It was halftime during one of my 7th grade football games. And we were losing 14 – 0. With our knees planted in the grass, my squad was softly huddled, drenched in sweat and defeat. We all knew video games was over.
Thatas when our deputy coach bursted through our circle and shattered our pity party, delivering one of the best motivational speeches Iave heard to this day.
I canat directly quote him because he said some things that are inappropriate for a blog post( and, in hindsight, likely for a bunch of 13 -year-olds too ). But the point is, he harnessed the power of words to rejuvenate a physically and emotionally drained team. And we came back clawing to win the game.
Just like in sports, being motivated at work is crucial for your performance. This rings especially true when you have a looming deadline, an important presentation to give, or colleagues or customers depending on your performance.
To help you stay motivated , no matter what your job flings at you, we decided to compile 22 of the best motivational speeches from business, athletics, amusement, and more. If you want to get fired up for a project, watch these videos. Trust me, I was ready to write a 5,000 word blog post after I assured them. And while the messages vary from speech to speech, they will put you in the optimal frame of mind for tackling and crushing your next big challenge.
( Disclaimer: Some speeches — * cough * Al Pacino * cough * — may contain NSFW speech .)
22 of the Best Motivational Speeches
1) J.K. Rowling: aThe Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imaginationa( 2008)
In J.K. Rowling’s 2008 Harvard commencement speech, the Harry Potter writer explored how two phenomena — failure and imagination — can be crucial to success. While failure can help you understand where your true passion lies, and where you should focus your energy moving forward, imagination is what will allow you to empathize with other people so you can use your influence to do good.
We do not require magical to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.”
2) David Foster Wallace: “This Is Water”( 2005)
From the opening minutes of David Foster Wallace’s 2005 Kenyon College commencement speech, in which he topics commencement speech conventions, it’s clear that Wallace has some serious wisdom to share. The crux of his speech: Many of us are oblivious to our own close-mindedness. We picture ourselves as the centers of our own, individual universes, instead of assuring “the worlds biggest”, more interconnected picture.
If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is and who and what is really important, if you want to operate on your default setting, then you, like me, likely won’t consider prospects that aren’t vexing and miserable. But if you’ve really learned how to think, how to pay attention, then you’ll know you have other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, customer hell-type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred — on fire with the same force that lights the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.”
3) BrenA( c) Brown: “The Power of Vulnerability”( 2013)
The video above is an animated excerpt from researcher BrenA( c) Brown’s speech, “The Power of Vulnerability.” In the speech, Brown explores how our fear of not being good enough( among other anxieties) drives us to shield ourselves from our own vulnerabilities. The alternative to wearing this emotional suit of armor: Embrace vulnerability through sympathizing with others.
Empathy is a choice, and it’s a vulnerable option. Because in order to connect with you, I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling. “
4) Al Pacino: “Inch by Inch”( 1999)
Yes, this speech is from a football movie ( Any Given Sunday ), but trust me: This isn’t your stereotypical rah-rah-go-get-’em sports speech. It’s deeper than that. It’s about life, and loss, and … gosh darn it just listen to Al Pacino, he’s pouring his soul out!
Either we mend as a squad or weare gonna crumble, inch by inch, play by play, till weare finished. Weare in hell right now, gentlemen, believe me. And we can stay here and get the $&#@ kicked out of us, or we can battle our style back into the sun. We can climb out of hell, one inch at a time.”
5) Steve Jobs: “How to Live Before You Die”( 2005)
Considering the YouTube video of Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford commencement speech has 24 million views( not counting the 10 million+ additional views from duplicate uploads ), it’s likely that you’ve seen this one already. In the speech, Jobs plays on two themes: connecting the dots( anecdote: how taking a calligraphy class helped inspire the design of the Mac) and love& loss( anecdote: how get fired from Apple helped inspire his greatest innovations ). Perhaps the most memorable portion his speech comes at the end, where reference is quotes the( now-famous) lines from the final issue of his favorite publication, The Whole Earth Catalog :
Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”
6) Ellen DeGeneres: Tulane University Commencement Speech( 2009)
Ellen’s speech, as you might expect, has its humorous moments. But it also explores some of the very personal and tragic episodes in her life that helped push her into comedy in the first place. Two key themes of DeGeneres’speech: overcoming adversity and being true to yourself. ForDeGeneres, that entailed pushing onward with her career after her sitcom was canceled in response to her publicly coming out as gay.
