Five of the Most Memorable Speeches in History

Writing and delivering a great speech relies on understanding human psychology, crowd behavior, communications principles and leadership skills. Hundreds of speeches are delivered each year, but only a rare few are remembered in history. These stand out from the rest because of who the speaker is, his or her chosen topic, the current cultural and political climate, the sincerity of the speaker’s delivery and whether the speaker truly motivates listeners to act. The following five speakers both achieved greatness and earned their place in history because of a single opportunity to address a crowd with a timeless speech.

Image provided by Cornell University’s Kheel Center from Flickr’s Creative CommonsMartin Luther King Jr. “I Have a Dream”

Martin Luther King Jr. is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest orators of all time. The key to his success was, in part, his consistency. He was consistently passionate, consistently committed and consistently clear with his every word. King also strived to be relatable, no matter what angle his speech took. For instance, his “I Have a Dream” speech moved listeners for different reasons. Some listeners found the subject of racial equality was the most important. Others found that listening to King challenged them to commit more fully to their own dreams. King transcended the political realm into what motivates people: dreaming of, and pursuing, a better life.

Susan B. Anthony “Women’s Right to Vote”

A single act of disenfranchisement started Susan B. Anthony’s crusade to win women the right to vote. She used that moment to craft her speech “Women’s Right to Vote.” She delivered the speech many times over the course of her career. Anthony’s speech references the most significant moment in American history — when “we the people” formed the Union. She used this moment to remind listeners of what they share in common, temporarily erasing the sense of gender divisiveness her campaign was causing. Through its unifying words, Susan B. Anthony’s speech swayed public opinion and eventually led to ratification of the 19th Amendment.

Jesus Christ “The Sermon on the Mount”

No speaker will ever go wrong by taking his or her main points from literary classics. In the case of “The Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus’s most famous speech, he directly draws from the Old Testament’s Ten Commandments. In this speech, Jesus not only reviewed and referenced the Commandments but he also expanded the teachings and provided examples from his listeners’ daily lives to help them connect with each Commandment. The information Jesus offers in the Sermon is directly applicable in his listeners’ lives, allowing the speech to transcend time. [Read more…]

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