There are tons of examples of public speaking all around us. Type in the title of this very article on Youtube and you will get a list of talks. But not all of them are public speaking examples that stand out from the rest.
If you are in the quest to listen to some phenomenal public speaking, we’ve got your back. We have collated a very diverse list of some of the best speakers to have walked this planet. Do you think we’re exaggerating? Well, let us know if we are wrong after watching their videos.
The nine greatest public speaking examples in this article are names you already know and some that you might never have heard before. They are Barack Obama, Steve Jobs, Eddie Jaku, Al Pacino, Charlie Chaplin, Abraham Lincoln, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Martin Luther King Jr, and Dananjaya Hettiarachchi.
While these speakers have given many influential speeches, we have analyzed their magnum opus – their greatest public speaking examples; those that made them known to the world. So let’s dive in!
1. Barack Obama
Obama winning hearts with his speeches is not a discovery. Ever since his journey from a community organizer to a lawyer, to a lecturer, a senator, and finally a president, Obama’s public speaking skills have shone throughout.
His speeches are characterized by inclusive language, effective pausing, open body language, and he speaks with an agency that is capable of stirring thousands of people at a time.
Here, we are going to analyze what has often been called “The Speech That Made Obama President” (catch that, that’s what mastering public speaking can lead to!) It was his keynote address at the Democratic National Convention on July 27, 2004, in Boston and was the speech that brought him into the limelight.
According to Mark Leibovich of The New York Times, “The speech became a touchstone of national unity and a soaring manifesto of hope that would form the foundation of his 2008 presidential campaign.”
Take a look at the speech and then read the reasons why we’ve included it in this list and more importantly, the key areas that you can learn from.
Barack Obama’s Keynote Adress at the DNC, 2004 in Boston
Flaunt that Smile
When Obama first walks up to the stage, he doesn’t look at the stairs or rush to get to the mic. Instead, he enters clapping and greeting his audience with a smile as he walks while making eye contact with different people in his audience. He hasn’t even started his speech but has already made a solid first impression.
When it comes to public speaking, it is a well-known fact that the audience forms an impression about the speaker within mere seconds by observing their movements. Hence, make sure you use these initial moments to your benefit.
Because we know the language Obama is communicating in, we can feel his passion. But to be honest, even a non-English speaker can experience the energy with which he is talking, his passion is not bound by his words alone. It is reflected in his body language, his pauses, his eye contact, and his tone of voice.
We see this passion come through clearly when he emphasizes the phrase “I am” in the following sentence,
“I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper that makes this country work”
So when you are ideating on speech topics, make sure the key message is something that you are passionate about. That one idea which you cannot keep within yourself and need to share with the world.
Identifying this might not be as easy as it sounds, but once you find it, writing the speech will become a lot easier. Since you are passionate about your topic, the energy will be seen in your voice, body language, and gestures.
Obama started right when he opened his speech with a story. By sharing his personal story, he got the audience engaged from the very start. He made them feel like he was one of them.
Now, we know that not everyone has a personal story as influential as Obama’s. So what? You can still make yourself a character and narrate a story about yourself. For instance, if you want to introduce an alarm clock that stops ringing only when you get out of bed, you can narrate your personal experience with alarm clocks and sleep instead of directly jumping into how your device works.
The point is to realize that there is a personal story lurking behind everything and by finding and sharing it, you can double the impact you make.
Now, merely finding and sharing stories isn’t enough. To make an impact with stories, you need to acquaint yourself with the art of storytelling.
The stories that Obama narrates are full of imagery. He doesn’t just tell you about himself, rather he refers to himself, in what is one of the most powerful lines in his speech, as “a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too.”
He doesn’t just tell us that his father was poor and hardworking, but he shows it when he says,
“My father was a foreign student, born and raised in a small village in Kenya. He grew up herding goats, went to school in a tin-roof shack.”
So the next time you want to appreciate your employee for being hardworking, don’t just say that you’re thankful, instead describe how they went to the extent of attending to a work call right before walking down the aisle!
Obama’s speech was full of several rhetorical devices. His favorite one seemed to be anaphora: the repetition of the first word or phrase in a sentence. For example,
“If there’s a child on the southside of Chicago who can’t read, that matters to me, even if it’s not my child…If there’s an Arab-American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties.”
He made use of Antithesis– using contrasting ideas in adjacent sentences when he said,
“I say to them tonight, there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America; there’s the United States of America.”
You can employ these devices in your speech to add on to a point or to emphasize them, but make sure that it doesn’t take away from your key message.
Mario Cuomo, the former governor of New York, was right when he said that “Obama was born with two great gifts, one is his mind and the other is his ability to speak to large groups of people.”
