Elements of Great Leadership Speeches

Leadership Speeches:

You have been asked to speak at a meeting for a local organization because of your status as a leader in the community. What makes a great leadership speech that is memorable, inspiring and entertaining?

Be simple and make it relevant.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? You’ve just read that and thought “this person has obviously never tried to write a speech for a big crowd”. Truth be told, I have. I’ve given speeches in front of hundreds of attendees and for crowds as small as five.  What holds true for Martin Luther King Jr, Steve Jobs and Franklin D. Roosevelt holds true for me as well – make the message simple and give good examples to illustrate the message. That’s it.

Think about Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. The most memorable passage is reiteration of “I have a dream…” and examples of those dreams. Each dream is small, just a piece of a larger puzzle, that he artfully expands upon, over and over again, until your emotions soar and your body can barely contain the hopes and energy of your soul reaching to attain it…even if only in a dream. Simple, relevant…and powerful.

A modern example of a brilliant speech: Steve Jobs

Recall the 2005 commencement speech that Steve Jobs delivered to Stanford graduates. His message? Stay hungry, stay foolish. Do not settle or be afraid of risk. He told three personal stories that all came back to being hungry and foolish, ambitious and daring. Each story was unassuming, relatable to everyone present at the ceremony and memorable enough to generate more than two million YouTube views since. A simple message with great examples to back it up.

Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed a nation under attack. In a time when news was not instantly available, the president was still held in almost regal regard by Americans, and the uncertainty of all-out war was upon the country, his speech gathered the hearts of every American into one giant, beating united muscle of strength and patriotic commitment. The message was simple: this is what happened, this is why we believe it to premeditated, and this is our response. Without ever offering an opinion, in less than twenty-five sentences, he motivated Congress to declare a state of war thirty-three minutes later and took his countrymen into the “good war” with the conviction of future victory and unassailable righteousness in its pursuit.

The point is to not stress over big words, lofty ideas and the clever turn of phrase. Reiteration, relatability and resiliency mark three of the greatest leadership speeches in the last hundred years.  Modest words carry significant meaning. Over the length of a century, these elements continue to be the backbone of a great leadership speech: be simple, be relevant and be remembered.


These speeches really identify leaders as communicators with vision. If you want to know more about what defines a leader then return to our define leadership hub which provides more information about the characteristics of those who do leadership speeches.

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