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What Qualities Define an Inspiring Speech?

In my mind an inspiring speech has the following characteristics:

  1. Style – uses effective, appropriate language and displays masterful construction
  2. Substance – contains a central theme, logical flow and vivid imagery
  3. Impact – engaging and memorable, persuades audience and sparks action

Here are 3 inspiring speeches that possess those 3 qualities:

1) Barack Obama’s 2004 Democratic Convention Speech

In July 2004, then-Illinois State Senator Barack Obama took the stage at the Democratic National Convention to deliver the keynote address. Obama reflects on his upbringing and on beating the odds with belief and faith. The speech sets out Obama’s values and history in a flattering fashion that makes him eminently electable as president. You can read the full speech text here.

2) Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address

Steve Jobs delivered the commencement speech to graduates of Stanford University in June 2005, about a year after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He speaks openly and honestly about three important stories from his life, about connecting the dots, love and loss and death. Jobs concludes with a very memorable quotation, “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” You can read the full speech text here.

The style of this speech is very different from that of Apple’s product launch events, for which Jobs became famous. Check out his approach to Apple keynotes here.

3) Martin Luther Kings’ 1963 I Have A Dream Speech

More than 50 years ago, in August 1963, Martin Luther King electrified the world with this speech, dramatically delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. It was a dark time in American history, when black children were being hosed down in the streets, spat upon and denied treatment as full human beings. The key message in the speech is that all people should be treated equal. King delivers this message with passion, power and conviction. You can read the full speech text here.