This afternoon, I watched Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech again. (You can find the full speech text and video, along with an extensive Six Minutes speech analysis here.)
I was reminded of the tremendous power speeches can wield. One cannot watch Dr. King or read his words without stirring emotions, even though the speech was given over 47 years ago.
Magical speech power can also be found in dozens of other speeches found in Speeches That Changed the World, a speech anthology from Simon Sebag Montefiore. I received this book as a Christmas present, and I’ve been absorbed by it the past few nights.
The book contains:
- 57 speeches, beginning with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and concluding with Barack Obama’s victory speech in the 2008 presidential election.
- 48 speakers are featured.
- 17 of the speakers are Americans (10 were president): George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony, Woodrow Wilson, Clarence Darrow, Franklin Roosevelt, George Patton, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Douglas MacArthur, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Obama.
- 11 of the speakers are drawn from a World War II context: Roosevelt, Adolf Hitler, Neville Chamberlain, Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle, Vyacheslav Molotov, Patton, Emperor Hirohito, and Oppenheimer.
- 10 of the speeches are pre-1900.
- 6 speakers are highlighted for more than one speech: Churchill (5 speeches); Roosevelt , Hitler, Kennedy, King, and Nelson Mandela (2 each).
- 4 of the speakers are women: Queen Elizabeth I, Anthony, Emmeline Pankhurst, and Indira Gandhi.
Obviously, most of the speeches are political in nature, but many themes are covered, including religious speeches, war declarations and rallying speeches, peace declarations, civil rights, women’s suffrage, terrorism, funeral orations, and apologies.
I strongly encourage you to study King’s I Have a Dream speech, and dozens of other speeches which changed the world. You can find the anthology here. Lessons abound in these great speeches, both for the masterful speechwriting and for the courage of those who delivered them.