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Last Updated on February 25, 2020

21 Uplifting and Powerful Famous Speeches That You Can’t Miss

21 Uplifting and Powerful Famous Speeches That You Can’t Miss

Life is not always rainbows and sunshine – we have all had days when nothing seems to be going as planned and when we find ourselves demotivated, bogged down and engulfed in sadness. On such days, when you are unable to motivate yourself, do you know what helps? Listening to great speeches — empowering ones.

Great communicators have this innate power of moving you with their brilliant command over words. Their words echo in your head for days, while filling you with hope and inspiration.

Isn’t it wonderful how just hearing a set of people who you’ve never met or known personally can leave you with such a lasting impression?

Here is a list of 21 famous speeches (and likely the best speeches) that are sure to give you goosebumps :

1. Steve Jobs’ Commencement Address at Stanford University, 2005

The Chairman and Co-Founder of Apple Inc., Steve Jobs delivered an inspiring commencement address at the graduation ceremony of the 114th batch of Stanford University. 13 years later, his speech still holds relevance.

In a span of 15 minutes, Jobs imparted crucial life lessons through 3 stories that were inspired from his personal experiences. From love and loss to the inevitability of death – his words resonated with people of all ages.

Ending on a high note, he advised the audience to “stay hungry, stay foolish” – a phrase that became synonymous with Steve Jobs and till today, drives people to push themselves to become better versions of themselves.

2. J.K. Rowling’s Commencement Address at Harvard University, 2008

Author J.K Rowling who is best known for the Harry Potter book series delivered an empowering speech to the graduating class at Harvard University in 2008. Her speech was centered around two key points.

First being the benefits of failure and how there can be no success without it. Second, was the power of imagination and how we carry all the power in ourselves to change the world.

Even though J.K Rowling might have touched upon topics that we have been listening to or reading about for years, her knack of putting it together so perfectly strikes a chord like nothing else.

3. Jim Carrey’s Commencement Address at Maharishi University, 2014

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Jim Carrey, who is known for his splendid comic timing and exceptional performances, took everyone by surprise at the graduation ceremony of the class of 2014 at Maharishi University wherein he delivered an inspiring speech with such aplomb.

In his life-changing advice wrapped in wit and humor, he speaks of fear, failure and the importance of doing what we love.

4. Barack Obama’s Election Victory Speech, 2008

Who doesn’t remember Obama chant “Yes we can!” as the entire world looked on and watched him inspire and instill national pride in the people of the United States of America.

One of the most powerful speeches of recent times, Barack Obama’s election victory speech in 2008 marked a historic moment that brought hope, promised change and responsibility, in the anticipation of a better future.

5. Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ Speech, 1963

On 28th August 1963, Martin Luther King delivered one of the most iconic speeches in history during the March on Washington in front of over 250,000 people at the Lincoln Memorial.

An American activist, Martin spoke with utmost clarity and purpose as he made a plea for racial equality and justice through this speech. The words “I have a dream” reiterated his vision of what America could be – a country that breaks away from the shackles of discrimination.

6. Mahatma Gandhi’s ‘Do or Die Speech, 1942

Talking about orators, one cannot leave Mahatma Gandhi out from the list. Gandhi, the pioneer of non-violence launched the Quit India movement to demand India’s freedom from the 200-year British colonial rule wherein he announced the slogan – Do or Die, with determination.

His speech oozed infectious passion which went on to inspire India to fight for freedom or die in the process.

7. Nelson Mandela’s ‘I Am Prepared to Die’ Speech, 1964

The torchbearer of Africa’s freedom, Nelson Mandela fought all his life against apartheid. During his 3-hour long speech as a defendant at the Rivonia trial, he uttered the powerful words “I am prepared to die” which showed how he was willing to go to any length to grant equality to the people of Africa.

Even though he got imprisoned for 27 years shortly after, his speech did leave a tremendous impact.

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8. Ellen DeGeneres’ Commencement Address at Tulane University, 2009

The multi-talented Ellen DeGeneres never fails to disappoint with whatever she does and the same can be said about her commencement address at Tulane University, where she shared her experiences and learning with the graduating class.

From quoting Lady Gaga to speaking about the major turning points in her life – Ellen kept the audience hooked with her uplifting speech.

