There are speakers the whole world remembers. Their words stand throughout history as works of art, as often-quoted reminders of the best messages humanity has to offer.

In this article, we will look at 5 of the greatest speakers of all time and how they illustrate 15 common threads that bind all great messages together.

5 Key Lessons We’ve Learned From The World’s Best Speakers:

  1. Passion, Persuasion, and Wonder: Truly great speakers communicate with enthusiasm, convince their audience, and share their awe of the subject matter.
  2. Content Depth and Eloquent Language: A well-researched foundation and masterful use of language elevate speeches from mere talks to impactful orations.
  3. Creative Presentation and Storytelling: Utilizing unique methods of delivery and engaging narratives captures and retains audience attention.
  4. Audience Engagement and Self-Examination: Effective speakers involve their listeners actively, prompting them to reflect on their own lives and motivations.
  5. Respectability, Challenge, and Memorability: Speakers who are respected for their achievements inspire audiences to aspire for more, leaving them with powerful, quotable takeaways.

1. Amelia Earhart

Long before YouTube existed to allow us to watch the most impressive speeches, long before television footage recorded momentous utterances of the famous, there was radio.

Our exploration of greatest speakers of all time starts with Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic in 1929.

When she was not doing daredevil flights, Earhart was a dedicated academic in the faculty of Perdue University and a spectacularly popular public speaker.

Her message was that women should consider pursuing careers in science, and she delivered that at a period in history when such an idea was revolutionary.

Her 1936 radio broadcast, “A Woman’s Place in Science” is one of her best. You can listen to a recording of it in its entirety here.

This speech was delivered just one year before the famous pilot and role model disappeared and three years before she was officially declared dead in 1939.

In it you will notice three common themes of the best speeches in history:

  1. The speaker is passionate. Earhart tells of her great love of science and extolls its benefits to humanity.

  2. The speaker is persuasive. She encourages everyone to adopt a “friendly attitude” towards science and encourages women especially to consider it as a rewarding career.

  3. The speaker shares a sense of wonder. Of all the emotions, a sense of wonder is the most contagious. Earhart shares her infectious sense of wonder at the great world to be discovered through science and its application to flight.

2. Martin Luther King Jr.

Civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. was an accomplished speaker, but among all his addresses, nothing touched the public’s spirit like his “I Had a Dream” speech.

You can hear see it again here:

The speech has two parts, the opener which focuses on the grim injustice he sees in the world as he looks around, and the closer where he draws his audience into his dream of how it could be.

Besides passion, persuasion and wonder, it also has three other primary components of all great speeches of the world.

  1. Its content is solid and well researched. No great speech, no matter how spontaneous it appears, emerges from the lips of a speaker without depth of thought. To write this remarkable address, King said he studied passages from the Bible, the Gettysburg Address and the United States’s Declaration of Independence.

  2. It is eloquent. The word choices are so masterful that the speech reads and sounds like powerful poetry. King’s command of language was extraordinary; he selected just the right word for the right place and in the right context.

  3. The delivery is attention-getting. King gave this speech in August of 1963 while standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. You can see the incredible power of his delivery, with his voice, his body and his words all in perfect unison for maximum impact.

3. Jane Goodall

Environmentalist and primatologist Jane Goodall, still on the public speaking circuit in her 80s, is one of the world’s most attended and frequently quoted orators.

But by her own admission, she was originally terrified of public speaking and considered it a nightmare. Today she delivers up to 300 presentations a year.

One of her most famous speeches, “What separates us from the Apes,” was delivered in 2002 as a TED talk.

You can hear and view it here:

Like all of the world’s best speeches, it is passionate, persuasive and portrays her sense of wonder with her subject. It also illustrates three more traits of great speakers:

  1. It is creative in its presentation. In this case, Goodall uses sound props such as the pant-hoot of the chimpanzee greeting. That emerges in most of her speeches and always shocks the audience that this small-statured person can emit this loud burst of sound. She also loves props.

  2. It uses storytelling as a method of getting a message to the audience. Determined to “speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves,” she overcame her fear of speaking by summoning the strength of her Welsh storytelling background.

  3. It has a finely tuned rhythm that goes from humorous to serious to keep an audience on its toes. Earlier it was illustrated how Martin Luther King used a rhythm of dark world to bright world in a poetic presentation. Goodall shows how a juxtaposition of laughter and seriousness can effectively engage her audience.

4. Tony Robbins

No examination of great speakers of the world would be complete without considering motivational speakers, and Tony Robbins remains one of the most engaging orators in that category.

Born Anthony J. Mahavoric, the American businessman and philanthropist is author of such bestsellers as Awaken the Giant Within, Unlimited Power and Unleash the Power.

Besides sharing all of the traits already mentioned by great speakers in the world, he illustrates three more ways in which amazing speakers impress:

  1. The audience is pulled into the presentation. You cannot sit in the audience of a Tony Robbins’ presentation and not think as much about yourself as about the speaker. For example, listen and watch his TED talk.

Within seconds of opening, he is challenging his audience to think about their lives and what they want to accomplish.

  1. It challenges the audience to self-examine their motivation. Calling himself the “why guy,” Robbins challenges his audience to figure out why they do what they do.

  2. PowerPoint is used very sparingly. It is a trend in the world’s greatest speeches that PowerPoint is either absent or used sparingly.

5. Chris Hadfield

Retired Colonel Chris Hadfield’s life is the stuff dreams are made of. He grew up on an Ontario corn farm watching the stars in the big country sky at night and dreaming of travelling among them.

He became the first Canadian to walk in space. He escorted Soviet bombers out of Canadian airspace. He even lived for a spell in a research vessel at the bottom of the ocean.

His speeches are inspiring, as you can hear and see from his TED Talk, “What I learned from going blind in space.”

Here are three more aspects of great speeches that Hadfield exemplifies.

  1. Great speakers have usually done something to make us respect them. Hadfield’s corn farmer to astronaut story is the stuff we can’t help but love, because it makes us all believe that anything is possible.

  2. Great speeches challenge us to be more than we are. Hadfield, for example, asks to how we would deal with the pressure of being in dangerous or scary situations.

  3. Great speeches leave us with great quotable lines. In this case, Hadfield reminds us of the astronaut’s saying: “there is no problem so bad that you can’t make it worse.”

Wrapping Up

The world’s greatest speakers share common traits that transcend the mere act of speaking.

They engage passionately with their topics and audiences, craft their messages with depth and eloquence, and leave a lasting impact through creative presentation and compelling storytelling.

As we learn from these orators, it’s clear that great speeches do more than convey information; they inspire, challenge, and transform us.