Vacuum up cool stuff for your presentations

Do you have one of those diaries that includes a daily quotation on the page? Or maybe you subscribe to a service that sends you uplifting quotes? I have noticed that social media is also a great hunting ground for cool quotations, as people share them around. We probably note these and then move on with our lives. For the presenter though, these are gold. We need to be collecting these sound bites to lob into our presentations.

We might kick off the talk with a pithy quote or perhaps end with one. This is a great way to start proceedings by setting the intellectual frame of reference for the audience. Get them thinking and pondering about what we are saying. Ending with a great quote is like an excellent dessert after a great meal, we leave feeling better.

Conveniently there are books of quotations in general and then there are collections of quotes from leading individuals. If Winston Churchill had received a buck for every time he has been quoted, the sum would dwarf the wealth of the robber barons from Silicon Valley. The point is, there is no shortage of material, only a shortage of imagination and awareness about using it.

Evergreen tidbits

The daily news is usually a tedious and depressing rendition of distant disasters, deadly deeds and dirty tricks being orchestrated somewhere on the planet. It is also a good source of interesting tidbits we can inject into our talks to assist us in making a key point in our argument. Instead of just using it for the wrapping up of the vegetable peelings and fish bones, scan the pages for more gold. I find using a pen to mark an article helps me to locate it later and then cut out the piece that attracted my interest. Then it heads off to the rubbish.

We need to be looking for evergreen tidbits, because news rapidly becomes irrelevant. We may not have a convenient speaking spot looming on the horizon to coordinate with our little explosive. Capture the tidbits for later use.

You might be thinking, “I don’t fancy trying to store all these random bits of newsprint, getting dusty and tatty somewhere in the house”. But these days, we can take a photo with our phone, upload that to a cloud corral like Evernote and store it there. Usually we are after short bits of fierce and fiery additions to our text, to illustrate a point we are making, so we don’t need the whole article.


Other speakers are also occasionally a good source of quotes and stories. Let me give an example of one I heard recently. Masatsugu Nagato, the head of Japan Post, was relating a tale about former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori. Mori probably spent more time playing rugby than studying English when he was a lad, so his linguistic challenges were many.

Japan was hosting a G7 summit meeting in 2000, and he had to greet all the heavy hitters as they arrived. His minders had been working him over, to be able to get out a couple of simple phrases without the aid of interpreters. You can sense impending disaster already, can’t you?

The phrases were, “How are you”, to which most people would say, “I am well, thank you”, or something similar, and Mori would reply “me too”. This is the normal give and take and nothing too exotic or overly ambitious.

So Bill Clinton rolls into town and, rather than following the script, Mori says “Who are you” by mistake, to which Bill says “Hilary’s Husband” and, without missing a beat, Mori says “Me too”. Bill carries on with “Good luck” and moves on inside.

Now that was a great story and Nagato had very cleverly worked that into his topic, which had nothing to do with that G7 episode. We all laughed and felt good about Nagato and his talk.

This was no accident. He had calculated this as a way to relax his audience and win them over to his side. It worked like a charm.

My point is, we are all swimming through a daily storm tide of quotes, tidbits, curiosities and stories which we can purloin and insert into our presentations. This will make us more memorable and spice up our talks. All we have to do is open our eyes, start looking for them, then reach out and nail them down for future insertion.