What makes a speech great? The person, the time, the words, the delivery.
There isn’t a singular formula. Check out this wide array of speakers, times and places.
These 22 unforgettable excerpts are exceptional because of their well thought, well-crafted, well-delivered messages. Learn from the Masters. Lookup & Listen to the Whole.
Unforgettable Orator - Excerpts
The Gettysburg Address
November 19, 1863 | Battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania | 3 Minutes long and considered alongside the Constitution and Declaration to be an essential, founding document, “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal… from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion - that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain - that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom - and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
[Postscript | Edward Everett sent Lincoln a note on November 20, “I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”]
Corrie Ten Boom
November, 1972 | The author of The Hiding Place recalls people leaving in silence after one of her speeches about life in the concentration camp where her sister died, “And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush… the shame of walking naked past this man… He said, “I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein”–again the hand came out–“will you forgive me?”
What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?
July 5, 1852 | Rochester, New York | Addressing the Rochester Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society, “The Signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men … statesmen, patriots and heroes, and for the good they did, and the principles they contended for, I will unite with you to honor their memory… I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of glorious anniversary! …The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine… in your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions …whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, to-day, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them…
I shall see this day and its popular characteristics from the slave’s point of view…To him… your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless…God speed the hour, the glorious hour, when none on earth shall exercise a lordly power, nor in a tyrant’s presence cower… God speed the year of jubilee … To man his plundered rights again restore.”
Duties of American Citizenship
January 26, 1883 | Buffalo, New York | To a demoralized public | It’s everyone’s duty to serve the public good, “You can no more have freedom without striving and suffering … people who say that they have not time to attend to politics are simply saying that they are unfit to live in a free community.”
The Lady’s not for Turning
October 10, 1980 | Conservative Party Conference Speech | Known as the “Iron Lady,” she responded to criticism for her handling of the economy, “If our people feel that they are part of a great nation and they are prepared to will the means to keep it great, then a great nation we shall be, and shall remain…To those waiting with bated breath for that favourite media catchphrase, the 'U-turn', I have only one thing to say: 'You turn [U-turn] if you want to. The lady's NOT for turning.'“
We Shall Fight on the Beaches
June 4, 1940 | House of Commons, London | A voice of reassurance and inspiration | Thousands of ships including small fishing boats piloted by volunteers, ferried 338,000 French and British troops to safety, “We shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…”
Transform Your World
March 8, 2011 | Kean State University, New Jersey | Commencement Address, “Are you prepared to work to make this country, our country more than it is today? For that is the job to be done… Look beyond your tasseled caps and you will see injustice. At the end of your fingertips you will find cruelties, irrational hate, bedrock sorrow and terrifying loneliness. There is your work. Make a difference; use this degree which you have earned to increase virtue in your world. Your people, all people, are hoping that you are the ones to do so.”
Farewell to Baseball Address
July 4, 1939 | Yankee Stadium | The first baseman, nicknamed the “Iron Horse” for his tenacity, at age 36 retired due to a crippling illness that now bears his name, “Sure, I’m lucky… When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift, that’s something… When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed, that’s the finest I know. So I close in saying that I might have had a tough break – but I have an awful lot to live for!”
Love, No Matter What
April 29, 2014 | Ted Talk | Solomon speaks to the relationship between diagnosis and identity, “How did we get from there to here? How did an illness become an identity? When I was perhaps six years old, I went to a shoe store with my mother and my brother. And at the end of buying our shoes, the salesman said to us that we could each have a balloon to take home. My brother wanted a red balloon, and I wanted a pink balloon. My mother said that she thought I’d really rather have a blue balloon. But I said that I definitely wanted the pink one. And she reminded me that my favorite color was blue. The fact that my favorite color now is blue, but I’m still gay — (laughter) — is evidence of both my mother’s influence and its limits… We have to think about how we feel about cures altogether. And a lot of the time the question of parenthood is, what do we validate in our children, and what do we cure in them? … (when) we hear you pray for a cure (for our deafness, autism, dwarfism, gayness, Down syndrome — we hear) that your fondest wish for us is that someday we will cease to be and strangers you can love will move in behind our faces.”
