My Favorite Speeches

I have never had a teacher show a video to a public speaking class of someone giving a good speech. They’ll give you all the pointers, speak clearly, make eye contact, and on and on. It’s one thing to tell somebody something, but it helps quite a bit more to actually show someone who does it.

A few years ago I became addicted to TED and combined with YouTube, I’ve probably watched around 300 speeches over the past few years. Here are my favorites:

Obviously the quality of a speech is subjective; they’re all trying to say something different and there are plenty of ways to make the same point. There isn’t really a ‘best’ speech. If I were forced to pick though, I would say John Hodgman. Yep, the PC Guy, speaking on ‘our place in the universe.’

As was Hodgman’s, this talk by Randy Nelson is really a performance. This is something that I think every high school student and college should watch because it gets at why we go to school. Nelson doesn’t use PowerPoint, but you come away with a clear understanding of what his message is.

I loved Lost, but you don’t have to know anything about it to get into JJ Abrahms’s speech. Abrahms uses video to reinforce what he is saying, but he isn’t using for the sake of using it. You shouldn’t be using a visual aid unless it is really adding to the presentation. And it’s quick, but this has one of the best attention grabbers ever.

Elizabeth Gilbert uses no visual aids, but is able to tell stories that leave a big impression. She could have gone up there with a PowerPoint and it would have ruined the show. She builds up to the climax of her speech incredibly well and has an awesome conclusion.

This is one of the first TED Talks I saw and it is still one of my favorites. Adam Savage breaks the rule about speaking slowly. His pace is relentless and the number of pictures in his slideshow has to be some kind of record. You are sucked in and he takes it from there.

If you’ve seen a TED Talk it’s probably Ken Robinson’s, and for good reason. Ken uses some great humor, but makes a very profound point. He could have used vague descriptions of what he was getting at, but his stories about specific individuals are a lot stronger. If you like this, read The Element.

This Julia Sweeney speech is hilarious. If you haven’t figured it out by now, humor is also important. You don’t have to have the audience rolling on the ground every other line, but people like to laugh. Also, you don’t have to be inappropriate, but we are all human, you don’t have to be afraid to discuss topics that might be awkward.

Simon Sinek has multiple great talks, all about different topics. This one deals with some pretty heavy issues, but it leaves a profound message. Simon’s emotion makes it apparent how much he believes in his message. Good luck to whoever had to follow this one.

Another really funny talk, Rory Sutherland incorporates his humor directly into some great lessons. He makes a few direct references to Oxford, where he is giving the talk, to make it more personal for the audience.

Itay Talgam has great control of the audience, even if his talk seems a little looser at certain points.

Five lessons: Tell stories, have a clear message, don’t hide behind the podium, humor helps, know the speech well.


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