The 7 best speeches by women and what makes them great

Josh Storie

Written by

Josh Storie

Image credit: Cotidiano Mujer

Any time is always a great time to honor the achievements and historical contributions of women. And as a woman-founded company, Women’s History Month is an especially great time to reflect on the ways women have contributed to history through the power of their words.

At Duarte, we’re big believers that words have power. They can offer hope, inspire change, and move audiences to action. So, in honor of Women’s History Month, we’re highlighting and analyzing 7 of the best speeches by women, along with a bit of insight into what made their speeches … great speeches.

1. Nancy Duarte, “The Secret Structure of Great Talks”

Most people don’t struggle with what to say, they struggle with how to say it. That’s what makes our very own Nancy Duarte’s 2011 Ted Talk so impactful.

In “The Secret Structure of Great Talks,” Nancy’s speech brilliantly lays out the idea that presentations have a shape, just like music. And after years of research and analysis, she has found that the shape proven to move audiences is called a Presentation Sparkline™.


The structure of a Presentation Sparkline.


In her speech, she illustrates the power of the Sparkline by laying it over Steve Jobs 2007 iPhone launch and Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech. You quickly see that they both follow a rhythmic rise and fall that paints a picture of a current reality followed by a vision of “What could be.” The presentation then ends in what Duarte refers to as “The new bliss” – a description of what the future could look like should the audience adopt the idea being presented.

More than a decade later, “The Secret Structure of Great Talks” still inspires people, and its structure is used by Duarte to help companies and individuals communicate ideas with clarity all over the world.

“The truth about presenting: It’s about them, not about you. It’s about their change, not about yours.”Nancy Duarte, “The Secret Structure of Great Talks”


2. Brene Brown, “The Power of Vulnerability”

With over 64M views, the great speech “The Power of Vulnerability” is one of the most viewed Ted Talks of all time. And for good reason.

In “The Power of Vulnerability,” Brown breaks down her years of research on shame, challenging the conventional beliefs about vulnerability. She explains that vulnerability is not a sign of weakness (as we tend to believe), but a sign of strength. While we often believe that people wouldn’t love us if they truly knew us, Brown explains the opposite – that vulnerability is the key to human connection, not the obstacle to it.

Shortly after Brown’s Ted Talk was released, a new cultural conversation emerged around vulnerability. From interpersonal relationship dynamics to architecting a healthy corporate culture, there is a much higher emphasis placed on embracing vulnerability.

“Vulnerability is not weakness. It’s our greatest measure of courage.”Brene Brown, “The Power of Vulnerability”


3. Malala Yousafzai, United Nations Youth Assembly Address

On October 9, 2012, Malala Yousafzai, a young activist known for promoting girls’ education in Pakistan, was shot in the head by a member of the Taliban as she walked home from school. Less than a year later, she boldly stood before the United Nations Youth Assembly and gave a historic speech that advocated for the education of women as a fundamental human right.

Following her speech, Yousafzai became a symbol of courage and hope for millions of people, eventually receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. This definitely makes it one of the best speeches by women!

“Let us pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world.”Malala Yousafzai, United Nations Youth Assembly Address


Executive communication black button


4. Emma Watson, UN Women’s HeForShe Launch

On September 20, 2014, Emma Watson was invited to the UN to help launch the HeForShe campaign – a movement for gender equality initiated by UN Women, designed to engage and encourage men as advocates.

One of the things that sets her speech apart is her active invitation to men to step into a space historically reserved for women. In other words, instead of calling women to step up and fight for their rights, Watson makes a passionate plea for men to join as partners, to know that they are wanted, needed, and invited into the fight for gender equality.

As the HeForShe campaign has grown in scope and influence, her address is credited with changing the conversation around the involvement of men in fighting for gender equality.

“I want men to take up this mantle, so that their daughters, sisters, and mothers can be free from prejudice. But also, so their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human too … I am inviting you to step forward, to be seen, and to ask yourself: If not me, who? If not now, when?”Emma Watson, UN Women’s HeForShe Launch


5. Sojourner Truth, “Ain’t I A Woman?”

“Ain’t I A Woman?” is considered one of the most important speeches in both the abolitionist and women’s rights movements.

After escaping slavery, Sojourner Truth was invited to speak at the Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio, on May 29, 1851, where she passionately and eloquently called out the inferior treatment of women, and of black women especially. Another historic speech that makes it one of the best speeches by women.

Her words resonated with audiences and became a rallying cry for the women’s rights movement. Over 170 years later, her words continue to inspire those fighting against injustice.

“That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman?”Sojourner Truth, Women’s Rights Convention


6. Sheryl Sandberg, “Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders”

In her 2010 Ted Talk at the TEDWomen conference, Sheryl Sandberg awakens the audience to the underrepresentation of women in leadership roles. But she doesn’t just highlight the disparity, she offers an inspiring call to action through the concept of “leaning in,” defined as embracing a challenge, taking a risk, and pursuing ambitions with confidence.

Sandberg argues in her iconic speech that women often hold themselves back from leadership opportunities due to internalized stereotypes, societal expectations, and self-doubt. But she encourages women to advocate for themselves, seek out mentors, and support one another in their professional endeavors. Additionally, Sandberg calls on men to use their positions of influence to promote gender equality in the workplace.

The talk has helped to raise awareness about the importance of diversity and inclusion in leadership and has catalyzed efforts to create more equitable workplaces.

“So please ask yourself: What would I do if I weren’t afraid? And then go do it.”Sheryl Sandberg, “Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders”


7. Susan B. Anthony, “On Women’s Right to Vote”

Susan B. Anthony delivered her historic speech “On Women’s Right to Vote” at numerous venues during the latter years of the 19th century. She passionately argued that women were entitled to the same political rights as men, highlighing both the injustice and the hypocrisy of denying women the right to vote while simultaneously subjecting them to taxation and other civic responsibilities.

Anthony emphasized that women were actively contributing to the betterment of society and thus fully capable of participating in the democratic process. She rejected any argument that women were intellectually or morally inferior to men, emphasizing that such beliefs were rooted in prejudice and ignorance.

While she faced opposition, her eloquence and commitment to the cause laid the groundwork for the eventual passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, which granted women the right to vote. Another great speech!

“It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union.” – Susan B. Anthony, “On Women’s Right To Vote


Ready to make your own great speech?

Whether you’re presenting a keynote to thousands, a pitch to a boardroom, or your research to a classroom, mastering the art of public speaking doesn’t have to be intimidating. It’s a skill that can be learned.

And while communication skills are historically some of the hardest to find great and transformative trainings on, you don’t need to look any further than Duarte. We’ve been training professionals to become better communicators for over 35 years now, and at some of the highest stakes moments for some of the biggest brands in the world.

See how we can help you take the stage with confidence today!



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