In the age of social media, great oratory still resonates with the masses. It’s still true, and likely always to be true — great, truly great leaders are charismatic speakers. Below are some of the best examples of speeches that stand the test of time.
Two Great Speeches by Michele Obama — Summer and Fall of 2016
Normally, a first lady is not known for her ability to inspire and motivate. However, Ms. Obama is clearly the exception. The first speech is one made that had impact on the 2016 presidential election. It’s included in an article from the Washington Post titled, “Michelle Obama’s Speech on Donald Trump was Remarkable.”
Second one is from the Democratic Convention during the summer of 2016.
Pope Francis: Speech to the US Congress, September 24, 2015.
The content is extremely well written and delivered. It plays well to a set of aspirational cultural values, in this case, values strongly held in the American culture. That said, he also reminded these political leaders of the moral and ethical basis for exercising power.
Bill Moyers— A Great But Broken Promise.
It’s difficult to construct a great speech that’s transformational in its nature, but this graduation speech to the students at SMU is worth looking looking into.
Pope Urban II: Speech at the Council of Clermont, 1095
There is no exact version of what was said, but we know the results — the Crusades. Actually, there were a number of crusades, some total disasters such as the Children’s crusade. Still, it must have been an incredible speech, one designed to persuade and motivate the nobility of Europe to leave their homelands. This link accesses five versions of what was said.
Martin Luther King—I Have a Dream
This seventeen minute video captured the powerful words of a truly great speaker—one who polished his craft with hundreds of hours of practice. While it is hard to tell from the video, it appears Dr. King started his presentation by reading from a script, then stopped reading from his prepared notes and started speaking extemporaneously. You might say, that’s when the magic began.
Steve Jobs—iPhone Introduction
Most business presentations are pretty boring but Jobs has mastered the art of the presentation. You don’t have to watch the entire presentation, but one can see why the iphone generated so much publicity.
Barack Obama— A New Beginning
This was a speech made on June 4, 2009 at Cairo University. The focus of the speech was not so much to discuss policy, as it was to build good will. By studying this speech, one can learn a number of techniques for building rapport with an audience.
Randy Pausch— The Last Lecture
University professors are generally not known for memorable lectures. However, this is the exception to the rule. In the video, we hear words of wisdom from a professor who knew he was dying of cancer. This has been a viral classic for a while and it really has a timeless quality about it.
Speeches With Text and Videos
One can learn to become a great speaker but one needs to have both great content and great delivery. This is not an easy thing to do. The following are examples of video which has a transcript so you can follow along and get a feel for how to deliver the words.
Steve Jobs — 2005 Graduation Speech as Stanford—Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish
This is one case where I do prefer the text to the video version, but you should enjoy the live version if you enjoy a few good stories.
Bill Clinton — 2008 Speech at the Democratic National Convention
In terms of polished communication skills, you this speech by Bill Clinton. American president’s while in office tend to be rather boring (meaning statesman-like). However, they do liven up the rhetoric on the campaign trail. Although it is fairly ethnocentric, focused as it is on the American politics, you get a feel for how to good delivery interacts with good content to generate audience enthusiastic.
Edward Kennedy, Jr. —Eulogy For A Father, August 2009
A great speech does not have to be long, this one is only 12 minutes. But it captured the many elements that make for a great presentation — there was emotion, there was fluency, and there was humor. You’ll also hear a number of great teaching stories, especially one which I call, “The Hill.”
Elizabeth Warren — December 12, 2013
It is not that often that a single speech can capture the imagination of many, but that is what happened with this 2013 speech by Senator Warren. Essentially, this short ten minute speech was a populist one that catapulted the Senator into the position of a national spokesperson for the Democratic Party in America.
Saxton Speaker’s Bureau—Great Speeches
Saxton has put together a number of great speeches, from the not so well known to extremely famous individuals. On the well known side, you will find speeches by:
- Napoleon Bonaparte
- Margaret Thatcher
- Maximilien Robespierre
- Franklin D Roosevelt
- Abraham Lincoln
- John F Kennedy
- Nelson Mandela