Whether you’re a speaker or not, there come times in all of our lives where we need a little motivation. Maybe you’re struggling to find your purpose or are unsure about your path in life. Maybe you just had a bad day and need a reminder that tomorrow’s a fresh start. In either case, looking to famous speakers – and their corresponding motivational speech examples – is one sure way to boost your mood and help you find the energy to keep on keepin’ on.
Here, we’ll look at ten different speeches from some of the most famous motivational speakers of the 21st century. Some are serious and take a candid look at difficult issues in the speakers’ lives. Others are humorous, designed to balance tough topics with laughter.
Whatever tone you need to hear at this moment, at least one of the following speakers is guaranteed to brighten your day. They’re also all incredible examples for you to follow, simply from a speaking standpoint, when you next step on stage or record a virtual event.
Hopefully, you get as much out of these examples as our own team did and are able to put the corresponding takeaways to good use. 💓
Steve Jobs: Commencement Speech At Stanford (2005)
First of our motivational speech examples is Stanford’s 2005 commencement speech, delivered by the late Apple founder Steve Jobs. Since his passing, much has been said about Jobs, some positive, some negative, with some people going so far as to publish their criticism or praise. However, regardless of whether or not they personally admired him, few will argue against Job’s brilliance. Even for those that scrutinized his business practices or personal life while he was alive, there’s little doubt that he was a major force in shaping the world we live in today through the technology he created.
In this speech, Jobs’ mindfulness for these differing views is readily apparent, and overall, the entire speech is surprisingly humble. Jobs structures his speech as three simple stories, and of course they’re anything but simple, once you dig beneath the surface.
One is a rags-to-riches story, which is expected, considering Jobs’ success. Second is a story of adversity in which Jobs explains the issues he faced after being “fired” from Apple.
But it’s the third story – one about death – that’s truly surprising. It’s not a subject you’ll hear in many commencement speeches, let alone motivational ones. Yet, in telling this story, Jobs manages to present it in a way that it’s not depressing or scary but instead inspires his audience to live life to the fullest.
In the same way, as you shape your own motivational speeches or as you approach challenging situations, remember that simplicity and logic are all well and good, like the stories Jobs includes at the beginning of his speech. But, if you want to truly stand out and conquer your challenges, be courageous! Approach tough topics head-on, don’t be afraid to be unconventional, and you’re sure to leave a mark, just like Jobs did.
Richard St. John: 8 Secrets of Success TED Talk (2005)
Second of our motivational speech examples is that of author, marketer, and analyst Richard St. John, namely his 2005 TED Talk. TED Talks have become a staple in the world of motivational speeches, and it’s easy to see why this one made the cut. Based on his book, 8 To Be Great, St. John’s speech cuts to the chase in a way that most speeches don’t. In fact, it’s only three minutes long!
Plus, although many of his points are simple, the speech itself is structurally brilliant, condensing 7 years of research and 500 of St. John’s interviews into a presentation that, despite its brevity, keeps audience members on their toes. Altogether, it’s a brilliant example of the use of momentum in storytelling. When it starts, for instance, St. John begins with “It all started one day on a plane,” which for many listeners – myself included – would seem like a signal to tune out a bit. It’s like hearing a speech that starts with “Webster’s Dictionary defines…” It works, but it’s used a lot.
That said, the rest of St. John’s speech is the polar opposite, and quickly jumps from one interesting point to another without any wasted words or time. It also incorporates carefully-placed jokes. That way, even though he covers a lot of ground, his audience remembers all of it. It also allows him to connect with his audience and, unlike many speakers, share his information without appearing to be on a pedestal.
With your own experiences or motivational speeches, St. John’s speech offers two important lessons. First, keep it simple. You don’t have to be flashy to be memorable. Second, don’t be afraid to laugh. In presentations, humor makes you more relatable and memorable, and in life, it makes hard times easier to handle.
Dan Pink: The Puzzle of Motivation TED Talk (2009)
Third in our list of motivational speech examples is another TED Talk, this time from career analyst and bestselling author Daniel Pink. As an author, Pink’s built his reputation on many “legs,” including his publications, awards – even a stint as chief speechwriter for former U.S. Vice President Al Gore in the late 1990s.
Like these accomplishments, Pink’s TED Talk is a model for any speaker that needs to take a boring topic – like business or politics – and turn it into something inspiring and engaging. In this case, the former of these topics is presented as a puzzle. To start with, Pink explains the common economic approach to performance, saying “If you want people to perform better, you reward them. Right?… That’s how business works.”
However, what he says next is what really puzzles you, as a listener: There is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does….the solution is not to do more of the wrong things, to entice people with a sweeter carrot, or threaten them with a sharper stick. We need a whole new approach.”
Ultimately, the topic of performance in the workplace is a relatively common one and the question “How do I motivate myself at work?” is a common puzzle. But Pink tackles out-of-the-box thinking in an out-of-the-box way and, in the end, concludes his story with a clear takeaway from the evidence and unconventional analytics he’s shared.
