One of the most effective and convenient mediums of finding your motivation in life is speeches, and it doesn’t get better than the speeches from great personalities who have conquered the masses with their exceptional oratory skills words. A few words of motivation and optimism, or the ones that move you with their intensity and passion can do wonders in one’s life – form bridges to your goals, work as catalysts for your success and even push you out of bed in the morning when you don’t have a reason to.
Here are 10 greatest speeches of all times that have changed the world in one way or another:
1. Duties of American Citizenship – Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt was the 26th President of the United States (1901-1909) after serving as the 33rd Governor of New York (1899-1900) and the 25th Vice President of the United States (March-September of 1900). Needless to say, he was one of the most influential people in the States and his speeches were legendary. This is an excerpt from his speech about civic engagement that he delivered in Buffalo, New York.
“In facing the future and in striving, each according to the measure of his individual capacity, to work out the salvation of our land, we should be neither timid pessimists nor foolish optimists. We should recognize the dangers that exist and that threaten us: we should neither overestimate them nor shrink from them, but steadily fronting them should set to work to overcome and beat them down.”
2. The Gettysburg Address – Abraham Lincoln
Who does not know of the unsurpassed President of the United States; Abraham Lincoln, the leader who led America towards its greatness (sorry Trump) and past the bloodiest war of all times. He was the 16th President of the States from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. This is an excerpt from the Gettysburg Address, one of the best-known speeches in American history, that was delivered during the Civil War on 19th November 1863.
“It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that 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.”
3. Tryst With Destiny – Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was the 1st Prime Minister of India and a prominent (mostly central) figure in the politics during and after the freedom struggle. Tryst With Destiny is a speech delivered by him in the Constituent Assembly at midnight of 14th – 15th August of 1947, on the eve of Independence. This is an excerpt from this speech, that found its way into the hearts of all the wounded, who had survived to see a new India, a free India.
“And so we have to labour and to work and work hard to give reality to our dreams. Those dreams are for India, but they are also for the world, for all the nations and peoples are too closely knit together today for anyone of them to imagine that it can live apart. Peace has been said to be indivisible, so is freedom, so is prosperity now, and so also is disaster in this one world that can no longer be split into isolated fragments.”
4. Gender Equality Is Your Issue Too – Emma Watson
Skipping a few decades and into the present, this speech changed perspectives of people regarding ‘Feminism’. Emma Watson is a British actor, model and activist; she was appointed as a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador in 2014. This is an excerpt from the speech she gave at a special event for the HeForShe campaign at the UN Headquarters, New York on 20th September 2014.
“These rights I consider to be human rights but I am one of the lucky ones. My life is a sheer privilege because my parents didn’t love me less because I was born a daughter. My school did not limit me because I was a girl. My mentors didn’t assume I would go less far because I might give birth to a child one day. These influencers were the gender equality ambassadors that made me who I am today. They may not know it, but they are the inadvertent feminists who are changing the world today. And we need more of those.
And if you still hate the word—it is not the word that is important but the idea and the ambition behind it. Because not all women have been afforded the same rights that I have. In fact, statistically, very few have been.”
5. I Am Prepared To Die – Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela was born to a Tembu tribal chieftain in Qunu, South Africa; instead of succeeding his father, he chose a political career and formed the African National Congress. Here is an excerpt from Mandela’s statement from the dock at the opening of his defence in the 1964 trial.
“Above all, we want equal political rights, because without them our disabilities will be permanent. I know this sounds revolutionary to the whites in this country, because the majority of voters will be Africans. This makes the white man fear democracy.
During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
6. Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat – Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1940-45 and 1951-55). Churchill led Britain to victory during the Second World War. Here is an excerpt from his speech, delivered in the House of Commons on 13th of May, 1940.
“You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory. Victory at all costs – Victory in spite of all terrors – Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival. Let that be realized. No survival for the British Empire, no survival for all that the British Empire has stood for, no survival for the urge, the impulse of the ages, that mankind shall move forward toward his goal. I take up my task in buoyancy and hope. I feel sure that our cause will not be suffered to fail among men. I feel entitled at this juncture, at this time, to claim the aid of all and to say, “Come then, let us go forward together with our united strength.”
7. Room Of One’s Own – Virginia Woolf
Writers from all over the world have admitted having taken inspiration from this speech by Virginia Woolf, one of the most foremost modernists and a pioneer in the field of writing. Here is an excerpt from this speech (more of a lecture) that she delivered at Newnham College and Girton College in the fall of 1928.
“My belief is that if we live another century or so – I am talking of the common life which is the real life and not of the little separate lives which we live as individuals – and have five hundred a year each of us and rooms of our own; if we have the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think.”
8. Freedom or Death – Emmeline Pankhurst
Emmeline Pankhurst was a British political activist and leader of the British suffragette movement. She was one of the most fearless women in British history. This is an excerpt from her speech, delivered in Hartford, Connecticut on 13th November 1913.
“I have seen men smile when they heard the words “hunger strike”, and yet I think there are very few men today who would be prepared to adopt a “hunger strike” for any cause. It is only people who feel an intolerable sense of oppression who would adopt a means of that kind. It means you refuse food until you are at death’s door, and then the authorities have to choose between letting you die, and letting you go; and then they let the women go.”
9. The Crisis of Civilisation – Rabindranath Tagore
Rabindranath Tagore was a Bengali polymath, the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature and was often referred to as ‘the Bard of Bengal’. This is an excerpt from not only his last speech but also his last public pronouncement, delivered at Viswa Bharati on Bengali New Year’s Eve.
“Today I complete eighty years of my life .As I look back on the vast stretch of years that lie behind me and see in clear perspective the history of my early development, I am struck by the change that has taken place both in my own attitude and in the psychology of my countrymen — a change that carries within it a cause of profound tragedy.”
10. Freedom From Fear – Aung San Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi is a Burmese politician, diplomat and author. In the 1990 elections, her party won the majority of the seats but the results were nullified as the military refused to hand over power. She remained under house arrest for almost 15 of the 21 years from 1989 to 2010, becoming one of the world’s most prominent political prisoners. This is an excerpt from her speech, delivered in commemoration of winning the 1990 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.
“Fearlessness may be a gift but perhaps more precious is the courage acquired through endeavour, courage that comes from cultivating the habit of refusing to let fear dictate one’s actions, courage that could be described as ‘grace under pressure’ – grace which is renewed repeatedly in the face of harsh, unremitting pressure.”
Leaders, politicians and great personalities have always opted speeches over any other means of communication for the mere reason that speeches have the power to reach out to a huge mass and make them feel the emotions that move them and motivate them towards achieving the greater good. If we look closely, we find that these speeches were delivered during moments of utmost importance or at crossroads, where if the wrong decision or action would have been taken, history would be something else altogether!