Really, when I look back on it, I wouldnat change a thing. I mean, it was so important for me to lose everything because I found out what the most important thing is … to be true to yourself. Ultimately, thatas whatas get me to this place. I donat live in dread. Iam free. I have no secrets and I know Iall always be OK, because no matter what, I know who I am.”
7) Will Smith: Speech from The Pursuit of Happyness ( 2006)
Here’s another speech from the big screen, this time from the 2006 film The Pursuit of Happyness . In the scene above, Will Smith’s character explains to his son why he shouldn’t seek basketball( because he’ll end up being “below average”) before having a major change of heart.
Don’t ever let someone tell you … you can’t do something. Not even me. All right? You got a dream. You gotta protect it. People can’t do something themselves, they want to tell you can’t do it. If you want something, run get it. Period.”
8) Sheryl Sandberg: Harvard Business School Class Day Speech( 2012)
In her speech to the HBS class of 2012 , Lean In writer and tech executive Sheryl Sandberg deconstructed the idea of the “career as a ladder.” For Sandberg, a career is about receiving opportunities where you can make an impact , not about chasing titles and planning out a meticulous route. “If I had mapped out my career when I was sitting where you are, I would have missed my career, ” she commented. What’s more, Sandberg eschews the traditional wisdom of keeping feelings out of the workplace. For Sandberg, you need to care not only about what you’re working on, but also who you’re working with.a”
“If you want to win hearts and minds, you have to lead with your heart as well as your intellect. I donat believe we have a professional ego from Mondays through Fridays and a real ego for the rest of the time … It is all professional and it is all personal, all at the very same time.”
9) Dan Pink: “The Puzzle of Motivation”( 2009)
Commissions, bonuses, other incentives … in the business world, these are the things that motivate people, right? According to Dan Pink in his 2009 TED Talk, such extrinsic motivators( a.k.a. “carrots and sticks”) could actually be doing more harm than good. The most recent sociological research been shown that the real key to making better work is to find intrinsic motivation inside of yourself.
There is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does. And what worries me, as we stand here in the rubble of the economic breakdown, is that too many organizations are making their decisions, their policies about talent and people, based on assumptions that are outdated, unexamined, and rooted more in folklore than in science.”
10) Denzel Washington: “Fall Forward”( 2011)
In his 2011 UPenn commencement speech, Denzel Washington highlighted three reasons set out above we need to embrace failure in order to be successful. First, everybody will fail at something at some phase, so you better get used to it. Second, if you never fail, take that as a sign that you’re not really trying. And third, at the end of the day, failure will help you figure out what track you want to be on.
Fall forward. Hereas what I entail: Reggie Jackson struck out twenty-six-hundred times in his career — the most in the history of baseball. But you donat hear about the strikeouts. People recollect the home runs. Fall forward. Thomas Edison conducted 1,000 failed experimentations. Did you know that? I didnat know thatabecause# 1,001 was the light bulb. Fall forward. Every failed experiment is one step closer to success.”
11) Sylvester Stallone: Speech from Rocky Balboa ( 2006)
I had to put this one next since it plays along the same topics as Denzel Washington’s UPenn speech. In the scene above, from the 2006 cinema Rocky Balboa , the title character( played by Sylvester Stallone) is having a heart-to-heart with his son. The advice he gives him: Don’t let your failings or the adversity you face slow you down. Keep. Moving. Forward.
Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and maintain you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna reached as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how win is done! “
12) Elizabeth Gilbert: “Your Elusive Creative Genius”( 2009)
Following the extraordinary success of her book, Eat, Pray, Love , people began asking author Elizabeth Gilbert the same question over and over and over: How are you going to go about top that? In her 2009 TED Talk, Gilbert explores that topic while also examining how our the notions of genius and creativity have changed over the generations. While once seen as separate entities or countries of being that anyone could tap into, genius and imagination have increasingly become associated with individuals. And according to Gilbert, that transformation has been putting more and more pressure on artists, writers, and other creatives to produce great work.
I think that allowing someone, one mere person to believe that he or she is like, the vessel, you know, like the font and the essence and the source of all divine, creative, unknowable, eternal mystery is merely a smidge too much responsibility to put on one fragile, human subconsciou. It’s like asking somebody to swallow the sunlight. It just completely warps and distorts egos, and it creates all these unmanageable expectations about performance. And I think the pressure of that has been killing off our artists for the last 500 years.”
13) Charlie Day: Merrimack College Commencement Speech( 2014)
Best known for his role in the sitcom It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia , actor Charlie Day had lots of wisdom to share during the course of its 2014 commencement speech at his alma mater, Merrimack College. Day explained to the audience how college degrees are inherently valueless, since you can’t trade them in for money. Instead, it’s you, your hard work, and the risks you take that provide real value in life.
You cannot let a anxiety of failure or a dread of comparison or a fear of judgements stop you from doing the things that they are able to make you great. You cannot succeed without health risks of failing. You cannot have a voice without health risks of criticism. You cannot love without health risks of loss. You must take these risks.”
14) Frank Oz/ Yoda: Speech from The Empire Strikes Back ( 1980)
This speech from The Empire Strikes Back felt like a natural follow-up to Charlie Day’s speech. In the scene above, Yoda — voiced by Frank Oz — is teaching Luke the ways of the force. One of his key teachings: Whether or not something can or can’t be done( e.g ., lifting an X-Wing out of a inundate) is all in your head. So instead of doubt yourself, believe in yourself.
“Do, or do not. There is no try.”
15) William Wallace: Speech From the Battle of Stirling Bridge( 1297)
OK, I’ll acknowledge it: I couldn’t find a recording of the actual speech Scottish freedom fighter William Wallace dedicated at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297( the historian I spoke with said something about “nonexistent technology” and me “being an idiot, ” but I digress ). Historical accuracy aside, there’s no denying that Mel Gibson’s version of the speech from the 1995 cinema Braveheart going to be able to get you pumped up.
“Aye, fight and you may succumb. Run and you’ll live — at least a while. And dying in your beds many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance to come back here and tell our adversaries that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take our liberty !!! “
16) Orlando Scampington: “The Pillars of C.L.A.M.”( 2015)
Sometimes humor is the best motivator. So here’s an INBOUND Bold Talk from self-proclaimed author, thought leader, dreamer, cat owned, visionary, and “believer in unlimited human potential, ” Orlando Scampington. As you’ll soon realize upon reading the quote below, it’s hard to explain what his speech is actually about — so I think it’s better that you only dive in and enjoy.
“Culture is the bitter drunken coachmen lashing motivation into the ungrateful workhorses, so they drag the wagon of growth down the road of success. I think that’s a very accurate analogy.”
17) Kurt Russell: aThis is Your Timea( 2004)
The Miracle on Ice is still considered the biggest upset in Olympic hockey history. And for the right reasons. The Soviet Union won six of the last seven Olympic gold medals, and the U.S. team consisted only of amateur players. It was obvious the Soviets were better. But, in the movie Miracle , which told the incredible story of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team, Kurt Russellas character — Coach Herb Brooks — knew that this game was different. The U.S. was better than the Soviets that day. And his speech carries such a strong belief in his team that they pulled off one of the greatest sports moments of the 20 th century.