Likewise, with your own speeches or decisions, start by considering all the evidence you can find. That’s just a good rule of thumb, no matter what field you’re in. But, after that, try to consider it from another angle. Like Pink’s speech, it’ll make your topic vastly more interesting, and you’re almost guaranteed to grow, personally, because of your learning process.
Mel Robbins: How to Stop Screwing Yourself Over (2011)
Number four of our motivational speech examples belongs to Mel Robbins. As speakers go, Robbins is widely respected for her unique and candid approach to difficult situations, or, as I call it, the “gut-punch” approach. In other words, she’s not afraid to talk frankly about tough stuff.
Dig beneath the one-liners and snarky comments, though, and Robbins’ approach is really about being direct to the point of bluntness. Some of the things she advocates are platitudes – focus on getting what you want, tell yourself the truth, force yourself out of your comfort zone, etc. – but she always backs it up with data that makes the gut punches land that much harder.
Beyond her speaking style, however, Robbins is also known for engaging with her audiences. In this speech, for instance, she not only picks an individual from her audience to highlight the overwhelming odds of simply being born (this is the data we just talked about). She then goes on to meld that statistic with a model of the human brain, saying “I describe one side of your brain as autopilot and the other side as an emergency brake” and explaining her method for getting out of your own “autopilot” mode to meet your goals.
In this way, by presenting evidence but then relating it to a real person in the room, Robbins takes a subject that could be complicated or boring and makes it relatable. Likewise, if your speaking material – or your mood – has a tendency to flatline, change things up! Be blunt with yourself and candid with your audience. Then, do whatever you need to connect your message to other’s lives. Just like Pink’s speech, taking this Mel Robbins, “gut-punch” approach will make you relatable and likable, making you memorable.
Michelle Obama: Commencement Speech at Eastern Kentucky University (2013)
Next in our list of motivational speech examples is another commencement speech, this time from former lawyer, bestselling author, and First Lady to the 44th President of the U.S. Michelle Obama.
Since stepping into the spotlight at the White House, Obama’s been regarded by many as a woman of power, and her personal and professional accomplishments are without question. In some ways, they’ve even helped her become a celebrity. This level of fame, however, is precisely where Obama’s similarity to celebrities ends.
For many celebrity motivational speakers, speaking is just a gig, and the amount of time they want to spend on it corresponds directly with the money they receive to be there. In cases like these, it’s clear to the audience that the speaker may not even believe what they’re saying on stage or want their audience to succeed. They just want the paycheck.
Yet, despite Obama’s popularity and prominence, her approach to speaking is anything but flippant or snobby. It’s all about connecting with the audience in a way that shows true generosity of spirit. In fact, every point Obama touches on is quickly translated and related to her audience in a way that’s both personal and powerful, making it clear that this speech isn’t haphazardly thrown together or something she’s said to hundreds of other audiences. It was carefully crafted to tie her core values – resilience, conscientiousness and service – into the setting and the needs of her audience, so they could leave with personalized affirmation and action steps.
By doing this, Obama never fails to deliver a message that is both moving and quietly powerful. To do the same with your own speeches, follow her lead and remember who you’re there for: not the check, not the glory, but your audience.
Brené Brown: “The Power of Vulnerability” (2013)
Number six of our motivational speech examples is the shortest on this list, a less than three-minute short film from University of Houston research professor Dr. Brené Brown.
Although Brown originally gained traction with her 20-minute TED Talk in 2010, this speech (or “mini-speech,” rather) takes the topic of that talk – vulnerability – and concentrates on a single facet of it. Specifically, she focuses on empathy and the age-old question of how to express empathy rather than sympathy and, in doing so, authentically connect with the person you’re trying to support in the moment.
It’s a hard question, but, like Richard St. John’s speech, Brown shares a lot in a short message. In many ways, it’s her brevity that forces you to sit up and listen. In a little more than two minutes, her message is simple: When someone you know feels down and alone, don’t try to make things better. Just be there with them, and stick around, even if it takes them a while to bounce back.
To illustrate her point, Brown presents her speech alongside an animated cartoon in which a fox is the depressed party and a bear comes to her aid. This helps her take a challenging and sometimes uncomfortable situation and not just make it engaging but also light-hearted.
Similarly, if your speech tackles a tough message, consider presenting with a visual aid to lighten the mood, and keep the message as brief as possible. Don’t be the motivational speaker equivalent of “that guy,” i.e., the speaker who drones on and on but keeps repeating the same basic points. Use your speaking ability and visual aids to make a connection in the way that suits your audience best.
Jim Carrey: Commencement Speech at Maharishi University of Management (2014)
Seventh of our motivational speech examples is a 2014 commencement speech, this time from comedian, actor, and artist Jim Carrey. As you’d expect, part of Carey’s charm is his sense of humor, and it’s largely through his comedy that he keeps the audience engaged through serious topics. He’s also mindful of his tendency to walk the comedic line and uses this unpredictability to keep his audience paying attention, as they can pretty safely assume he has another joke up his sleeve.
Additionally, besides humor, Carey also engages his audience with something we’ve yet to touch on: authenticity! Unlike the other speakers in this list, Carey is widely known for his eccentricity more than anything. Most recently, as he’s shared more and more of his artwork, he’s also gained considerable attention for his creativity. Throughout his speech, although many speakers might choose to “dumb down” these attributes, Carey instead thrives on them, staying true to his authentic self, just as he encourages the members of his audience to be.
