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
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.
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
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.
Even though these best speeches stem from different premises, what binds them together is the wonderful feeling they leave you with.
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
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- You Are What You Listen To: 11 Podcasts To Inspire Yourself
Featured photo credit: Matthias Wagner via unsplash.com