9. Michelle Obama’s Commencement Address at Eastern Kentucky University, 2013

Michelle Obama addressed the 2013 graduating class of Eastern Kentucky University. She challenged the graduates to seek and learn from different perspectives and turn their weaknesses into strengths, just the way she did.

She also highlighted the importance of volunteering in community services and the impact it has on our lives.

10. Sheryl Sandberg’s Commencement Address at Harvard Business School, 2012

Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg imparted wisdom to the graduating class of 2012 of Harvard Business School.

While drawing parallels to her own experiences, Sheryl shared observations and precious advice with the students. She ended the speech on a humorous note as she said,

“Tomorrow, you get something that Mark Zuckerberg does not have. A Harvard degree.”

11. Oprah Winfrey’s Commencement Address at Harvard University, 2013

Oprah Winfrey is known to stir people’s emotions and motivate them with her powerful words. During her commencement address at Harvard, she emphasized on learning from mistakes and embracing failure, while reflecting on the setbacks she faced. Her encouraging words serve as a reminder to never let failure bog you down.

12. Bill Gates’ Commencement Address at Harvard Business School, 2007

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Microsoft founder, Bill Gates addressed Harvard Business School’s class of 2007, urging them to change the world, eradicate poverty and tackle inequality. He emphasized on the role of technology in putting an end to global issues and encouraged students to take risks and not get intimidated by ‘complexities’.

13. Malala Yousafzai’s Address at the UN Youth Takeover, 2013

Activist Malala Yousafzai is an inspiration to many and her speech at the first ever UN Youth Takeover further reinforces that.

Malala, who was just 16 years old then, stunned the audience with her powerful and moving take on the right to quality education. Having seen difficult times during her childhood, she was determined to fight for what she believed in and inspire a change.

14. Winston Churchill’s ‘We Shall Fight on the Beaches’ Speech, 1940

Another famous speech is that delivered by Winston Churchill, on 4th June 1940 to the House of Commons. The speech was meant to instill courage in the people during World War II, while the threat of Nazi invasion loomed over England.

He kept his speech concise, realistic and to the point as he reminded everyone about the strength and perseverance England has always exhibited.

15. Hillary Clinton’s Address at the Women in The World Summit, 2015

Calling women the ‘agents of change’, Hillary Clinton delivered a passionate speech at the Women in the World summit, speaking about the struggles women face in all walks of life due to unequal rights.

While remaining optimistic about seeing a positive change in future, she spoke about issues that often go overlooked such as equal pay, reproductive rights, paid maternity leave, living wage, LGBTQ rights, affordable child care among others.

16. Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, 1863

The Gettysburg Address, delivered by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, is known as one of the greatest speeches in the world and makes a fundamental part of American history.

In just 272 words, Lincoln made valid arguments surrounding equality and concluded with the famous line,

“government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

17. Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘Your Elusive Creative Genius’ TED Talk, 2009

Known for the international bestseller, ‘Eat, Pray, love’, Elizabeth Gilbert gave an inspiring TED Talk wherein she shared her wisdom on creativity.

She spoke about the pressures it comes with and how one can go beyond what society says and connect with the ‘genius’ that resides in each one of us.

18. Jawaharlal Nehru’s ‘Tryst with Destiny’ Speech, 1947

The first prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru addressed India on the eve of independence with the speech, Tryst with Destiny. This historic speech celebrated the non-violent victory, acknowledging the struggle that had gone behind it and the belief he has in India, as a powerful, independent nation.

19. Mark Zuckerberg’s Commencement Address at Harvard University, 2017

The Founder and CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg addressed the 2017 graduating class of Harvard University.

Being a Harvard dropout, Mark commenced the speech by recalling his times spent at Harvard and how they shaped him. His thought-provoking talk highlighted the importance of purpose – finding our own and creating one for others. He left the audience with practical advice that ranged from tackling global issues to building communities.

20. Gloria’s Steinem’s Women’s March Speech, 2017

Feminist icon, Gloria Steinem, addressed over 500,000 women who gathered at the Women’s March in Washington DC, with fearlessness and conviction.

She took on topics plaguing the society such as the role of women in the world and equal rights, while sending a bold message to the government to not undermine the power of women.

