Speeches that Changed the World

August 9, 2016 - Dom Barnard

These are 3 speeches that changed the world in very different ways. We describe the background to the speech and what we can learn from each one.

1. Martin Luther King, Jr. ('I Have A Dream')


Martin Luther King’s speech I Have a Dream was delivered during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963, and is our number one for speeches that changed the world. King was the sixteenth out of eighteen people to speak that day, and calls for an end to racism in the United States and called for civil and economic rights. Delivered to over 250,000 civil rights supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., the speech was a defining moment of the American Civil Rights Movement.

The following day, the New York Times writer James Reston wrote: “Dr. King touched all the themes of the day, only better than anybody else. He was full of the symbolism of Lincoln and Gandhi, and the cadences of the Bible. He was both militant and sad, and he sent the crowd away feeling that the long journey had been worthwhile”. You can read further analysis of the speech from The New York Times.

Top quotes

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”

“It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of colour are concerned. Instead of honouring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check that has come back marked insufficient funds”

What can we learn?

  • King uses a literary device technique of constant repetition of key phrases, including the famous “I have a dream”, which is used 8 times throughout his speech.
  • The careful choice of wording – create urgency for the listener. The phrase “Now is the time” is used four times in a row to urge the audience to take immediate action.
  • Quoting important events, mentioning the Declaration of Independence and other decrees.

2. Winston Churchill ('We shall fight on the beaches')


We Shall Fight on the Beaches speech was given by Winston Churchill to the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom on 4 June 1940. This was the second of three major speeches given around the period of the Battle of France. Churchill had taken over as the British Prime Minister on 10 May, eight months after the outbreak of World War II in Europe. He had done so as the head of a multiparty coalition government, which had replaced the previous government as a result of dissatisfaction with the conduct of the war.

We shall fight on the beaches speech by Winston Churchill

In this speech, Churchill had to describe a great military disaster, and warn of a possible invasion attempt by Nazi Germany, without casting doubt on eventual victory. He also had to prepare his domestic audience for France’s falling out of the war without in any way releasing the French Republic to do so, and wished to reiterate a policy and an aim unchanged from his speech of 13 May, in which he had declared the goal of “victory, however long and hard the road may be”. Full transcript. Watch the clip below to understand why we've selected this as one of the speeches that changed the world.

Top quotes

“We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender”

“We shall prove ourselves once more able to defend our island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone”

What can we learn?

  • Repetition on key phrase 'We shall fight' is mentioned 7 times in the same section of his speech.
  • Many pauses and slow delivery, listen to the way he pauses before a key message.
  • One hard hitting sentence delivered towards the end of the speech to leave people feeling motivated and captivated.

3. John F. Kennedy (Inaugural Address)


The inauguration speech by John F. Kennedy as the 35th President of the United States, held on Friday, January 20, 1961 at Washington, D.C. Immediately after reciting the oath of office, President Kennedy turned to address the crowd gathered at the Capitol. His inaugural address, the first delivered to a televised audience in colour, is considered among the best presidential inaugural speeches in American history and one of the finest speeches that changed the world.

As a president coming into power at the height of the Cold War, President Kennedy’s duty of representing the United States as a force to be reckoned with while maintaining peaceful international relations was daunting. Kennedy highlights the newly discovered dangers of nuclear power coupled with the accelerating arms race, saying these efforts should be replaced with a focus on maintenance of international relations and helping the impoverished in the world. Full transcript.

Top quotes

“The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life”

“The torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans – born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage – and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed”

“Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate”

What can we learn?

  • Use of juxtaposition, by grouping phrases such as “United there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures. Divided there is little we can do”
  • The speech has an abundance of contrast, such as “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”.
  • Kennedy uses the power of three to great effect, “Where the strong are just, and the weak secure and the peace preserved”
  • Combinations of contrasts and lists “Not because the communists are doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right”
  • Use of alliteration to highlight important points “Let us go forth to lead the land we love”