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Have you ever had Speech Deja Vu?

One evening, I was listening to a guest speaker at my Toastmasters club meeting.  He was an extremely charismatic speaker who engaged the audience with energizing activities, captivating anecdotes, and memorable analogies.

In fact, his analogies were so memorable that I started feeling like I was having a case of Déjà Vu.  Much of his speech seemed so familiar even though it was my first time hearing it.  It went on like this for a while before I realized why I was having this strange feeling.

It finally hit me that many of Mr. Charismatic’s analogies were from a book, by another person, that I’d read a year ago.  I mean, word-for-word, he used these analogies from the book to back up his points.  This would not have been so bad if he’d given attribution to the author.  Since he didn’t, it now looked like he had committed the cardinal sin of…plagiarism.

Ah, such an ugly word!  But one worth discussing.

Just what is plagiarism?  In a nutshell, it’s taking the words, ideas, or even language of someone else and passing them off as your own.  I think most of us are clear about plagiarism when it comes to the written word, but it seems like the spoken word is not often held to the same standard.

As far back as elementary school, we were taught to always cite our sources when writing reports.  This meant listing every book from the local library and every encyclopedia (I’m showing my age) that was referenced during the information-gathering process.  We didn’t think twice about including our sources at the end of the report.  We should exercise the same care when preparing our speeches.

So what is the proper way to give attribution in a speech?  There’s no specific format to follow, unlike the written word.  But it’s always a good idea to include the name and credentials of the person you are “borrowing” from, the web source, publication, and/or title (and date if possible) of the work.  These are just some examples.  You don’t have to give a long, drawn-out citation, but you do want to leave your listeners with enough detail that they will be able to further research the information later if they choose.  I do want to add here that something considered common knowledge is ok not to cite.  Example: “Washington, DC is the capital of the United States.” I don’t know too many people who would need you to point out where you’re getting this fact from!

In addition, highlighting your sources is good for all involved. Besides the obvious reason that it’s important to give others the credit they deserve, a few reasons that benefit the speaker are:

  • It boosts your own credibility when you mention solid, reliable sources
  • The quotes, statistics, or other data of a trusted person or publication can reinforce your main points
  • You come across as honest

Re-read that last bullet.  When it comes down to it, citing your sources is about having integrity.  If you don’t display integrity, there’s a good chance there WILL be that one person, like me in the audience that fateful night, who will know these are not your own original ideas or words.  And then the rest of your presentation comes under a cloud of suspicion, as the audience will wonder what else you’re taking credit for.

Using outside sources in your speech is great (and highly encouraged), as they act as a strong support system for your overall message.  Just make sure you give credit where credit is due – to the creators of that support system.

After all, it’s the right thing to do.


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