21. Denzel Washington’s Commencement Address at University of Pennsylvania, 2011

“Fall forward,” – the two words that encompassed Oscar-winning actor Denzel Washington’s commencement address at University of Pennsylvania in 2011. He encouraged students to take failure in the right spirit and never let it discourage them. He beautifully summarized why we must embrace failure, while recalling experiences during his growing up days.

Final Thoughts

Even though these best speeches stem from different premises, what binds them together is the wonderful feeling they leave you with.

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Each of these famous short speeches contains the power to strike an emotional chord and help you find your feet amidst all the chaos. So, take a page from their books and let their words inspire you to keep going and never lose hope.

More Inspiring Thoughts

Featured photo credit: Matthias Wagner via unsplash.com

More by this author

Adela Belin

Writes about motivation, mental health, personal development and shares stories inspired by her personal journey.

How to Crush Your Lack of Motivation and Always Stay Motivated How Do I Change for the Better? 11 Little Things to Start Doing 16 Best Podcasts on Motivation to Help You Reach Your Goals 21 Uplifting and Powerful Famous Speeches That You Can’t Miss The Importance of Self Improvement No Matter How Old You Are

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Last Updated on September 30, 2020

Why Intrinsic Motivation Is So Powerful (And How to Find It)

Why Intrinsic Motivation Is So Powerful (And How to Find It)

Motivation is one of the main reasons we do things — take an action, go to work (and sometimes overwork ourselves), create goals, exercise our willpower. There are two main, universally agreed upon types of motivation — intrinsic motivation (also known as internal motivation) and extrinsic motivation (external motivation).

The intrinsic kind is, by inference, when you do something because it’s internally fulfilling, interesting or enjoyable — without an expectation of a reward or recognition from others. Extrinsic motivation is driven by exactly the opposite — externalities, such as the promise of more money, a good grade, positive feedback, or a promotion.

And of course, we all know about the big debate about money. It’s surely an external driver, but is it possible that it can sometimes make us enjoy what we do more? A meta-analysis that reviewed 120 years of research found a weak link between job satisfaction and money[1].

And what’s more — there is some evidence to suggest that more money can actually have an adverse effect on your intrinsic motivation.

Regardless of its type, motivation is still important to get you moving, to improve, excel, and put that extra effort when you feel like you don’t have a single drop of energy left to keep going.

So, let’s see some of the best things you can do to keep the fire going, even when you’d rather just indulge in pleasant idleness.

Why Intrinsic Motivation Tops Extrinsic Motivation

“To be motivated means to be moved to do something.”[2]

Generally speaking, we all need motivation.

An avalanche of research, though, shows that when it comes to finding the lasting drive to “do something,” internal incentives are much more powerful than extrinsic rewards.

Why? It’s simple.

There is a great difference when you engage in something because “I want to,” as opposed to “I must.” Just think about the most obvious example there is: work.

If you go to work every day, dragging your feet and dreading the day ahead of you, how much enjoyment will you get from your job? What about productivity and results? Quality of work?

Yep, that’s right, you definitely won’t be topping the Employee of the Month list anytime soon.

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The thing with external motivation is that it doesn’t last. It’s susceptible to something psychologists call Hedonic Adaptation[3]. It’s a fancy way of saying that external rewards are not a sustainable source of happiness and satisfaction.

When you put in 100-hour weeks in order to get promoted, and you finally are, how long does your “high” last? The walking-on-a-cloud feelings wear off quickly, research tells us, making you want more. Therefore, you are stuck on a never-ending “hedonic treadmill,” i.e. you can progressively only become motivated by bigger and shinier things, just to find out that they don’t bring you the satisfaction you hoped for, when you finally get them.

Or, as the journalist and author Oliver Burkeman wonderfully puts it[4]:

“Write every day” won’t work unless you want to write. And no exercise regime will last long if you don’t at least slightly enjoy what you’re doing.

If you want to find out more about the different types of motivation, take a look at this article: 9 Types of Motivation That Make It Possible to Reach Your Dreams

Benefits of Intrinsic Motivation

If you are still unconvinced that doing things solely for kudos and brownie points is not going to keep you going forever, nor make you like what you do, here is some additional proof:

Studies tell us that intrinsic motivation is a generally stronger predictor of job performance over the long run than extrinsic motivation[5].

