“When you can do a common thing in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world.” – George Washington Carver

My first public presentation was when I gave the valedictory address for my . . . elementary school.

That may not seem like a big deal, but it was for this eighth grader eager to impress.

I prepared my ten minute speech and asked my father to listen to it. My dad, Warren Reed, was a long-time toastmaster (his father George Reed had been International President the year I was born) and I knew he’d give me honest feedback.

I presented my “bird leaving the nest, ready to fly on its own” homily and asked, “So, what do you think?”

Dad paused for a minute and then said simply, “It’s an okay talk; you just didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know.” He continued, “Sam, if you’re going to ask people for their valuable time and attention, you have an obligation to be original.”

“But Dad,” I protested, “there’s nothing new under the sun.”

He smiled and said, “Sure there is. Know what the definition of original is? If we haven’t heard it before, it’s original.”

That launched me on a lifelong quest for creative, clever quotes.

If you’re going to talk about creativity, success or how to counteract stress, you may feel it’s all been said. But if you can introduce an uncommon quote on those topics, people’s eyebrows will go up. They’ll think, “Hmmm, haven’t heard that before. Tell me more.”

Quotes get your verbal foot in people’s mental door.

For example, Rudolph Flesh said, “Creativity may simply be the realization there’s no particular virtue to doing things the way they’ve always been done.”

If you’re speaking about true success, you might want to quote Where the Wild Things Are author Maurice Sendak who said, “There must be more to life than having everything.”

If you’re conducting a stress management seminar, you could pleasantly surprise your audience by starting with Ron Dettinger’s quip, “I told the doctor I couldn’t relax. He said, ‘Force yourself.’” Or Lilly Tomlin’s wry observation “For fast-acting relief, try slowing down.”

The key is to use uncommon quotes. As inspirational as Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” or “John F. Kennedy’s “Ask not what you can do” quotes are . . . people already know them. Using them will defeat your purpose because people will conclude you have nothing new to say and they’ll tune out.

A good litmus test for whether to use a quote is, if you’ve heard it before; chances are your audience has heard it before too. Scrap it and keep searching for something that makes your eyebrows go up. That’s a sure sign that statement is sufficiently provocative to pique your audience’s curiosity. People will be more likely to listen because they always walk away from your presentations knowing something they didn’t know before.

Want to know the 7 Do’s and Don’ts of Quotes? Email us at Jill@SamHorn.com and we’ll send an article with specific tips on how to find and use quotes that make you instantly interesting.

Would you like a list of my Top 10 favorite quotes of all time? The most funny, thought-provoking, guaranteed-to-get-people-interested-in-what-you-have-to-say quotes? Check back next week and I’ll share them.