Motivational speeches are all about spurring people on towards their personal finish line. This type of performance has been used tactically in everything from pre-match pep talks to war efforts.

Motivational speakers are now even used for business purposes – bureaux such as Speakers Corner work with C-suite leaders to find talented orators who can fill the workforce with essential get-up-and-go.

One sign of a truly great speech is the mark it makes on history. These four very different but iconic motivational moments have certainly passed the fame test.


Winston Churchill’s ‘Fight on the beaches’


As the Second World War started to look risky for Britain, PM Winston Churchill needed a rousing speech to prevent the country from losing hope. That’s why, when neighbouring France fell under Nazi occupation in 1940, Churchill gave his now-famous message of hope, promising “…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, and if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”

It’s a speech that became synonymous with great leadership as the war drew to a close.


Will Smith – ‘Discipline your mind’


From historical politicians to modern-day movie stars, motivational speaking is a varied art. Fresh Prince of Bel Air star Will Smith has become something of an internet sensation thanks to his energetic speeches. 

His ‘discipline your mind’ speech delivers hard truths to make people see that success often means sacrifice.

“A dude screamed to me the other night: ‘Hey Will, I want to be an actor just like you!’ I was sitting here and it dawned on me, 99% of people who say stuff like that are not willing to do what it takes to make their dreams come true.

“The Marines have a saying: everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die. At the centre of bringing any dream into fruition is self-discipline.

Smith defines self-discipline as: “getting command of your mind to be able to choose actions that are in your own best interests.

“So the world is attacking you and the world wants to fight you and the world wants to hold you down – so you kick yourself? You’re going to stop yourself from getting what you dream?”

“Self-discipline is the centre of all material success. You can’t win the war against the world if you can’t win the war against your own mind.”


Rocky Balboa – ‘It ain’t about how hard you hit’


Some of the best motivational speeches are inspired by fiction – after all, they do say life imitates art.

Sylvester Stallone’s epic monologue has struck a chord with audiences across the world thanks to its accurate observations about the tough side of life.

“You, me or nobody is gonna hit 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 winning is done!”

Real-life sports coaches, managers and psychologists have absorbed the messaging to influence their own approach. In fact, Liverpool FC manager Jürgen Klopp has said he “always thinks” of Rocky Balboa when he needs to motivate players.


JK Rowling – ‘The fringe benefits of failure’


The Harry Potter creator is now a multi-millionaire philanthropist, but this wasn’t always so. Once upon a time, she was “as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain without being homeless.”

It’s the perfect rags-to-riches tale to inspire fresh Harvard graduates as they go out to sculpt their careers. That’s perhaps why her 2008 speech has become so iconic in the motivational speaking business.

Rowling uses a series of jokes, beginning with a jibe at her own nerves and building up to memorable ‘gay wizard’ gag about her famous characters. This meant there was plenty of applause before the inspirational moments even started: it’s the perfect way to prime an audience to accept positive messages.

“The fact that you are graduating from Harvard suggests that you are not very well acquainted with failure. Indeed, your conception of failure may not be so far removed from the average person’s conception of success, so high have you already flown.”

Rowling then delivers wise insights about becoming the biggest failure she knew.

“Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that had mattered to me.

“Had I really succeeded at anything else I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one areane where I believed I truly belonged. I was set free because my greatest fear had been realised.”

Some have argued that JK Rowling is equipped with an innate trait that armed her to fight back against hardship. Here she argues the opposite, saying circumstances gave her the clarity she needed to make it.

From business to sport and politics, motivation is a magnet for success – that’s why motivational speaking is such big business.