It’s refreshing to see that amongst the 10 speeches that changed the world there is a wide breadth of characters and themes. As with any subject that brings change to the world and reflection to the minds of a generation we will all have our particular favourites. The following list though shows that when executed perfectly a speech can quite literally change the present and the future.

10: Barack Obama Grant Park, Chicago, November 7, 2012

When Barack Obama became the 44th US President in 2009 he had already changed the face of American History and although every speech he gave during his 8 year presidency was memorable there is one that stands out above all the others.

“ I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America . . .”

Even though this seems like a pretty mediocre set of words spliced together, it was Obama’s delivery that set the place alight. He possesses what every great speaker pursues, stage presence and the ability to hold the audience in rapture throughout every spoken word.

9: William Wilberforce House of Commons, London, May 12, 1789

“Let us put an end at once to this inhuman traffic. Let us stop this effusion of human blood. The true way to virtue is by withdrawing from temptation. Let us then withdraw from these wretched Africans those temptations to fraud, violence, cruelty and injustice, which the slave trade furnishes . . .

After relinquishing his wild gambling days Wilberforce championed the abolition of, amongst other things, adultery and Sunday newspapers. When advocating for the abolition of the slave trade however, he began drawing attention and making people sit up and listen.

The speech in question was delivered from the front bench of Parliament in response to a commissioned report by his friend, the prime minister Pitt. It was his knowledge of the subject and the raw passionate manner he delivered it that caught the attention of the politicians. He had found his why and he continued to be at the forefront of slavery abolition right up until his death, which came 3 days after the emancipation bill was passed.

8: Emmeline Pankhurst, Portman Rooms, London, March 24, 1908

“I want to call the attention of women who are here tonight to a few acts of the statute book which press very hardly and very injuriously on women. Men politicians are in the habit of talking to women as if there were no laws that affect women. ‘The fact is,’ they say, ‘the home is the place for women. Their interests are the rearing and training of children. These are the things that interest women. Politics have nothing to do with these things, and therefore politics do not concern women.’ Yet the laws decide how women are to live in marriage, how the children are to be trained and educated, and what the future of their children is to be. All that is decided by act of parliament.”

One could never accuse Emmeline Pankhurst of shying away from her beliefs. In fact, so strongly did she believe that she was incarcerated for them. Her courage and conviction shone through in her speeches and such was her controlled, intellectual rhetoric that she influenced one of the biggest changes ever seen in History.

7: John F Kennedy, Washington DC, January 20, 1961


“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country,” remains one of the most iconic phrases ever to be missiled from a politician’s mouth. When JF Kennedy made his inaugural speech he asked his chief speechwriter to make it short. Embroiled in the difficulties of the Cold War, Kennedy realised that this war of arguments would need to be nudged towards a world of inclusion, not exclusion:-

“ I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavour will light our country and all who serve it and the glow from that fire can truly light the world. And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what Americans will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”

There is little doubt that the persona and style of JFK helped this speech along.

6:- Nelson Mandela, Supreme Court of South Africa, Pretoria, April 20, 1964

“It is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

This was part of the speech that Mandela gave in court. He spoke for more than three hours, during which he took care to show he was not threatening or inciting violence towards the white population. This end part was memorised and spoken directly to the Judge. The effect was potent.

“The ANC has spent half a century fighting against racialism. It is a struggle of the African people, inspired by their own suffering and their own experience. It is a struggle for the right to live. 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.”

In our next blog we will count down to the number one spot. For tips and help with speaking in public check out my site and video course.


images by janab13, skeeze