Nov 09 2011
When you’re trying to add more emphasis or credibility to a key point in your presentation, a quote can come in handy. I’m a fan of a good, well-placed quote. I’ve even assembled a humble collection of PowerPoint-related quotes. However, just like inappropriate or tired images can detract from your content, so can poorly-chosen or over-used quotes. I thought I’d share some thoughts and tips on using quotes in PowerPoint presentations.
Two types of quotes
I’ve found that good quotes fall into two main categories:
- Powerful quote because of who uttered it: Sometimes who stated the quote is just as important as what was said. If you have a quote by someone highly respected or highly relevant to your topic (e.g., your competitor’s CEO), the quote gains credibility and potency simply by who stated it. The opposite effect can also happen. For example, I found a great quote by Richard Nixon – but I decided against using it because it came from the disgraced former US president.
- Powerful quote despite who uttered it: In some cases, the quote is so insightful or appropriate that it doesn’t really matter who said it. Generally, it’s hard to find quotes that don’t come from some reasonably respected source, but the quoted individual might be fairly obscure and not familiar to your audience. I like to do a Wikipedia search on the individual to find out more about their background and make sure that nothing in their past would conflict with the point I’m trying to make. In a few instances, I found a great quote by an unfamiliar person but when I researched the author I found they had a checkered past, which soured me on using their quotes.
Which type of quotes do you tend to use? Do you tend to favor one type over another? At the end of the day it comes down to the appropriateness or relevance of the quote to your content. If it’s credited to someone well-respected or well-known, then you don’t have to worry about explaining who the author is. In the case of the second option, you might need to indicate who they are (e.g., first female boxer, 18th-century English poet. etc.).
Finding good quotes
Two of the best sites for finding good quotes are Brainyquote.com and Thinkexist.com. Both have extensive selections of quotes. One of the challenges of finding good quotes is getting the right keyword. Without the right keyword, you might not identify the quote you need. Experiment with different synonyms as well as plural forms. For example, simply trying “tools” instead of “tool” opened up better quotes during a recent quote search I was performing.
In addition, some of the best sources of inspirational quotes are collections of quotes for particular topics (e.g., motivation, success, design, adversity, etc.). The advantage of these collections is that they don’t necessarily contain a specific keyword. Sometimes you can be limited by the terms you search for. I’ve found these quote collections by searching for the topic by including “quotes and sayings” in your search. A good example of one of these sites is quotegarden.com, which has quotes by a variety of topics. If you’re a fan of using quotes, I also recommend keeping track of our favorite quotes as you find them by keeping them in a single document so you can easily find them when you need them.
Verify your quotes
When you choose a quote, you’ll want to be sure to get the right source. Sometimes a popular quote will be attributed to several different people. You might want to double-check who the most likely source was using Wikiquote or Ralph Keyes’ Quote Verifier book. I would also recommend checking on quotes that are deemed to be “anonymous” or “author unknown”. I found a great quote (“Words divide us, action unites us”) that was supposedly from an unknown author until I discovered it was actually the slogan of a South American terrorist group (Uruguay’s Tupamaros). Yikes. Finally, you may want to check the context of the quote (if it’s even possible to ascertain). You may interpret the quote differently than the way the author intended. Sometimes it won’t matter if you’re using the quote out of context, but in other situations the context may be critical.
Short and sweet
For presentations, I’d recommend using short quotes that are quick reads for your audience – say no more than a couple of lines (less than 15 words). Occasionally, I might use a longer quote but the payoff needs to be worth the increased text. Some quoted people have the talent to express things more succinctly (Albert Einstein – succinct, Bill Gates – verbose). Make sure you’re not passing up a more succinct quote simply because you’ve settled on the first relevant quote you’ve found.
Quotes and images
Typically, I’ve seen quotes presented in three methods. First, you may choose to feature the quote without any images (e.g., white text on a dark background). With a minimalist approach your audience isn’t distracted from focusing on the key point or message within the quote. You can emphasize key parts of the quote with italics, bold, color, size, font, etc. (check out this blog post for some inspiration). If the author of the quote is well-known and important to the quote, you may decide to include a picture of the individual who stated it (see below). Third, you may choose to emphasize the message (and not the author) by tying the quote to a descriptive image. There is no preferred way, and the best approach will depend on your audience, your message, and what you’re trying to achieve.
Interestingly, the often-quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson once stated, “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.” Quotes aren’t substitutes for good content, but they can reinforce good content. You can quote me on that!