12 Most Dramatic Things to Say in a Conversation: Lessons from Shakespeare

12 Most Dramatic Things to Say in a Conversation: Lessons from Shakespeare

Even if they didn’t enjoy studying him in school and have no plans to ever go see one of his plays, most people admit that Shakespeare knew something about conversations. After all, his plays are built on conversations (not on special effects, like most entertainment today!). And, nearly 400 years after his death, he is still the most-read and most-produced, non-religious author of all time. So he got something right!

Even though you might not (almost certainly will not) use his exact words, Shakespeare’s conversational techniques have merit in business today.

1. Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears

After Julius Caesar’s death, Antony faces an unruly group that ne needs on his side. He gets everyone’s attention quickly with these words. He does a couple of things extremely well — he identifies with those in the crowd and he prepares them to hear what he has to say. Taking a moment to check in with your group and prepare them for your words can have great effect even if you don’t use Antony’s poetic phrasing. Acknowledge those in the room, emphasize collaboration and teamwork, and ask them to listen to you.

2. Once more unto the breach, dear friends

Henry V rallied his vastly outnumbered troops into battle with these words, storming what appeared to be a stronghold of the French. Challenges in the business world might not be fortified castles, but they can still feel like an uphill battle. Keep success in the forefront of everyone’s mind with rallying words. Let people know you are working alongside them, and that you value them.

3. What light through yonder window breaks?

Romeo spotted Juliet through a window, and his life changed forever. It’s a good idea to be on the lookout for people who can make a positive difference. Juliet was not a likely candidate to win Romeo’s heart (daughter of the enemy and all that), but she was exactly the right choice. Look for potential game-changers and give them a chance to make a difference. People often respond to our expectations. Expect the best.

4. Kill Claudio

You are not in the mob, so ordering a hit is not a likely conversation topic. But it’s good to be specific and direct in your requests. People find it easier to do what you want when they understand what that is. If you can’t put your request into simple, straightforward language, maybe you need to understand it better yourself. Be straightforward and simple.

5. Do you love me?

Do not go around looking for reassurance that you are beloved at work, but do pay attention to how people are feeling about you and your work. Make it easy for the folks around you to express concerns or raise questions. If people are avoiding you, there’s probably a reason. Check in with people. Let them know you care.

6. Beware the Ides of March

Julius Caesar dismissed this advice because it seemed reactionary, overblown, and (above all) inconvenient. He ended up stabbed on the Senate floor. Overlooking cautious counsel will probably have less dramatic results, but it’s still a good idea to consider what could go wrong and perhaps change plans accordingly. Don’t rush in before thinking. Be aware.

7. O brave new world that has such creatures in it

In The Tempest, Miranda allows herself to be amazed by what she sees around her. She revels in the unexpected. That can be a powerful tool in encouraging others to think creatively and to explore new ways to be successful. Allow yourself to be surprised and caught in a moment of wonder. Let people know when they amaze you.

8. All the world’s a stage

A “fool” speaks these lines, but there is obvious wisdom in them. People pay attention all the time. If someone is snide with a customer or vendor, people notice. If you are sarcastic in a meeting, people notice. People are watching the way you and those around you conduct business. Most won’t fall for the “do as I say, not as I do” ploy. Behave as if you are on stage: be aware of others’ reactions.

9. Parting is such sweet sorrow

The final moments of a meeting or conversation leave a lasting impression, yet often these are the least planned and least effective moments. Know where you want things to end; know what you want to happen next. Thank people for their time and look forward with them to the next step. Expressing appreciation is always an effective way to end a conversation.

10. We few, we band of brothers

In speaking these words, King Henry V succeeds in establishing strong bonds of loyalty with this phrase. Similar words can go a long way in creating a sense of team and commitment today. The king is fighting alongside his people, willing to die with them. The phrase “band of brothers” carries such resonance it is used even today to signify an extraordinary commitment to a group or team. Develop a team atmosphere and use language that reinforces mutual commitment.

11. Give me your hands if we be friends

At the conclusion of Midsummer Night’s Dream, Puck uses these words to literally ask for applause — not a good idea. Instead, ask for “a hand” when you need help. Be willing to work together — to accept help when you need it and to give help when you can. Cultivating an atmosphere of cooperation and collaboration will strengthen the work of everyone involved, and typically improves the bottom line.

12. There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so

Hamlet is using this phrase to play with his supposed friends, and certainly there are absolutes in the business world. Still, many things can be made better or worse by the way they are perceived and portrayed. Pay attention to the way you and colleagues speak about events and people; you have the ability to turn an innocent slip of the tongue into a vicious attack in the retelling of it. Likewise, your words of encouragement can turn a challenge into an opportunity. Strive for positives.

Hamlet was once described as “just a bunch of quotations strung together.” That’s how famous Shakespeare’s language has become! His phrases have lasted through time, and many are widely recognized and quoted. In these phrases, his characters offer some conversational strategies that are great advice in today’s business world.

What other quotations (from Shakespeare or other authors) offer good advice in today’s world?

Featured image courtesy of tonynetone licensed via Creative Commons.

Photo illustration work: Paul Biedermann, re:DESIGN

Carol Ann Stanger


Carol Ann Lloyd Stanger believes in the power of communication to create a wonderful life. For more than 20 years, she has helped organizations throughout the Washington, DC area be more effective. Carol Ann recently launched her own company, Bright Torch Communication, to provide speaking, training, and consulting to help individuals and organizations communicate their way to success.

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I never thought putting literature in business conversations would help! I should try this some time. Double bonus if they do get our reference. Thank you for the insight.


From the master....words that survive the test of time!


So creative, Carol Ann. Loved it, and thought it was quite right on in terms of your advice. (But you forgot, "Never a lender nor a borrower be.") Hah!


Carol Ann, what a creative, thought-provoking post! I love what you've done with all of these quotes. I especially appreciate #12, which is so doggone true. 

It's funny, I actually quoted Shakespeare in a recent blog post, something I've never done. So I have a quote to answer your question... I was sharing my thoughts on "A confused mind always says 'no'," and Macbeth came to mind, in effect saying that if our message/story is confusing 

"…it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.”

Carol Ann Lloyd Stanger
Carol Ann Lloyd Stanger

@BethBuelow Thanks so much for sharing! I love the blog and your use of Shakespeare. Such a great connection to Macbeth. I will definitely keep reading your blog!