If you thought that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon's repeated cry of "Now Is The Time" sounded vaguely familiar, you'd be right. Because she's borrowed it. Yes, she's borrowed the line from the legendary Martin Luther King "I Have A Dream" speech that he gave in August 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.

Now is the time at this critical moment in history
Now is the time

"Now Is The Time" Says Nicola Sturgeon

Now is the time to get Scotland on the right path
Now is the time for independence

Of course it's unfair of us to decry phrase appropriation in this Nicola Sturgeon speech to the Scottish Parliament at Hollyrood. Why? Because it's an accepted practice with most political speechwriters. So all good speakers do it. However, it's also fair to say that some speakers make a complete mess of their speeches when they borrow speech segments from the work of others.

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The recently-elected Prime Minister in Australia, Anthony Albanese, has a strong record of borrowing from the speeches of others. Hollywood speech writing was a thing way back in 2012, and he's still doing it.

President Obama also borrowed from Dr. Martin Luther King with his healthcare speech at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia in 2010. And he was widely applauded for it. That proved a very effective speech.

Ireland's Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, got himself into a spot of bother when he lifted some phrases from earlier President Obama speeches back in 2011. Again, that proved to be inconsequential.

Now Is The Time To Borrow Carefully

Unfortunately some phrase appropriation really does stray into the realm of plagiarism. And that was the case with an Alberta faculty speech in 2011. Because few people guessed that when Dr. Phillip Baker, Dean of Medicine at the University of Alberta gave his commencement speech for the 2011 graduation class he'd lose his job. However, it was only a moment before the plagiarism crisis overtook him. Because he'd apparently lifted a speech that had appeared in the New Yorker. The Lesson? If you work in a setting that patrols plagiarism by your students then don't plagiarise the speeches of others!

So, apart from "Now is the time", how was the Nicola Sturgeon speech? Well, it was good political theatre. Yes, she hurries her delivery, but I sense that might have more to do with the Hollyrood rules on prepared statements than the First Minister's ability. But, in terms of style, tone and particularly structure, the First Minister performed very well.

Now Is The Time To Borrow

When you borrow or appropriate a phrase from someone else's speech or a work of literature it's very, very rarely a case of plagiarism. Because you can do it well and powerfully. And, what's more, the vast majority of public speakers do it very effectively.

  • Use quotes or quotations in your speeches.
  • Aim to cite the anecdotes of others, famous and otherwise.
  • Reference the work, lives and history of others.
  • Give credit where it's due and avoid wholesale copying. Because that's always a problem.

So, perhaps now is the time to discover our public speaking tips. Or, you can turn to Time to Market with a skills refresher. This is a great opportunity to work on, develop or refine a speech. Please don’t hesitate to contact us for more details.


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About the Author

The Principal Trainer at training business Time to Market. Now based in London, I run presentation and public speaking training courses, coaching sessions and seminars throughout the UK.

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