10 Famous Motivational Speeches You Need to Hear

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At The Speaker Lab, we’re dedicated to helping you launch and scale your speaking business. Since we’re dedicated to helping speaking professionals succeed, it stands to reason that we have a few favorite examples of our own! Today, we want to share some of the motivational speeches that our team thinks are most worth the listen. While you can find hundreds of inspirational talks on the internet, we think there’s something really special about these ten talks. Whether you want to be a speaker yourself or just need a mood boost, each of these examples is sure to leave you ample fuel for motivation and reflection! 

Topics of the speeches we cover today range from psychology and relationships, to goal-setting and growth, to effective leadership, to personal stories that carry weighty lessons. For each speech, we’ll include some insights into what really sets these talks apart. We also highly recommend setting some time aside to give each on its own and form your own opinions! Let’s dive into some of these amazing motivational speeches so you can see (or hear!) for yourself why we love them so much. 

1. Brené Brown: The Power of Vulnerability

We’re going to start with almost a too-obvious choice. You will see Brené Brown’s name pop up on just about any  list of important motivational speeches. And with good reason! This 2011 TED talk isn’t just one of the most-watched TED talks of all time. It’s an incredible investigation into the roles that connection, shame and vulnerability play in human relationships. It’s also an eye-opening exploration into why we all tend to shrink from vulnerability and what could happen if we flipped the script. And from a purely public speaking standpoint, it’s a great display of Brown’s wit and charisma. If you struggle with vulnerability in your own life or are trying to understand why a loved one keeps shutting you out, Brown’s short but impactful talk might have some answers for you. 

We covered this motivational speech in our recent article about pathos because Brown is a master of emotional connection. She backs up her argument with ample academic research, but connects her message to real, relatable experiences throughout. As she narrates her own experiences in a therapist’s office, she invites the audience to walk through those experiences with her. Making psychological research accessible to the masses is no easy feat, but Brown manages to do it with storytelling and humor. Her greatest lesson, perhaps, comes in how vulnerability can teach how to treat ourselves kindly.

“Our job is to look and say, “You know what? You’re imperfect, and you’re wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.”

2. Simon Sinek: “How great leaders inspire action”

Simon Sinek is a world-renowned author and speaker with an incredible knack for delivering profound and easily intelligible advice on leadership, business, and success. He has written several books and delivered many motivational speeches. His TED talk “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” which grew out of his first book, is perhaps the most well-known. Similarly to Brown’s speech, we think no list of the best motivational speeches would be complete without it. In short, it’s an analysis of how people like Steve Jobs and Martin Luther King Jr., and the Wright Brothers managed to accomplish amazing, unheard of things. Sinek theorizes that there is a unique way that great leaders communicate, and that’s how they get things done. 

If you’re a leader but don’t understand why your marketing and sales fall flat, or if you long to start a company but don’t know how to tap into what makes people excited about a business, Sinek has wisdom to share for you. His speech is for you if you’ll ever be in a leadership position or struggle to pinpoint your professional mission. And if you’re curious about why people trust certain political leaders and not others, you’ll want to listen to this speech. Sinek is a master of words and he distills a lot of fascinating information into simple stories and lessons about innovation and leadership. Give this one a listen to get fired up about what you believe and how you can make an impact with those beliefs. 

People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. The goal is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have. The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe.

3. Steve Jobs: Stanford Commencement speech 

Commencement addresses can be hit or miss. Sometimes they fill graduating seniors with energy and inspiration for the life ahead, other times they get a few laughs and more than a few yawns. Even celebrities and business leaders aren’t always up to the task of sending young adults off into the world. But in 2005 at Stanford University, Steve Jobs not only rose to the task, but outstripped expectations by delivering an iconic motivational speech that today is the most-watched commencement speech on YouTube. 

If you’ve been around The Speaker Lab for a while, you know we’re big fans of storytelling. Steve Jobs illustrates our favorite speaking strategy by structuring his remarks as three stories. The first: his experience as a college dropout and how it paved the path to his future. The second: his expulsion from Apple that allowed him to found Pixar and meet his wife, among other endeavors. And finally: his first brush with cancer and the second chance at life he was provided. While the last story rings differently in light of Jobs’s death in 2011, the wisdom he draws from the twists and turns of his life is applicable to far more than college seniors. 

