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16 Inspirational Speeches for Career and Life Lessons (+ Speaker Traits)

Being motivated at work and in life is crucial for your performance. This is true when you have an approaching deadline, an important meeting, or customers depending on you.

The power of words can physically and emotionally rejuvenate you. Inspirational speeches can guide you to keep performing at your best and drive your team to achieve their goals. The right words at the right time can change you and challenge you.

No matter what is thrown at you in life, you can use these speeches to stay motivated. 

How Inspiration Impacts People

Inspiration helps propel people forward. It pushes apathy away and awakens people to new and exciting possibilities. They're able to transcend their limitations and mundane lives. 

It can help all people to become more creative and help them to progress toward their goals if they are open to it. 

Although inspiration impacts people in several meaningful and often magical ways, it is not something as elusive as it seems. Inspiration is everywhere, and it can be captured, activated, and manipulated. 

Most often, inspiration is found in others who say something or do something thought provoking and meaningful. 

What Makes a Speech Inspirational?

Great inspirational speeches all include one key thing – emotions. Emotions motivate actions and beliefs in any given aspect of life. Inspirational speeches are often loaded with tales of struggle, resilience, trials, endurance, and breakthroughs. All things that most people can relate to.

The philosopher, Aristotle, once said that people tend to believe in people who can be perceived as trustworthy or in those who have proper values and morals. This means that speakers who understand the concerns their audience has and empathizes with them are more likely to connect with their audience and gain their trust. 

Speakers who select emotional themes and talking points that people can relate to are more likely to inspire those in the audience with their stories. 

The key to this is making others feel as though they aren’t alone, and that they too can overcome the roadblocks in their way because someone else has. Hope is one of the most powerful emotions that sparks inspiration. 

Next, comes an excellent oral delivery. Facial expressions, tone of voice, and appropriate pausing all help to make a speech that much more effective and inspirational. 

7 Qualities of the Best Motivational Speakers

Here are seven traits, qualities, and characteristics that some of the best motivational speakers have.

1. They Tell Great Stories.

The ability to tell a great story is one of the core qualities that a motivational speaker needs to help add value to the lives of listeners. Motivational speakers tell original stories to provide the audience with fresh and relevant information. 

More importantly, the best motivational speakers paint a picture that lets the audience put themselves into the story so they can feel the emotions to understand the lesson better. 

2. They Are Passionate About What They Do.

Great speakers are often passionate about wanting to change others for the better, and the amount of passion a speaker has translates into their presentation. The audience can tell when a speaker is passionate about their subject matter because it will reflect in the speaker’s enthusiasm and excitement when they perform. 

Passion is infectious, and when a great speaker is passionate, it inspires the audience to cultivate passion as well. 

3. They Are Confident.

It is essential that motivational speakers have confidence in themselves and in their message.

Audience members can tell when speakers are nervous or unsure about what they are doing or saying. This automatically causes the audience to doubt the speaker, and it may invalidate the message. 

Great speakers have confidence that reflects in their speech and gestures while they are on stage, which in turn inspires confidence in the audience. It helps to engage them and makes them believe in what the speaker is saying. 

4. They Are Self-Aware.

A great motivational speaker understands who they are and knows exactly what they stand for. They are also aware of their strengths and weaknesses.

They use their strengths to make a speech more effective, and they work on improving their weaknesses.

5. They Show Empathy.

A defining mark of a great motivational speaker is their ability to put themselves in the shoes of those in their audience. They do their best to understand their audience’s motivation, fears, hopes, challenges, and worries. 

This helps them tailor their speech to appeal to and inspire their audience. Empathetic speakers are also individuals who have gone through what they talk about. 

They have been where the audience is, and they understand what that is like, which helps make a pure connection with them.

6. They Possess Knowledge.

Any motivational speaker must remain up to date and knowledgeable in their area of expertise. Motivational speakers aren’t born; they are made.

This means that they must grow and learn to become an expert with great knowledge and insight to share with others. 

7. They Have a Sense of Humor.

Motivational speeches tend to discuss serious topics, and great speakers know how to add fun anecdotes or jokes when it is appropriate to do so. 

