A quotation a day keeps the doctor away


By using a quote in your speech you borrow credibility from from a respected source. But how do you find the right quote for your topic? And how many should you use?

Less is more

To start with the last question: I would say just a few.

A seven minute speech could use one, maaaaaybe two. A half hour presentation perhaps up to four. But according to some, one quote ought to be enough for anybody.

If you borrow too much credibility people might start thinking you’re pretentious. Now you might think: Pretentious? Moi?

But I wouldn’t stretch it. I know very few people who can get away with more quotes. Actually, come to think of it, just one.

The act of repeating erroneously the words of another

Quotes are dangerous. One of the reasons is that they are often wrong. There may be several versions doing the round, and when you dig deeper – and you should – it turns out that the original is different from the version you wanted to use. Less sexy. And from someone else. Take this one:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

not Nelson Mandela

Now what do you do? Misquote, misattribute, and hope they don’t notice? You’ve got to ask yourself one question. Do I feel lucky? Well, do you, punk?

Use the force, Harry -- Gandalf

If you chase fame, you make bad choices

Who do you quote?

Please don’t let it be Einstein, Mandela, Gandhi and Churchill again. Not only because the quote you just found on the internet is probably wrong and not by them, but because everybody knows they are the easiest choices.

Instead, try to find a quotation by someone known to your specific audience. That makes the quote a lot more intimate.

Nerds? Yoda quote
Humorous speech? Fake quote
Toastmasters? Smedley quote

You get the idea.

Train yourself to not just go for the first quote that pops up in your Google search, but to dig deeper. Quality is not an act, it’s a habit.

All’s well that ends well

But then! Then! If you omit the obvious, dig deep, and find a quote that resonates from a source, then you’ve struck gold. You’ve enriched your own words with those of a wise person.  Oh, wouldn’t it be loverly?



And of course, don’t forget to attribute your quotation. So here we go:

  • An apple a day keeps the doctor away – proverb
  • Less is more – Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
  • 640K ought to be enough for everybody – attributed to Bill Gates, who probably never said it
  • Pretentious? Moi? – John Cleese – Fawlty Towers – The psychiatrist
  • The act of repeating erroneously the words of another – Ambrose Bierce (maybe) on quotes
  • Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure – Marianne Williamson, A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles
  • You’ve got to ask yourself one question. Do I feel lucky? Well, do you, punk? – Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry
  • If you chase fame, you make bad choices – Justin Theroux
  • Quality is not an act, it’s a habit – Aristotle
  • All’s well that ends well – Shakespeare
  • Oh, wouldn’t it be loverly? – Alan Jay Lerner – My fair lady, act I

How many did you recognise?

How fast is too fast?

Are you one of those speakers that got told several times that you speak too fast?

I am.

And although I do believe that wilfully slowing down should be in your speaker toolbox, I don’t think fast is always a problem. In fact, it’s a great skill. If you don’t overuse it…

There are people out there that tell you to you should speak 150 words per minute. Or 120. Or whatever. The truth is, that rate is highly variable. It depends on the language, the level of education of the audience, your topic, the goal of your speech, and much much more.


Your audience will need some time to get what you’re saying. To connect the new information you give them with the information already available in their neural network. You need to give them time to build a picture in their head of what you’re saying. How slow do you need to go?

Depends. People can make pictures in their head really fast.

Basically, if you’re using too many unwanted filler words, ehms and ahhs, and stop your sentences halfway to start new ones, you should slow down. If your pronunciation is good, your audience native, and your topic lively, nobody will mind your speed.


An example of a fast talker is Tony Robbins.

He has several reasons. His game is to be enthusiastic and energetic. That doesn’t go well with a slow pace. He knows his text – he’s been teaching more or less the same message for 30 years – he doesn’t talk in words, he talks in chunks, so he can go faster with less mistakes and fillers (although he definitely has them). And finally, part of what he wants to achieve is to turn the audience’s critical thinking off – bring them to a place where they wouldn’t go if they were overthinking. And immersing them in words does the job.

Auctioneers can go even faster.


I have no clue what he says (apart from the numbers), but his audience understands him – they know what to expect; it’s numbers going up, interspersed with purposeful filler words (less filler words if the bidding speeds up).

And then there are the famous South American fútbol commentators, who only slow down for a goal.