One reason is that when we are internally driven to do something, we do it simply for the enjoyment of the activity. So, we keep going, day in and out, because we feel inspired, driven, happy, and satisfied with ourselves.

Another reason has to do with the fact that increasing intrinsic motivation is intertwined with things such as higher purpose, contributing to a cause, or doing things for the sake of something bigger than ourselves or our own benefit. A famous study done by the organizational psychologist Adam Grant is case in point[6].

By showing university fundraisers how the money donated by alumni can help financially struggling students to graduate from college, their productivity increased by 400% a week! The callers also showed an average increase of 142% in time spent on the phone and 171% increase in money raised.

Internal motivation has been found to be very helpful when it comes to academia, too. Research confirms that the use of external motivators, such as praise, undermine students’ internal motivation, and, in the long-run, it results in “slower acquisition of skills and more errors in the learning process.”[7]

In contrast, when children are internally driven, they are more involved in the task at hand, enjoy it more, and intentionally seek out challenges.

Therefore, all the research seems to allude to one major revelation: intrinsic motivation is a must-have if you want to save yourself the drudgery we all sometimes feel when contemplating the things we should do or must do.

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6 Ways to Enhance Your Intrinsic Motivation

So, how does one get more of the good stuff — that is, how do you become internally motivated?

There are many things you can do to become more driven. Here are the ones that top the list.

1. Self-Efficacy

The theory of self-efficacy was developed by the American-Canadian psychologist Albert Bandura in 1982[8]. Efficacy is our own belief in whether we can achieve the goals we set for ourselves. In other words, it’s whether we think we “got what it takes” to be successful at what we do[9].

Find intrinsic motivation with self-efficacy.

    It’s not hard to see the link of self-efficacy to higher self-esteem, better performance, and, of course, enhanced motivation. People with high self-efficacy are more likely to put extra effort in what they do, to self-set more challenging goals, and be more driven to improve their skills[10].

    Therefore, the belief that we can accomplish something serves as a self-fulfilling prophecy — it motivates us to try harder to prove to ourselves that we can do it.

    You can learn more about self-efficacy in this article: What Is Self Efficacy and How to Improve Yours

    2. Link Your Actions to a Greater Purpose

    Finding your “why” in life is incredibly important. This means that you need to be clear with yourself on why you do what you do and what drives you. What is intrinsically rewarding for you? 

    And no matter how mundane a task may be, it can always be linked to something bigger and better. Psychologists call this “reframing your narrative.”

    Remember the famous story of John F. Kennedy visiting NASA in 1961? As it goes, he met a janitor there and asked him what he did at NASA. The answer was:

    “I’m helping to put a man on the Moon.”

    Inspirational, isn’t it?

    Re-phrasing how your actions can help others and leave a mark in the universe can be a powerful driver and a meaning-creator.

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    3. Volunteer

    Volunteering is a great way to give back to the world. It can also help boost your internal motivation by making you feel important in supporting the less fortunate, learning new skills, feeling good about yourself, or linking to some of your inner values, such as kindness and humanitarianism[11].

    When you remove any external reward expectations and do something for the pure joy and fulfilment of improving others’ lives, then you are truly intrinsically motivated.

    4. Don’t Wait Until You “Feel Like It” to Do Something

    A great piece in the Harvard Business Review points out that when we say things as “I can’t make myself go to the gym” or “I can’t get up early,” what we actually mean is that we don’t feel like it[12]. There is nothing that psychically prevents us from doing those things, apart from our laziness.

    But here’s the thing: You don’t have to “feel like it” in order to take action.

    Sometimes, it so happens that you may not want to do something in the beginning, but once you start, you get into the flow and find your intrinsic motivation.

    For instance, you don’t feel like going to the gym after a long day at work. Rather than debating in your head for hours “for and against” it, just go. Tell yourself that you will think about it later. Once in the gym, surrounded by similar souls, you suddenly won’t fee that tired or uninspired.

    Another way to overcome procrastination is to create routines and follow them. Once the habit sets in, suddenly getting up at 6 am for work or writing for an hour every day won’t be so dreadful.

    5. Self-Determination, or the CAR Model (As I Call It)

    The Self-Determination theory was created by two professors of psychology from the University of Rochester in the mid-80s—Richard Ryan and Edward Deci[13]. The theory is one of the most popular ones in the field of motivation[14]. It focuses on the different drivers behind our behavior—i.e. the intrinsic and extrinsic motivators.