Humor often makes a speech more memorable. Plus, it enthralls listeners, and everyone likes someone with a good sense of humor. 

16 of the Best Inspirational Speeches of All Time

We all need some inspiration from time to time. If you are in need of inspiration, look no further than these 16 best inspirational speeches of all time. 

1. J.K. Rowling – Harvard University

 

It's well known that J.K. Rowling's famous Harry Potter series was turned down by several publishers before it was finally accepted. But before her success, she was in a dire situation and was on the brink of bankruptcy.

Despite constant rejection, she kept trying and finally her efforts paid off. Her Harvard speech delivered some valuable life lessons about not fearing failure and persevering no matter how bad things get.

2. Jim Carrey – Maharishi University 

 

Actor/comedian Jim Carrey gave one of the most unique and emotional commencement speeches ever at Maharishi University in Iowa.

In his speech, he offered the students powerful and inspiring words about life, the future, and urged them never to settle for anything less than what they want. His message: Never give up and follow your dreams!

3. Steve Jobs – Stanford University 

 

This is one of the greatest inspirational speeches! In his commencement speech, Jobs discussed how he dropped out of college after six months, then took another 18 months to figure out what his life's work would be.

He quit college because his parents were struggling financially, and he couldn't see the value in an education that was draining his parents life savings.

His speech talked of the setbacks in life, including death, and how being aware of death can help you make better choices in life. At the time, Jobs was dying of pancreatic cancer, and his inspirational words on the importance of acquiring knowledge and following your dreams was the best life lesson he could bestow upon the graduates.

4. Al Pacino – Any Given Sunday

 

This movie features an inspirational speech about how even the simplest things can inch you closer to your dream.

Pacino's speech motivated the players on his football team to do whatever it takes to win. The takeaway? The little things you do every day will lead you to success.

5. Tony Robbins – TED Talk

 

Tony Robbins is one of the most famous motivational speakers around. This TED talk is particularly inspirational. It's topic, “Why We Do What We Do,” asks two key questions: What drives you? What motivates you to do your daily tasks?

By asking these questions, we're able to explore ourselves and appreciate others. The takeaway? We are our own path to success!

6. Will Smith – The Pursuit of Happiness

 

Considered one of the best motivational speeches in film, this scene starts with Smith and his son playing basketball. When his son shouts “I'm going pro,” Smith decides to try and temper his son's expectations, telling him he never excelled at basketball, so he shouldn't expect to.

His son is visibly disappointed, and Smith launches into his speech proclaiming, “Don't ever let somebody tell you that you can't do something, not even me.” He tells his son, “You got a dream, you gotta protect it. You want something, go get it. Period.”

The takeaway? Only you can decide to chase a dream. No one can stop you besides yourself. 

7. Matthew McConaughey – University of Houston

 

McConaughey delivered some pertinent points in his speech to the graduating class, but the one that really stuck out was "joy being a constant approach." He said, ”Joy is always in process; it's always under construction."

He spoke of how he takes everything one step at a time when he's making a film, and how when he truly enjoys his craft, things just fall into place. The takeaway? “Define success for yourself.” Figure out what you want to achieve and enjoy the entire journey.

8. Sylvester Stallone – Rocky Balboa

 

In the sixth film in the Rocky franchise, Stallone gives one of the most inspirational speeches of all time. He starts with, “The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows,” and goes on to talk about the value of hard work and commitment.

“It ain't about how hard you hit; it's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” The takeaway? Even when your back is up against the wall, winners never give up!

9. Denzel Washington – University of Pennsylvania

 

In this commencement speech, Denzel Washington speaks about how nothing in life is worthwhile unless you take risks, adding that when you fall in life, fall forward. He speaks of embracing failure and using it as a chance to learn.

This is especially true when it comes to being an entrepreneur. The most important thing isn't winning or losing, it's getting out there and giving it everything you've got!

10. Yoda – The Empire Strikes Back

 

Ok, you can't have a list of inspirational speeches without at least one offering from Yoda!