So go ahead. Speak fast. Depending on your goals and message that might actually help you. But never forget to bring your friends Pause and Variety.

It’s not speed that matters – as long as it serves your goal. It’s variety.





Even if fast talking serves your purpose your speech may be enhanced by slowing down every once in a while.

  • Pause. Inhale. Exhale, completely. Continue. You’ve just rebooted your system.
  • Talk to a metronome. Free apps are available for your phone.
  • Be your own director: when creating your speech mark the pieces that need to be slower. Memorise these pieces. Practice.



  • When it gets real serious
  • When relating hurtful emotions
  • When you need to emphasise your point
  • When you want to signal that what you’re saying is important
  • When you’ve been talking too fast for too long
  • When your audience’s understanding of the language is low
  • When you are being simultaneously translated


  • You want to convey excitement
  • You want to rattle of a list of items, where the content of the items doesn’t really matter for your point, but the number is. German prepositions for example
  • You’ve been talking too slow for too long
  • You want to lift the energy




Original full Tony Robins TED lecture

LeRoy Van Dyk – fastest talking auctioneer

pictures: Pixabay

Left! Right! Mirroring on stage.

Do you mirror in your presentations? When you gesture, do you translate your gestures for the audience?

Let’s assume you and your audience are from a left-to-right-writing culture. Then your imagery is also left to right.

  • Before is left, after is right.
  • Growth is a line from bottom left to top right.
  • Past, present, future is left, middle, right.
  • Pros are on the right, cons are on the left.

You get the idea.

For whom?

But whose left and right? Yours? Or the audience’s?

The answer of course should be: the audience’s. And that is called mirroring: you flip your gestures to make them more easily understandable for them. Does that matter? Yes, it does.

On a cognitive level they will be perfectly able to follow you if you don’t mirror, but you’re making it harder on the subconscious level. They have had a lifelong programming of what left and right are supposed to mean, and if you go against it you’re making your message fuzzy at best. It might even be that they don’t accept your reasoning but can’t really tell why. The unconscious is a powerful force.

Now of course this left-to-right is a cultural thing. Speaking to Arabs for example, your gestures need to be from right to left instead of left to right. For a mixed audience you’ll have to make it depend on the writing system of the language you’re presenting in.

Ad failure in Saoudi Arabia, where they read from right to left. Order matters.


If you don’t mirror – yet – it may take some training to get it ingrained in your system. After all, you have a lifelong conditioning as well. But mirroring is a habit that’s not too hard to gain.

How do you practice movement? By doing it. Consciously. For your next speech or presentation, go over your gestures. Any gesture that’s not symmetrical is a candidate to be flipped.

Do I mean to say that you have to rehearse and plan all your gestures? Of course not, I’ve seen speeches of people doing that, and it doesn’t look real. But in GETTING fluent in mirroring, you need to plan and rehearse those gestures that need to be mirrored. That means they may look a bit odd in the beginning, but you’ll soon grow over that, and start mirroring automatically.

Do YOU mirror?

Have you always done so, or did you train yourself to do so? If so, any tips?

Plop skreek boink


Sometimes the best words in your speech aren’t words.


Your mouth is able to make so many different sounds. Why confine yourself to words? Come to think of it… Why confine the sounds to your mouth?

Audiences love sounds. They’re unexpected. They’re different. They shake things up.  However, few speakers incorporate them in their speech. Do you?

Storytellers do.  

When someone is riding a horse they’re not afraid to make a kloppety-kloppety sound. When someone falls, they’re more than willing to do an AAaaaaaaaaa and a Pgggggh.

They do snores, they do guffaws, they do heartbeats, they do….


They hoot, they boom, they bubble, they purr, they squeek, they huff, they puff.
Things that are hard to write down. Because they’re not words.

Three dimensional

Often, when we write our speech, we forget these simple interjections – we go into literature mode. Speechcraft doesn’t stop with writing. Paper is two dimensional. You need three.

Why do sounds work so well?

Because they are received and processed at a more basic level in the brain. They bypass the language center and immediately communicate with the emotional core. We call it public speaking but speaking is not just a linguistic exchange.


So here is your challenge: for your next speech or presentation: introduce a well placed sound. Whether it’s with your mouth, your body, or an instrument doesn’t matter. As long as it adds to the story. You’ll notice that a well placed sound can say more than a 1000 words.


What sounds have you used in your speeches and presentations? Let me know!