The lessons of Jobs’s commencement address are myriad, and it’s a speech you’ll keep coming back to at different points in your life. Fortunately he summed them up himself:

Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” 

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4. Randy Pausch: “The Last Lecture: Really Achieving your Childhood Dreams”

Randy Pausch was a pioneer in software and virtual reality development and a longtime professor at Carnegie Mellon University. In his 40s, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given just a few months to live. He delivered a final lecture as part of a series where academics were asked to give a talk on a topic that was deeply important to them–and he spoke about his childhood dreams.

Pausch showed his cancer scans at the start of his presentation, letting his audience sit with the reality of his terminal diagnosis. But his regular jokes (including onstage pushups) lightened the mood and allowed his audience to embark on a journey following his personal and professional ambitions. His lecture became a viral motivational speech and even landed him an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show a few weeks later.

Everybody has childhood dreams. Some people don’t accomplish them, but few forget them. Pausch’s lecture testifies to how having those big dreams can bear great fruit in your personal and professional life. He also provides great examples from his own journey of how going the extra mile–even if it seems crazy–can help you achieve those dreams. This is a long speech, but we encourage you to listen (or read) in full because it’s so full of inspiration. But in the meantime, here are a few of our favorite lines: 

“Never lose the childlike wonder. It’s just too important. It’s what drives us.” 

“Remember, brick walls let us show our dedication. They are there to separate us from the people who don’t really want to achieve their childhood dreams. Don’t bail. The best of the gold is at the bottom of barrels of crap.”

5. Kelly McGonigal: “How to make stress your friend

Stress is something we all deal with, sometimes to an overwhelming degree. Many people try every possible hack to eliminate stress for their lives or live in fear of it. But what if we treated stress as something helpful–or even as a friend? What if we trusted ourselves to cope appropriately with stress rather than letting it ruin our lives? That’s what health psychologist Kelly McGonigal explores in this viral TED talk. 

Challenging the common parlance of stress as the bogeyman is no small task. McGonigal backs up her research with several studies to show that while stress can have deleterious effects on health, it doesn’t have to. She also undertakes some of our favorite tactics here at The Speaker Lab by interacting with her audience to further engage them. While a pop quiz from the stage probably wasn’t on their bingo cards, her in person audience members got a real-time taste of the “social stress test.” (To fully appreciate McGonigal’s point, we recommend pretending you’re in the auditorium with her and attempting to perform what she commands.) Then, she walks her audience through the stress reaction they just experienced and explains how, equipped with new strategies for leveraging stress, they could use that same reaction to approach the situation constructively.  

McGonigal’s research, which has also been published in book form, is not without controversy in the psychology space. But in an ever increasingly stressed out society, her talk could be the motivational speech you need to tackle your stressors head-on. The best part? Turning to the communities around you during stressful events can help you rather than drain you! As McGonigal says:

“People who spent time caring for others showed absolutely no stress-related increase in dying. Zero. Caring created resilience.”

6. Carol Dweck: “The power of believing that you can improve” 

You’ve probably heard the term “growth mindset” thrown around in the professional and educational space. But do you know who coined it? Carol Dweck is a Stanford psychologist who researches the impact of mindset on how we approach failure and success. She has studied how believing in one’s ability to learn and improve can radically affect our reaction to challenges. Her research claims that by focusing on effort and strategy, we can help students expand their minds and overcome barriers by having a “growth mindset” rather than a “fixed mindset.” 

While her research focuses on students, her TED talk discusses principles with universal application, such as the profound impact of believing we can change for the better. She also explores ideas for constructive communication with the next generation to set them up for success. Do you feel limited by externally applied standards? Have you been put in a box your whole life that you struggle to break out of? Do you throw in the towel easily because you feel that you just can’t win? Dweck’s motivational speech might give you more confidence in your abilities. Our favorite line?

“…praising the process that kids engage in, their effort, their strategies, their focus, their perseverance, their improvement. This process praise creates kids who are hardy and resilient.”

7. Malala Yousafzai: “16th birthday speech at the United Nations” 

Malala Yousafzai is the world’s youngest Nobel laureate and one of the best known human rights advocates of her generation. Her speech before the U.N. in 2014 is a passionate appeal for setting worldwide injustices right. From her harrowing story of being shot in the head, to her advancement of nonviolence, this motivational speech is a moving reminder of how much work each and every one of us can do to lift the burden of the oppressed. 