In this speech from Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda is teaching Luke about the ways of the force. The key teaching? Whether or not something can or can't be done is all in your head and your heart. If you believe in yourself, anything is possible!

The takeaway? In the words of Yoda, “Do or do not. There is no try.”

11. Elizabeth Gilbert – Ted Talk

Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of the bestselling book Eat, Pray, Love, gave an inspiring Ted Talk about the "genius" in all of us.

In her speech, she mentions that everyone can be a creative genius in their work and that the best years of our work and creativity are never behind us if we think of creative genius as something we borrow. 

The key takeaways from Gilbert's speech are to not be daunted or afraid of success. Just keep showing up and doing the work that you love without the anguish of what it will turn into. 

12. Michelle Obama – Eastern Kentucky University

In 2013, Michelle Obama addressed the graduating class of Eastern Kentucky University. She encouraged them to continue learning to challenge their perspectives, and she told them to find a way to turn their weaknesses into strengths. 

The key takeaway from her speech is that the defining moments in your life will not be the moment you get the promotion or breakthrough to a classroom. They will be the days that you have to claw through to keep going.

As long as you keep working and pick yourself up when you fall down, then you will develop skills to apply to anything you do in life. And your resilience can be used in service to others. 

13. David Goggins – Driven

David Goggins is a former Navy Seal and Army Ranger who participates in ultra-marathons. In his talk, he discusses suffering and how you can turn hurt into strength. He talks about how you can still be successful and happy without guidance if you just stay true to who you are because you define greatness. 

The takeaway from Goggins' talk is that we all have greatness no matter what. You just have to find the courage through hard work and discipline. 

14. Peter Dinklage – Bennington College

Peter Dinklage is an actor who is known for his role as Tyrion Lannister on Game of Thrones. He gave the 2012 commencement address at Bennington College.

In his address to the graduates, he discusses persistence and doing whatever it takes to get to where you want to be. He also mentions that you shouldn't wait until you are ready to do what you love. 

The key lesson from his speech was to give yourself permission to fail early instead of waiting for permission. Show the world you're ready by doing it. 

15. John Roberts – Cardigan Mountain School

John Roberts, Chief Justice of the United States, gave the commencement address at his son's high school in 2017. In his speech, he wishes the graduates bad luck instead of good luck.

He tells them that he hopes they will be lonely, fail, and lose from time to time. He says all of this to say that these things are the greatest teachers of compassion, true friendship, and sportsmanship. 

The key takeaway from Roberts' speech is that there is always a message in your misfortunes, and you should not be afraid to fail. If you fail, you should get up and try again. 

16. Dwyane "The Rock" Johnson - LA Lakers

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, tenured WWE superstar & mega Hollywood performer, gave an incredible speech to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2019.

He speaks from the heart, about remembering where you came from, and letting that fuel the hard work you will put in to become successful. 

Per usual, pure gold from Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.

These 16 inspirational speeches touch on three main themes. It's important to love what you're doing. Failure is only bad if you don't learn and continue to move forward. And finally, you need to want it!

Life is hard. If you want something bad enough, whether it's a job, a relationship, or a successful business, you need to prove it!

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General FAQ

What Makes a Speech Inspirational?

An inspirational speech will create a positive emotional experience for the audience that will resonate with them. Similarly, a motivational speech can inspire an audience by motivating them to take action on something.

What Are the Qualities of an Inspirational Speaker?

To be a great inspirational speaker, you should have:

  • Passion
  • A strong speaking voice
  • Confidence
  • A good story to tell
  • Empathy

How Do You Write an Inspirational Speech?

It's important to know who your audience is and what your message is going to be when writing an inspirational speech. Use should also employ storytelling techniques to evoke emotion into your speech.

Who Is the Most Motivational Speaker in the World?

It is often said that Tony Robbins is the most motivational speaker. Tony Robbins is known best for his TED talks and self-help books.

Erika Giles

Erika Giles

Erika is a Marketing Copywriter at Bluleadz. She is a huge fan of houseplants and podcasts about conspiracy theories. She spends most of her free time reading, writing, and enjoying the outdoors.