was quiet. The home for the aged was like a tomb. All social agencies closed their doors unable to implement scouting, recreation, services for the disabled, the crippled, the lonely, the abandoned, or disaster victims. Health agencies all had signs on their doors, ‘Cures for cancer and other diseases have been cancelled.’ Schools were graveyards. Churches were empty. I fought just to get a glimpse of the ship of volunteers, as it would be my last glimpse of civilization as we were meant to be.”
  • Has your audience gone through some hard times or have troubled waters ahead? Share the words of Bob Dole, “I think one of life’s great milestones is when a person can look back and be almost as thankful for the setbacks as for the victories. Gradually, it dawns on us that success and failure are not polar opposites. They are parts of the same picture – the picture of a full life, where you have your ups and your downs. After all, none of us can ever lose unless we find the courage to try. Losing means that at least you were in the race. It means that when the whistle sounded, life did not find you watching from the sidelines.”
  • The true meaning of education? It get’s no better than the words of poet W.B. Yeats, “Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire.”
  • The value of business? The one and only Winston Churchill hit the nail on the head: “Some see private enterprise as the predatory target to be shot, others as a cow to be milked, but few are those who see it as it truly is – as the sturdy horse pulling the wagon.”

And now, in the immortal words of that great philosopher Porky Pig, “That’s all, folks.”