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Borrowed Eloquence

The trend in today's public speaking is much more conversational than the arm-waving oratory of old. Even so, powerful speech is often eloquent. A few select, powerful phrases in a speech can be the spice needed to make what you say memorable, rather than just easy to listen to.

One way to achieve eloquence is to quote from those who have been eloquent before you. When Sir Isaac Newton was asked how he saw things so clearly, he said, "I can stand on the shoulders of men like Galileo." Good speakers stand to great effect on the shoulders of William Shakespeare, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Groucho Marx, Martin Luther King, even Mae West and Katherine Graham.

Using someone's eloquent statement about a subject accomplishes two things: It adds eloquence to your own talk and it endorses whatever you are saying. President Reagan rarely quoted from past speakers who might be expected to have agreed with him, such as Calvin Coolidge. Instead, he often quoted the words of Democrats such as Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. The words of these "liberal" presidents not only added eloquence to Reagan's statements but also endorsed his more conservative positions by inference.

When you choose quotations to enrich your own talk, be creative. Don't use the same ones you've heard over and over. Go to more modern sources and find a witty or elegant phrase that you can use to support your position. Remember, you're using not only the words, but also the person.

All figures of speech have the same purpose—to use a few words to create vivid pictures, touch the emotions, and stay in people's minds. Power language is aptly named; use it well, and people will tend to think you are as powerful as the language you use. As Mae West so aptly put it, "It's not what I say, but how I say it." And what you do as you say it. The next chapter will help you gain power from the nonverbal communication that characterizes you as quickly as anything you say.


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