The power ​of a good speech​

    Spotlight 5/2023
    Greta Thunberg
    © Daniele Cossu/
    Von Lorraine Mallinder

    Ladies and gentlemen, I ask you: what makes a great speech?

    The greatest speeches of history have one thing in common: authenticity. The speaker believes in their message, to the core: to the ~ of one’s beingaus tiefster Überzeugungcore of their being. True, the art of persuasion also depends on elements like pitchTonhöhe​pitch and tone, pace and rhythm. But these alone can’t create the magical moment when the speaker brings us together in a shared emotion.​

    Great speeches change the world. Back in 1963, Martin Luther King told America: “I have a dream.” A century on from the abolitionAbschaffung​abolition of slavery, black Americans were still living under apartheid. King said he would not be satisfied until “justice rolls down like water and righteousness Rechtschaffenheit​righteousness like a mighty stream”. Rich with biblical and spiritual treasures, his speech is considered to be the greatest of all time.​

    Here’s a selection of great speeches made in English, chosen by the Spotlight team.


    Martin Luther King.

    Martin Luther King: 

    “I’ve seen the promised land”​

    Memphis, US – 3 April 1968​

    The preacher and civil rights leader is best known for his “I have a dream” speech. But his prophetic final speech, delivered five years later, showed the true measure of the man. King knew that “sick white brothers” were out to get him. He to sensespürensensed that his end was nearing, but it didn’t matter because he’d “been to the mountaintop”. “And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land,” he said. “I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land.” He was to assassinate sb.jmdn. ermorden​assas­sinated the next day.​


    Winston Churchill

    Winston Churchill:

    “This was their finest hour”​

    London, England – 18 June 1940​

    Winston Churchill’s speeches inspired the nation as the Nazi war machine advanced through Europe. The most famous is his rallying callAppell, Durchhalteparole​rallying call to “fight on the beaches”, delivered to the House of Commons in 1940. Two weeks later, he had an even starker message, warning of “the abyss Abgrund​abyss of a new dark age”. His masterstroke was to give the fight an almost transcendental resonance, telling the nation that it would be remembered as “their finest hour”. Churchill was said to rewrite his speeches over and over again – and this speech was no exception: the original is covered in red and blue ink.​


    Greta Thunberg: 

    “The real power belongs to the people”​

    Katowice, Poland – 3 December 2018​

    As the world entered an existential crisis, a Swedish schoolgirl with plait (UK)Zopf​plaits told global politicians to save the planet before it was too late. “You are not matureerwachsenmature enough to tell it like it is,” she said, with barely conceal sth.etw. verbergen​concealed disdainVerachtung​disdain. “Even that burdenLast, Bürde​burden you leave to us children.” She went on: “Our civilization is being sacrifice sth.etw. opfern​sacrificed for the opportunity of a very small number of people to continue making enormous amounts of money.” Change was coming, whether global leaders liked it or not.​


    Read more about great speeches in Spotlight 5/23!

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