2. Chimamanda Ngogi Adichie
Adichie’s TED talks have been one of the best examples of public speaking in terms of the delivery of a message and storytelling. Watch her talk and then dive into the public speaking lessons it highlights:
The Danger of a Single Story | TED
While the message of her speech was to make people aware of the danger of a single story, at no point did she make it seem like she was better than her listeners. Neither did she reprimand them for not knowing the right thing to do.
Instead, she chose to be vulnerable and talked about how she made the mistake of believing in a single story. She opened herself to be criticized.
This could be seen both, in her words and her tone of voice. And it is what allowed her to be seen as a human narrator, someone people could relate to, who was just as flawed as them. Hence, in your speeches, be open to the experience of being vulnerable to build a better connection with your audience.
A Do-able Call to Action
Adichie concludes her speech with the words,
“When we reject the single story. When we realize that there is never a single story about any place. We regain a kind of paradise.”
This is a call to action that doesn’t just instruct the audience to “do this one thing”, rather it urges you to be open to the many possibilities of a given narrative. It summarises her talk as well as urges her listeners to be conscious of their thoughts and actions.
If you are looking for a more detailed analysis of this talk, we have written a whole article dedicated to just that, check this out!
3. Dananjaya Hettiarachchi
Clocking in at 7 minutes and 20 seconds, Dhananjaya Hettiarachchi’s speech crowned him as World Champion of Public Speaking by Toastmasters International in 2014.
Watch his winning speech below and then head on to what you can learn from it:
Dananjaya Hettiarachchi – Toastmasters Annual Convention, 2014
You can see how comfortable Dananjaya is on the stage. It won’t be untrue to say that he has mastered the art of body language and gestures.
His words guide his body, not the other way round. Hence, he succeeds in not making his gestures distracting. His gestures are open, yet composed and controlled.
Dananjaya modulates his voice so that it does justice to the emotions that he is expressing. He showcases expertise in voice modulation when he frequently raises and lowers his voice according to his sentences. He also places great emphasis on pausing, as seen when he says the following lines,
“Now the answer to that can be a little difficult to find, because sometimes life has a cruel way of picking out your petals, breaking you in two and throwing you into the trash”
He adds to this by also making intense eye contact with his audience.
Tie it Up
Dananjaya makes use of a technique called a “callback”, often used by comedians. In that, a joke hints at a previous joke and serves as a reward for listening attentively.
He does this with the phrase, “I see something- but I don’t know what it is” by incorporating it at the start, in the middle, and at the end. This technique, accompanied by a fresh delivery and does a great job at achieving comic relief.
4. Al Pacino as Tony D’Amato
In this speech, Al Pacino masters the art of dialogue delivery. He starts the speech by saying, “I don’t know what to say really” and then goes on to give one of the most motivational speeches of all time.
Inch by Inch Speech, Any Given Sunday
Build it Up
Pacino starts slowly and keeps adding personal narratives and examples until it reaches a crescendo. Then, he takes it down again and leaves his team to decide what they are going to do instead of telling them.
An essential part of public speaking is to take your audience on a journey and Pacino does justice to this.
The keyword of this speech is “inch” which is repeated almost 13 times in four minutes. The key idea of the speech revolves around this word and Pacino ensures that his team doesn’t lose sight of it by repeating it multiple times.
5. Eddie Jaku
Eddie Jaku isn’t a name that makes it to the list of the best public speakers in the world. But this 99-year-old man gave one of the most impactful speeches at TED, one that tons of public speakers take years to deliver.
Eddie, self-proclaimed as the ‘Happiest man on Earth’, moved everyone to tears when he narrated his heart-wrenching story as a survivor of the holocaust. Sure, he had a story that could easily move people, but there is a lot to learn about how he narrated this story.
Watch him narrate his story:
The happiest man on earth: 99-year-old Holocaust survivor shares his story| TEDxSydney
The first thing I noticed about Eddie’s talk is that he hadn’t memorized his content. He was reading it out, word for word, from sheets of paper. This is something that is often frowned upon when it comes to public speaking.
But this lack of memorization did nothing to reduce Eddie’s impact because his delivery was on point. Jaku made sure to emphasize the keywords, to pause, to look up, and make eye contact with his audience while reading from his notes.
Eddie crafted his speech in a way that it seemed like he was reading out a diary entry about events of the past. But he did something more, he addresses that diary entry to his listeners. He didn’t just narrate events, but also called out and spoke to his audience.
A great instance of this is when he urged the audience to do a particular task for him. He didn’t just say, ‘I want all of you to do this.’ Rather this is what he said,
“If you have the opportunity today, please go home and make sure you tell your mom how much you love her. Please do this for your new friend, Eddie.”
Addressing the audience personally does wonders to build a personal connection with them.
Though he reads out his speech from paper, the sentences he speaks aren’t formed by casually throwing in words together. Every sentence that Eddie spoke is well-crafted and thought-out. That is why you can see the audience give him a round of applause many times during his talk.
