Today I gave my favorite three-hour Powerful Public Speaking training seminar for the New Mexico Bar Association. At the program an attendee asked me what my favorite three speeches of all time were. Believe it or not, I’ve never been asked that question.
It is actually very hard for me to narrow my favorites down to three speeches for several reasons. First, I don’t remember every speech I have heard or read, even the great ones. Second, there are many, many speeches I have found to be off-the-charts fantastic at the time I heard or read them, but I have never actually sat down and created a list of my own. I have several books, however, listing and re-publishing the top “xx” speeches; I guess it’s time to go back to them.
Off the top of my head I cited two of my most favorite speeches, both of which have occurred in the last 50 years.
1) Martin Luther King’s, “I have a Dream,” given in 1963 at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at the March on Washington. If you’d like to hear it, or read it, you can find it in a million places online, but my favorite isAmerican Rhetoric: “I Have A Dream.”
Not surprisingly on American Rhetoric’s Top 100 Speeches list, MLK’s “I Have a Dream” also ranks #1. That list was created by some of the most famous and esteemed faculty of Communications, Martin Medhurst and Steven Lucas. I recall working from both of their texts back when I was studying for my Masters in Communication and when I was teaching undergrads how to speak in public.
The original publication of Lucas’ andMedhurst’s Top 100 Speeches list can be found at the University of Wisconsin – Madison’s website.
I’m not going to go in to why I love MLK’s I have a Dream speech right now, maybe later. I will just say – read it. Listen to it. Then read it again. Sometimes the audio recordings aren’t great. But when you read it, you’ll see his use of rhetorical techniques. The turns of phrases he uses are poetic and they make the listener think. Not just his use of repetition, but also analogy, metaphor, antithesis. He was a brilliant speaker, no question about it. And this is my favorite speech.
I recently read a very interesting book about the history of this speech in particular, written by the son of someone in one of my audiences. I am traveling right now, but as soon as I can I will find that book and give you the information.
And my second favorite speech? (At least right now)
2) Obama’s nomination speech of John Kerry when Kerry ran against Bush W. Great speech, great delivery, made his political career skyrocket right into the presidency as I expected (though several terms before I expected it).
I didn’t have a third speech to offer up today when asked the question, but I should have. And, like all good speakers, I though of it after the fact.
I don’t know if this is my all time #3 speech, but it’s up there. It was delivered in the 1800’s by Abby Kelley Foster.
Abby Kelley was a suffragist before the famous suffragists. And she was an abolitionist before she was a suffragist. She was courageous, outspoken and a pioneer. You can read Abby Kelley’s bio on Civil War Women Blog.
Her “Bloody Feet” speech was moving and powerful. I don’t have it here either since I am still in New Mexico, but will write more about it at a later time. The quotable quote from that speech is,
Bloody feet, Sisters, have worn smooth the path by which you come hither.
It’s worth the read.