“If we played aem ten days, they might win nine. But not this gamea | Not tonight. Tonight, we skate with them. Tonight, we stay with them. And we shut them down because we can! Tonight, WE are the greatest hockey squad in the world. You were born to be hockey players, every one of you. And you were meant to be here tonight. This is your time.a
18) Jim Valvano: ESPY Speech( 1993)
Less than two months before he lost his battle to cancer, Jim Valvano delivered one of the most impactful and timeless speeches about living life to the fullest. My terms canat do it justice, so be prepared for some laughter, tears, and thought.
aI just got one last thing; I exhort all of you, all of you, to enjoy your life, the precious moments you have. To expend each day with some laugh and some believe, to get your feelings going. To be enthusiastic every day, and Ralph Waldo Emerson told, aNothing great could be accomplished without exuberance, a to keep your dreams alive in spite of problems whatever you have. The ability to be able to work hard for your dreamings to come true, to become a reality.a
19) Mel Gibson: aThe Valley of the Shadow of Deatha( 2002)
The movie We Were Soldiers takes place in one of the most racially charged decades in American history, but Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore — played by Mel Gibson — delivered such a rousing speech that it brought an unbelievably diverse group of soldiers together as one division. He knew if his troops could set their differences aside, then they would form a true brotherhood, increasing their chances of survival as a whole. That style, the memories of their lost friends could live on eternally when they returned home.
aI can’t promise that I will bring you all home alive. But this I swear before you and before Almighty God: that when we go into combat, I will be the first to set foot on the field, and I will be the last to step off. And I will leave no one behind. Dead or alive, we will all come home together. So help me God.a
20) Kal Penn: DePauw University Commencement Speech( 2014)
In 2014, Kal Penn delivered an uplifting speech that DePauw University will never forget. He advised alumnus to strive for success but to not let it loosen their grip on the things that actually matter, like biding connected with loved ones, being adventurous, and acting selflessly. He also comforted millennials everywhere, convincing them that their futures are full of potential and promise because their generationas identity is rooted in innovation.
aOpportunity is all around us. Youare graduating at a time where youth unemployment is high. And yet your peers are refusing to sit idly by. Youare the most active, service-driven generation, the most imaginative, the most tech-savvy. Youare creating opportunities, fabricating gadgets, placing an emphasis on social responsibility over avarice. So stop worrying so much. Why are you frets? a
21) Charles Dutton: Speech from Rudy( 1993)
In the movie Rudy , Sean Astinas character, Rudy Ruettiger, ceases the Notre Dame football team because he has to watch one of his last games from the stands. After two years of grueling the procedures and never once being apart of the team on the sidelines, heas done dealing with the humiliation. But his friend Fortune — played by Charles Dutton — flips the script on him. He indicates Rudy that he shouldnat be humbled. He should be proud because heas proven to everyone that his perseverance and heart can carry him through any challenge. He simply needs to realize that himself. And the only way he can do that is if he stays on the team for the rest of the season.
aYouare 5 feet nothina, a 100 and nothina, and you got hardly a corpuscle of athletic ability. And you hung in with the best college football team in the land for two years. And youare also gonna walk outta here with a certain degree from the University of Notre Dame. In this lifetime, you donat have to prove nothina to nobody a except yourself. And after what youave gone through, if you havenat done that by now, it ainat gonna never happen. Now go on back.a
22) Vera Jones: aBut the Blind Can Lead the Blinda | a( 2016)
Last year at INBOUND, Vera Jones told a moving tale about the life lessons sheas learned from creating her blind son. She explains how having faith in your future and letting it lead you toward your true purpose will help you overcome blinding obstacles. She also discusses how following your passion and trusting your vision develops empathy, which is a critical leadership skill.
aPassionately play your position no matter how bad things get. You are significant. Why we are here is not for our own glory. Ultimately, weare here to lead and serve everybody else. By doing that, we encourage others to do the same.a
Seen any other motivational speeches that should be on this list? Share them in the comments section below !
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