Writing A Speech

All speakers have to deal with the question of using somebody else’s material.  Especially when we’re first starting out, if we’re going to tell a story, we feel we need to borrow a really good story to make our point.  Early in our speaking career it doesn’t occur to us that stories from our own life might be better than anything that we could borrow.  I know that was my experience.

Quoting someone else can enrich your talks and it shows you’ve done your homework.  But using large amounts of borrowed material, especially stories, can have its problems.

Here are some thoughts on using other people’s material:

1.  A problem with using mostly other people’s stories and quotes, is that your speech becomes nothing more than a book report.

2.  If you’re going to include quotes in your talk…make them fresh quotes.  If other speakers are using the same quote, I choose to find something more original.  Don’t adorn your talk with stale quotes which have become cliches. 

3.  The opening of your talk sets the scene for your whole speech.  A borrowed opening story or joke can lead the audience to think that your whole speech is borrowed, even when that’s not the case.  An original opening can give a feel of freshness to your entire presentation.

4.  When you’ve ended your talk, you want your audience to remember parts of the speech which are quotes from YOU.  You want them to remember your original thoughts and memorable ways of expressing them.  If they remember only the words of other people, they probably won’t remember your name.

5.  Using other people’s words should always be accompanied with a credit to the source.  That does not mean, however, that you have the right to use someone’s signature story simply by identifying where it came from.   Using a significant part of someone’s material, even with attribution, is probably illegal, or at least unethical.  For a legal definition, consult an attorney, or risk having someone else’s attorney contact you!

6.  Sometimes, what you think of as “borrowing” may in fact be “stealing.”  If you’re going to use more than a simple, short quote with attribution, get permission first.  Contact the original author of the material and ask to use the material.

7.  A problem with using someone else’s story, even with credit, is that the audience will remember that YOU told the story.  They’ll probably forget that you said the story belonged to someone else.  Then, if they hear the story told by the original author, they will think that he or she stole the story from you!  That’s one area where ethical considerations are raised.

8.  You probably do a lot of research.  That’s good.  Let the wisdom of others inspire new thinking of your own.  The pros of the highest level present their own material.  They may occasionally quote someone, but their stories are almost always their own.  Set a goal of developing stories and learning points from your own experience.  Creating your own stories becomes easier to do and it’s the way to gain respect as a professional.