To conclude his speech, Carey states: “You’ll come up with your own style, and that’s part of the fun… You are ready and able to do beautiful things in this world, and after you walk through those doors today, you will only ever have two choices: love or fear. Choose love and don’t ever let fear turn you against your playful heart.”
With your own speeches – and your own personal choices – keep this mindset close and remember to be yourself. Like Carey says, “you are ready and able to do beautiful things”. Plus, I can almost guarantee there are people out there who could benefit from the stories you have to share. Just stay true to yourself, stay humble, and your audience won’t want to look away.
Simon Sinek: Live2Lead (2016)
Next in our list of motivational speech examples is a speech from writer and TED speaker Simon Sinek. As author of the bestselling leadership book Start With Why, Sinek first appeared in his 2009 TED Talk, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action.”
Since then, he’s gone on to publish a number of additional books centered around leadership as well as how to “wake up inspired, feel safe wherever [we] are and end the day fulfilled by the work [we] do.” These three ideas can be seen consistently throughout his ongoing work, speaking included.
In this speech, specifically, Sinek deals with leadership in the business world, but his approach is based on the idea of destroying stereotypes everywhere. In short, he’s there to “blow up” paradigms and share new ones, based on his own research and experience. Here, Sinek focuses on “trust” and “communication,” for the former. Then, he proposes replacing them with “empathy” and “perspective,” for the latter.
Although this may sound ordinary, Sinek demonstrates that he’s not just replacing one stereotypical topic with another. He’s also urging audience members to ditch their preconceptions about that topic, so they can approach it with an open mind. After having done that, he’s then careful to only provide extremely relevant and powerful arguments for his “new take” on the topic. That way, he provides details without overwhelming the audience.
Overall, these switches between “blowing up” and building provide a sense of balance in Sinek’s speech. In your own speeches, aim for a similar balance for your audience. Keep in mind that you’re there to educate but not berate with a ton of new ideas. It sounds simplistic, but staying consistent and on-point is key if you want your audience to leave inspired to act.
Simon T. Bailey: To Break Through, Find Your True Calling (2017)
Number nine of our motivational speech examples is a 2017 speech from Simon T. Bailey. If you’re a regular SpeakerFlow blog reader, you already know there are many reasons Bailey is legendary among professional speakers. For one thing, his personal branding and digital presence are two of the best in the speaking industry. For another, his humility is seemingly endless despite his success, a trait that’s perhaps best summarized in his book, Success Is An Inside Job: “Success is not significance. Money is not meaning. Power isn’t purpose.”
In this speech, we see this idea reinforced through the third thing that sets Bailey apart, namely his speaking skills. Because he’s talking to a business-oriented crowd, in many ways, this skill isn’t immediately apparent. Truthfully, the first part of his speech is traditional. While it’s undeniably engaging, it’s sometimes a little hard to see why he’s such a renowned orator.
Then he digs deeper. After his initial “traditional” approach, Bailey pivots to a creative angle, explaining how to “invent your future” and be unconventional in simple ways to slowly change your mindset. He then goes on to incorporate topics like emotional equity and commitment, love and respect as universally important values, and his trip to South Africa to “get free.” Combine this surprising switch from “conventional” to “creative” with Bailey’s optimistic tone, and you can almost feel the audience connecting with him.
To create the same atmosphere on your own stage, aim for a similar element of surprise. Remember that you’re there to speak for more than a few minutes. Consequently, building up to a powerful ending is crucial, even if that means starting slow.
Matthew McConaughey: Commencement Speech at University of Houston (2018)
Last but not least in our motivational speech examples list is a 2018 commencement, delivered by Matthew McConaughey.
As an actor, McConaughey has arguably delivered motivational speeches in almost all of his movie appearances. In fact, whether it’s The Lincoln Lawyer, Mud, We Are Marshall, or Dallas Buyers Club, one of his best tricks as an actor is to take each of his characters by the horns and deliver a rousing speech at a critical point in the film.
Outside of the big screen, however, McConaughey’s commencement address for the University of Houston reflects similar confidence and power, in his words, his clothing, and his body language. As a well-known celebrity, this isn’t entirely surprising, especially considering his famously “swoon-worthy” movie persona.
That said, when he gets to the heart of the matter, McConaughey dives well beneath the surface. His pointed words about motivation, success, and life being both tough and unfair are striking in a way you don’t always hear from celebrity speakers. He may begin with platitudes and stereotypes. But, the more he explains, the more intimate the speech gets. This makes it more memorable than even his best movie speeches.
So, what can you take away from McConaughey’s speech? Simply put, whenever you’re trying to put your best foot forward, whether you’re on stage or just walking down the street, remember that being memorable doesn’t require heels or a suit. For McConaughey, who here rocks a beard and open-collared dress shirt, it’s his words that make people pay attention, not a flashy outfit or dramatic entrance.
Likewise, in your own life, the same can be true. Just speak with confidence and conviction, and no matter how you look or what you’re wearing, people will listen. 💖