Citing Sources in a Speech

Learning Objectives

Explain how to cite sources in written and oral speech materials.

Tips on citing sources when speaking publicly by Sarah Stone Watt, Pepperdine University

Even if you have handed your professor a written outline of your speech with source citations, you must also offer oral attribution for ideas that are not your own (see Table below for examples of ways to cite sources while you are speaking). Omitting the oral attribution from the speech leads the audience, who is not holding a written version, to believe that the words are your own. Be sure to offer citations and oral attributions for all material that you have taken from someone else, including paraphrases or summaries of their ideas. When in doubt, remember to “always provide oral citations for direct quotations, paraphrased material, or especially striking language, letting listeners know who said the words, where, and when.”[1] Whether plagiarism is intentional or not, it is unethical, and someone committing plagiarism will often be sanctioned based on their institution’s code of conduct.

Verbal Source Citations

Proper Written Source Citation

Proper Oral Attribution

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life” (Jobs, 2005).[2]

In his 2005 commencement address at Stanford University Steve Jobs said, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants” (Pollan, 2009, p.1).

Michael Pollan offers three basics guidelines for healthy eating in his book, In Defense of Food. He advises readers to “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

“The Assad regime’s escalating violence in Syria is an affront to the international community, a threat to regional security, and a grave violation of human rights. . . . [T]his group should take concrete action along three lines: provide emergency humanitarian relief, ratchet up pressure on the regime, and prepare for a democratic transition” (Clinton, 2012).

In her February 24 speech to the Friends of Syria People meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that Assad was increasing violence against the Syrian people and violating human rights. She called for international action to help the Syrian people through humanitarian assistance, political pressure, and support for a future democratic government.

“Maybe you could be a mayor or a Senator or a Supreme Court Justice, but you might not know that until you join student government or the debate team” (Obama, 2009).

In his 2009 “Back to School” speech, President Obama encouraged students to participate in school activities like student government and debate in order to try out the skills necessary for a leadership position in the government.

In your speech, make reference to the quality and credibility of your sources. Identifying the qualifications for a source, or explaining that their ideas have been used by many other credible sources, will enhance the strength of your speech. For example, if you are giving a speech about the benefits of sleep, citing a renowned sleep expert will strengthen your argument. If you can then explain that this person’s work has been repeatedly tested and affirmed by later studies, your argument will appear even stronger. On the other hand, if you simply offer the name of your source without any explanation of who that person is or why they ought to be believed, your argument is suspect. To offer this kind of information without disrupting the flow of your speech, you might say something like:

Mary Carskadon, director of the Chronobiology/Sleep Research Laboratory at Bradley Hospital in Rhode Island and professor at the Brown University School of Medicine, explains that there are several advantages to increased amounts of sleep. Her work is supported by other researchers, like Dr. Kyla Wahlstrom at the University of Minnesota, whose study demonstrated that delaying school start times increased student sleep and their performance (National Sleep Foundation, 2011).

This sample citation bolsters credibility by offering qualifications and identifying multiple experts who agree on this issue.

  1. Turner, Kathleen J., et al. Public Speaking. Pearson, 2017.
  2. Jobs, S. (2005, June 14). "You've got to find what you love," Jobs says. Retrieved September 30, 2020, from