Though her audience at the time of the speech was a group of world leaders, we can all learn a lot from Malala that applies to our own lives. In addition to her stirring personal story, she lays out a variety of action items that we can all undertake in our communities to lay a foundation for justice. Furthermore, she emphasizes how education and tolerance rather than violence and politics can help win the fight against terrorism. If you ever feel at a loss for what you can do to change the word, Malala is the motivator you need. This speech is also a great model for using your personal story and character or ethos to persuade your audience, which we cover here.

“Dear sisters and brothers, we realise the importance of light when we see darkness. We realise the importance of our voice when we are silenced.”

“One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world.”

8. Joel Osteen: “The power of I am”

Oprah described this sermon by pastor Joel Osteen as life-changing, and you might find it so too! Osteen is a clergyman, but many of his sermons are functionally motivational speeches that can inspire your life regardless of whether you’re religious or not. “The Power of I Am” is about how excessive negativity can control our lives. Osteen argues that when we say “I am ______,” we’re inviting whatever that is into our lives. If we repeatedly say “I am” statements followed by something negative or something we hate about ourselves, we are just digging ourselves deeper into that hole. 

Osteen’s words are badly needed in a world where the internet encourages negative comparison and loneliness is epidemic. He uses examples from Scripture and from his own life to show how talking yourself down becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. This is something we all experience at some point! You mess up, say “I’m an idiot,” and for the rest of the day your idiocy, clumsiness, or incompetence suddenly seems like the most noticeable thing about you. Or maybe an authority figure once identified you with your failures and you internalized it for years and years. Osteen’s sermon is an amazing call to do better. We can carry ourselves with confidence, not pride, and disconnect our flaws from our sense of self. 

“My encouragement is never say negative things about yourself. Most of us would never go up to another person, at least to their face and criticize them yet we have no problems criticizing ourselves. “I am so slow. I am so unattractive. I am so undisciplined”. That is cursing your future. Do yourself a favor and zip that up. We have enough in life against us already. Don’t be against yourself.”

9. Nicole Walters: “Why Excuses Are the #1 Thing Keeping You From Your Goals” 

Nicole Walters is an incredible entrepreneur and businesswoman who quit her successful corporate career to start her own company when she realized her blog was generating her significant passive income. This keynote from a conference for online creators outlines how she managed to do it all…with blood, sweat, tears, and no excuses! 

While Nicole dishes out amazing strategies for building your business and avoiding excuses, this is also an incredible example of how to give a great motivational speech. Our founder Grant Baldwin even did an analysis of her professional speaking performance here. Nicole uses humor, storytelling, and credible examples from her career to show how to avoid excuses and maintain sustainable innovation as you build your personal brand. If you want to start a business or expand your content creation but struggle with ambition and motivation, Nicole is your girl.

Get ready for some hard truths and a lot of humility, because it’s not easy! You can hear even more of her tips on our podcast here. She also came on our podcast for a conversation about race in the speaking industry, sharing her experience as a black woman who speaks professionally. This is a must listen if you’re interested in DEI and how the speaking industry can improve its diversity and inclusivity. 

Nicole is an abundant source of amazing one-liners and truth bombs. Here are two of our favorites to finish off: 

“Excuses are tools of incompetence. Those who specialize in them, are seldom good at anything else.”

“You’re not Kim Kardashian.” 

“Automate systems, not relationships.” 

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10. William Faulkner: Banquet Speech 

For our final must-listen motivational speech, we’re heading back in time. William Faulkner delivered this speech when he received the 1949 Nobel Prize in Literature. The threat of nuclear war hung heavy at the time Faulkner received the award. Faulkner himself eschewed the acclaim and reward that his talent deserved. His speech is a testament to the immortality of art and literature. His words elegantly express how art and literature can help humanity survive beyond dark times. 

Especially in an age of AI, media cycles, and overwhelming access to information, a reminder of the power and importance of art is badly needed. Faulkner’s speech is short, but it’s extremely moving. Every sentence drips with the weight of writers and artists who went before him, carrying humanity through crises and catastrophes and helping rebuild and process their wake. Faulkner himself says it best: 

“I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.”

Conclusion

Mastering how to deliver a great motivational speech is no easy task. We think these paragons of motivational speaking deserve special attention for their mastery and inspiration! And having a solid list of inspirational content to fall back on when you’re feeling down, bewildered, or uninspired is always a good idea.  If you want to become a motivational speaker yourself, taking inspiration from these great talks will help you find your own voice in the speaking industry. (We can help too!

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