    There are three main needs, the theory further states, that can help us meet our need for growth. These are also the things which Profs. Deci and Ryan believed to be the main ways to enhance our intrinsic motivation—Competence, Autonomy, and Relatedness (CAR).

    If our jobs allow us to learn and grow, and if we have enough autonomy to do things our way and be creative, then we will be more driven to give our best, and our performance will soar. In addition, as humans are social beings, we also need to feel connected to others and respected.

    All of these sources of intrinsic motivation, separately and in combination, can become powerful instigators to keep us thriving, even when we feel uninspired and unmotivated .

    6. Tap Into a Deeper Reason

    Some interesting research done in 2016 sought answers to how high-performing employees remain driven when their company can’t or won’t engage in ways to motivate them—intrinsically or extrinsically[15].

    The study tracked workers in a Mexican factory, where they did exactly the same tasks every day, with virtually zero chances for learning new skills, developing professionally, or being promoted. Everyone was paid the same, regardless of performance. So there was no extrinsic motivation at all, other than keeping one’s job.

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    A third kind of motivation was then discovered, which scientists called “family motivation.” Workers who agreed more with statements such as “I care about supporting my family” or “It is important for me to do good for my family” were more energized and performed better, although they didn’t have any additional external or internal incentive to do so.

    The great thing about this kind of driver is that it’s independent of the company one works for or the situation. It taps into something even deeper—if you don’t want to do something for your own sake, then do it for the people you care for.

    And this is a powerful motive, as many can probably attest to this.

    Final Thoughts

    Frederick Herzberg, the American psychologist who developed what’s perhaps still today the most famous theory of motivation, in his renowned article from 1968 (which sold a modest 1.2 million reprints and it the most requested article from Harvard Business Review One More Time, How Do You Motivate Employees? wrote:[16]

    “If I kick my dog, he will move. And when I want him to move again, what must I do? I must kick him again. Similarly, I can charge a person’s battery, and then recharge it, and recharge it again. But it is only when one has a generator of one’s own that we can talk about motivation. One then needs no outside stimulation. One wants to do it.”

    Herzberg further explains that the so-called “hygiene factors” (salary, job security, benefits, vacation time, work conditions) don’t lead to fulfillment, nor motivation. What does, though, are the “motivators”—challenging work, opportunities for growth, achievement, greater responsibility, recognition, the work itself.

    Herzberg realized it long ago…intrinsic motivation tips the scales when it comes to finding long-term happiness and satisfaction in everything we do, and to improving our overall well-being.

    In the end, the next time when you need to give yourself a bit of a kick to get something done, remember to link it to a goal bigger than yourself, and preferably one that has non-material benefit.

    And no, don’t say that you tried but it’s just impossible to find internal motivation. Remember the janitor at NASA?

    Because once you find your internal generator, you will be truly unstoppable.

    More Tips to Boost Motivation

    Featured photo credit: Juan Ramos via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Harvard Business Review: Does Money Really Affect Motivation? A Review of the Research
    [2] Contemporary Educational Psychology: Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions
    [3] Scientific American: The Science of Lasting Happiness
    [4] The Guardian: Is the secret of productivity really just doing what you enjoy?
    [5] European Journal of Business and Management: Impact of Employee Motivation on Employee Performance
    [6] Adam Grant : Impact and the Art of Motivation Maintenance: The Effects of Contact With Beneficiaries on Persistence Behavior
    [7] Grand Valley State University: The Effect of Rewards and Motivation on Student Achievement
    [8] Encyclopedia Britannica: Albert Bandura
    [9] Pinterest: Self-Efficacy Theory
    [10] Educational Psychologist: Goal Setting and Self-Efficacy During Self-Regulated Learning
    [11] University of Minnesota: The Motivations to Volunteer: Theoretical and Practical Considerations
    [12] Harvard Business Review: How to Make Yourself Work When You Just Don’t Want To
    [13] Richard Ryan and Edward Deci: Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions
    [14] Richard Ryan and Edward Deci: Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being
    [15] Nick Tasler: How some people stay motivated and energized at work—even when they don’t love their jobs
    [16] Harvard Business Review: One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?

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