If Eddie’s speech was a book I was reading, you would have seen tons of lines being underlined. He has worked to find words that match the depth of his experience. We see this in the following statements he makes, words that can be put up as quotes on any bulletin board:
“Please don’t walk in front of me, I may not be able to follow; please don’t walk behind me, I may not be able to lead; just walk beside me and be my friend.”
“May you always have love to share, may you always have health to spare, and may you always have friends that care”
Eddie’s speech is one of the best examples of perfecting your content, mastering your delivery, and being authentic- things that are crucial when it comes to public speaking.
6. Charlie Chaplin
While most people are familiar with Chaplin’s success in the genre of silent comedy, few know about his great oratory skills. Chaplin displayed his strong public speaking skills in the final speech in the movie The Great Dictator.
Watch it below:
Charlie Chaplin, The Great Dictator
Rhythm and Repetition
Take a look at these sentences,
‘More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness.’
‘… – tell you what to do – what to think and what to feel!’
‘Machine men with machine minds and machine hearts!’
These sentences are examples of the usage of repetition to create a rhythm. The usage of repetition has been proven to have a positive effect on how a listener’s reception of a message.
“You have the love of humanity in your hearts! You don’t hate! Only the unloved hate – the unloved and the unnatural! Soldiers! Don’t fight for slavery! Fight for liberty!”
What causes this well-written speech to succeed is Chaplin’s emotive delivery of it. With varying tones and pausing, he turns what is a scripted message into a cathartic experience.
He opens with silence, followed by the use of repetition, controlled pacing, and finally, a passionate conclusion to fix his message.
7. Steve Jobs
As he used words to make his products shine through at their launches, Jobs shone just as much with his presentations- an art that he had mastered with consistent practice.
Jobs wasn’t born with stunning oratory skills. To be honest, nobody is. The popularity behind his product launch presentations came as a result of weeks of rehearsals and planning. A lot has been said about his 2005 Stanford University commencement address.
However, it was his product launch presentations that truly highlight his best public speaking skills. Today, we are going to focus on just one such skill, which was probably the one thing that set him apart from other public speakers.
Take a look at this example and then we’ll tell you the reason behind his killer presentation skills,
Steve Jobs introduces iPhone in 2007
Minimalism AKA Less is More
Minimalism reflected in every aspect of Jobs’ life- right from his black turtle-neck top and jeans to his presentation slides, to the gadgets he introduced, to the words that he used to launch these gadgets.
You will notice, in his talks, Jobs uses very limited words, which in turn, makes the words that he uses very effective. He uses adjectives like “breakthrough”, “revolutionary”, “amazing” while being careful to not overuse them.
Instead of filling in the silence, he gives space for a second or two for audience reception and response.
The best public speaking lesson to learn from Jobs would be to be intentional with your words and spend a lot of time practicing a limited amount of words.
8. Abraham Lincoln
In just 250 words, Lincoln managed to deliver a speech that has gone down in history as one among the best. When I was a student in middle school, I remember my political science teacher and later, myself quote “a government of the people, by the people, for the people” around discussions of democracy.
President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, 1863
As we talked about in the previous section, taking the audience on a journey is one of the best ways to deliver your message. This is what Lincoln did as well. He took his audience on a journey from the birth of the nation, to the start of the civil war, to the gloomy future that they were left facing.
Knowing What to Repeat
On careful observation, he made the experiences of his fellow countrymen an essential part of his speech. He used the word “here” to highlight his solidarity with the people of a tormented place,
“The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here….the world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here….It is rather for us to be here dedicated….that we here highly resolve…”
He invokes this word time and again – which invokes the place of Gettysburg, and by this, has a powerful effect on his listeners. Now you see, the trick is not merely repetition, instead, it is knowing exactly what to repeat.
9. Martin Luther King
Did you think we were planning to get done with this article without mentioning this guy who moved the whole world with his words?
While King’s speech, I have a dream, is often considered his masterpiece, there are a host of other equally impressive and influential speeches that are rare;y talked about. One of these is a speech called Our God Is Marching On, which Dr. King delivered on the steps of the state capitol building after the historic march from Selma to Montgomery.
Catch it here:
Our God Is Marching On, Martin Luther King Jr.
After fighting through the odds, Dr. King knew that his audience needed positive language to feel inspired and hopeful to continue the fight. This, paired with the use of anaphora leads to a very powerful statement as seen below:
“How long? Not long, because no lie can live forever. How long? Not long, because you shall reap what you sow. How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
Being a preacher, this was something that Dr. King was well-versed with. His voice is calm and powerful at the same time.
He speaks loudly, yet isn’t harsh on the ears. He also ensured to speak at a controlled pace and emphasized pausing.
We hope this list has brought to light several public speaking lessons that you can incorporate in your public speaking endeavors.
Just like this list of speakers who developed their way of speaking, we hope that by highlighting their techniques you will be able to develop your own, authentic style of public speaking.