Reading an article about a keynote address I had delivered was my first strong awareness of how important it is to get the quote right.
The year was 1998, and I delivered a closing keynote address to wrap up the California Lutheran University’s week-long disability awareness program. A school reporter wrote about the event, and specifically about my talk. I no longer have the article, and I don’t recall the specific thing I said for which I was misquoted, but I remember my reaction. The misquote was referring to my description of jumping out of an airplane (skydiving) as a person with a hearing loss. The misquote not only wrong, it was also misunderstanding of what I said. My point was missed by the reporter and, consequently, by anyone reading the article who didn’t attend my talk. I was appalled. We probably all make that mistake. Misquoting someone. I know I did, in a huge way and on the RADIO! A true friend promptly brought my gaff to my attention.
My misquote on the radio
The particular radio show was about communication. I said something like, “My very favorite quote of all time is by, I believe, by Emerson, and it goes like this, “The greatest illusion of communication is that it has been achieved.”
My friend looked up the quote and was not able to find it. But she was, with a bit of digging, able to find the right quote and the right person who said it. The right quote is: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” The wise observation was stated by George Bernard Shaw. Not Emerson. I’ve made this same mistake not only on the radio but in my talks too. My not double checking that quote before standing up and sharing it eroded my credibility in the eyes of anyone who knew better. As public speakers, we want to check and double check our quotes, no matter how certain we are that they are accurate. There are hundreds of famous quotes attributed to people who either said them differently or never even said them.
Seriously, it is scary.
Winston Churchill misquote
A passion of mine for years is the creation of image quotes – taking a photograph or image and adding a quote or words of wisdom (WOW) to it. For a few years, I created “WOW’ ebooks and made them available for free to anyone who wanted them. You can find them on my Slideshare account. I now have a site called, “Speaking of Quotes” that houses these quotes images. Quotes from this site are posted on various social media sites.
One of the quotes I created and posted is attributed to Winston Churchill. The quote is: “When going through hell, keep going.” A few months later I received an email from an individual who indicated that, according to the Winston Churchill Organization. Sir Churchill never said those words. The individual included a link to a document on the site and even cited the page number. By the time I went to investigate the link was defunct. But I did find this on the site: an article titled, “Famous Words Churchill Never Coined.” The “going through hell” quote is not mentioned, but many other familiar quotes are.
I did a Google search for that quote and was blown away at the number of images alone that came up misquoting Winston Churchill. See for yourself! It would take a full-time employee a long time to track down everyone who has used this quote to enlighten them. Even Forbes cites this quote on its Thoughts on the Business of life site. Details about Winston Churchill’s hell quote can be found on a resourceful site called Quote Investigator. While visiting the site, check out the hundreds of famous quotes that are misquoted and wrongly attributed. It is so eye-opening that henceforce I will no use quotes from sites like Brainy Quote or ThinkExist for quotes without checking the source first. These sites invite anyone to contribute quotes and do very little to verify them. I can’t even trust a simple Google search. So what does one do?
Finding quotes/verifying Quotes
There is a great article at a site called Finding Dulcinea. The article is titled “Misquotes: Searching for Authenticity Online” by James Sullivan. The article provides several resources for verifying quotes. Two are Wikiquote and the previously mentioned Quote Investigator. The article provides a long list of credible sources for quotes depending on the genre. For example, for quotes by US founding fathers can search on Archiving Early America; for movie quotes go to the IMDb. Mr. Sullivan’s article is a great resource; I encourage you to avail yourself of the wealth of information.
In conclusion, it does take some time and effort to research the source and viability of quotes we choose to incorporate into our presentations – but I believe it is worth it. I know how it feels to be misquoted, and I recall the embarrassment of completely misquoting the wrong person. Doing our homework can only serve to fortify our credibility as speakers.
Article: Get the Quote Right
Article Source: Kiss Speaking Tips
Author: Linnaea Mallette