As a Speakers Bureau, we provide the expertise in providing trending top motivational speakers, but today, we’re sharing the most influential speakers in history (from ancient Greece to current American Politics).
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And now…the Top 10 Historic Orators
It was in Ancient Greece during a period considered the “Golden Age of Eloquence” that the great tradition of oration burst forth on that nation’s political stage and debate would never be the same. While the statesman, general, and master orator Pericles is largely credited with delivering the first great speech to be written and prepared for the public, it was a stutterer who is remembered as the greatest orator Greece ever produced, and perhaps the greatest the world has ever known.
In the 4th century BC, Demosthenes was cured of his speech impediment, in part, through the now seemingly archaic practice of placing pebbles in the stutterer’s mouth; a practice still employed nearly 2,400 years later, as showcased in the recent Academy Award winning film The King’s Speech.
The story of Demosthenes, and later King George VI, suggests something that every great orator knows: The art of public speaking can be learned and the techniques of oratory are teachable.
The following 10 noted speakers understood this more than most.
(495 – 429 BC)
His famed Funeral Oration is significant because it departed from the typical formula of Athenian funeral speeches, and instead was a glorification of Athens’ achievements designed to stir the spirits of a nation at war.
A noted speaker before this speech, Pericles essentially redefined the public speech.
After conquering his stuttering affliction, Demosthenes begins a lengthy process of studying the speeches of previous Greek orators, including Pericles. In his most famous speech as an official orator of Greece, he warns against Philip – the Macedonian king and father of Alexander the Great – as he sets out to conquer Greece. Three orations against Philip, known as the Philippics, were so heated and bitter that today a severe speech denouncing someone is called a Philippic.
Despite being only three minutes long, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is a cornerstone of American history. His speech rallied a nation and set created a foundation of American idealism for future generations.
And he never forgot it.
His speeches in 1940 at the outset of World War II cemented his reputation as one of the greatest orators in history. In an effort to boost public moral during the war, Churchill delivered one of his most stirring speeches to Parliament on June 18, 1940.
Referring to Hitler and the looming Nazi threat, Churchill laid out the facts in the clearest of manners. “If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free . . . But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States . . . will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will say, ‘This was their finest hour.’”
The speech is considered a masterful work for both its ability to motivate and its effective message of nonviolence. More than two decades later Martin Luther King, Jr., would return to many of the themes in Gandhi’s speech with his
I Have a Dream speech that promoted nonviolence and equality of races.
John F. Kennedy
(1917 – 1963)
Perhaps President’s Kennedy’s finest oration moment was his Ich Bin Ein Berliner speech – a notable moment of the Cold War. Delivered in front of the Berlin Wall in 1963, the speech provided a morale boost for West Berliners who feared an imminent East German occupation.
“Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was civis Romanus sum [I am a Roman citizen]. Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is ‘Ich bin ein Berliner!’… All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and, therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words ‘Ich bin ein Berliner!’
Okay, so technical speaking what JFK told those German’s that summer day nearly 50 years ago actually meant: “I am a Jelly Donut” (No kidding, look it up). However, the crowd understood what the young president was speaking about and so did the Soviet Union.
(1918 – Present)
The son of a tribal chieftain, Nelson Mandela joined the African National Congress in 1944. He was arrested in 1962 and charged with the capital crimes of sabotage and crimes that were equivalent to treason in Apartheid area South Africa. He delivered a defiant speech during his trial that is still a powerful reminder of equality and justice that should be required reading in schools today.
“During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” He spent the next 27 years in prison.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Perhaps one of the most quoted and well known speeches in American history, Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream’” speech (now celebrating the 50th year anniversary of this speech) at Lincoln Memorial called for racial equality and an end to discrimination. The Civil Rights leader honed his speaking skills in churches, public meeting halls and demonstrations during this volatile era.
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
Simple, clear, powerful.
(1911 – 2004)
They called him “The Great Communicator” and it helped that President Reagan was a former actor, but the future president sharpened his public speaking skills as a spokesman for General Electric Theater. It was here that he embarked on speaking tours of General Electric plants throughout the country that would help shape his political ideology as well as his oratory skills.
In his 1987 “Tear Down This Wall’ speech, he used all his training to deliver another memorable Cold War moment.
“General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
(1961 to Present)
The latest to join this august list, President Obama’s soaring, sustained oratory can be extremely powerful when he chooses to harnesses his full capabilities. His victory address to crowds in Chicago after his historic election was widely regarded as one of the finest speeches in modern politics.
“If there is anyone out there who still doubts America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy – tonight is your answer.”
For more information about how inspiring speakers like these can impact your event, contact Eagles Talent Speakers Bureau at 1.800.345.5607 or email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org