50th Anniversary Speech
January 26, 1995 | Oswiecim, Poland | The 50th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz | Wiesel, a survivor of Auschwitz and Buchenwald camps where more than 2-million were killed, including many of his family, “I speak to you as a man, who 50 years and nine days ago had no name, no hope, no future and was known only by his number, A7713… In this place of darkness and malediction we can but stand in awe and remember its stateless, faceless and nameless victims… Here heaven and earth are on fire… Close your eyes and listen… In the name of all that is sacred in memory… Let us reject and oppose more effectively religious fanaticism and racial hate. Where else can we say to the world, ‘Remember the morality of the human condition,’ if not here? For the sake of our children, we must remember Birkenau, so that it does not become their future.”
October 5, 1877 | Montana Territory | The U.S. Military evicted the Nez Perce from their land. Heading for Canada in search of amnesty, Chief Joseph made a difficult surrender, knowing that it would mean the end of life as his people knew it, “I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find… Hear me, my Chiefs! I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
I Have A Dream
August 28, 1963 | Washington D.C. | March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was the promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness… There are those who are asking the devotees of Civil Rights, “When will you be satisfied?” …We are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until “justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations… Even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream…I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character… I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low… “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”
Naval Adm. William H. McRaven
Make Your Bed
May 17, 2014 | The University of Texas, Austin | Commencement Address, “So, what starts here can indeed change the world… It matters not your gender, your ethnic or religious background, your orientation or your social status… If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right… If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.”
How Great Leaders Inspire Action
Ted Talk | Simon Sinek leads a thought-provoking talk about how some of the greatest leaders have inspired those around them, including Martin Luther King, Jr., the Apple founders and the Wright brothers. Sinek believes true inspiration comes from believing in something strongly yourself, and communicating that belief to others — "People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it."
John F. Kennedy,
January 20, 1961 | Washington, D.C. | The youngest president in United States history, he brough post-war hope and enthusiasm to Americans, “So let us begin anew — remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate… Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us… And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
August 8, 1942 | India | The people of India were engaged in a fight for liberty. Gandhi, pioneer of the tactics of non-violent civil disobeance, demanded liberation from British rule. “I have noticed that there is hatred towards the British among the people… We must get rid of this feeling. Our quarrel is not with the British people, we fight their imperialism… We cannot evoke the true spirit of sacrifice and valour, so long as we are not free. I know the British Government will not be able to withhold freedom from us, when we have made enough self-sacrifice. We must, therefore, purge ourselves of hatred… People may laugh, nevertheless that is my claim. At a time when I may have to launch the biggest struggle of my life, I may not harbor hatred against anybody.”
May 12, 1789 | House of Commons, London | Wilberforce sought to end slavery by going after the slave trade, reasoning that the abolition of one would logically lead to the demise of the other (it would be 8 years before the Slave Trade act was passed), “We are all guilty-we ought all to plead guilty, and not to exculpate ourselves by throwing the blame on others… I must speak of the transit of the slaves in the West Indies. This I confess, in my own opinion, is the most wretched part of the whole subject. So much misery condensed in so little room, is more than the human imagination had ever before conceived.”
Ain’t I a Woman?
1851 | Akron, Ohio | Women’s Rights Convention | Born into slavery, she escaped brutal masters. A feminist and abolitionist, she responded to male ministers who misconstrued the Bible to make a case for male dominance, “Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? …From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him. If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again!”
Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death
March 23, 1775 | Richmond, Virginia | Revolution was in the air. King George had denounced the “daring spirit of resistance and disobedience” that had spread across the American continent. Henry believed war was inevitable and that Virginia’s counties should begin to raise militiamen, “Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offense, I should consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the Majesty of Heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings… there is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! … Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”
Second Inaugural Address
March 4, 1865 | Washington, D.C. | To a deeply divided nation, during the final days of the Civil War | Rejected triumphalism, recognized evil of slavery, proposed a way forward, “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations."
I Am Prepared to Die
April 20, 1964 | South Africa, the Rivonia Trial | Giving reason for his participation in sabbatoge against property, Mandala explained why he took part in the armed wing of the ANC, "The government which uses force to support its rule teaches the oppressed to use force to oppose it… (we do so) not because we desire such a course. Solely because the government left us no other choice…. (democracy) is an ideal for which I am prepared to die".
399 B.C. | Athens, Greece | A defense against the charges of corrupting the young and holding diverse beliefs, “My plainness of speech makes them hate me, and what is their hatred but a proof that I am speaking the truth.”