The 25 Most Inspiring Keynote Addresses of All Time
If you’re looking for a burst of inspiration, look no further.
If you have 15 minutes to kill before your next appointment—or are dragging yourself through a long afternoon—there are few better ways to get a burst of energy and mental stimulation than watching a keynote from someone you admire. The best keynotes can reframe the way you are thinking about a problem, a job, or your life in general, and are usually funny and entertaining as they do it.
With this in mind, we’ve pulled together 25 of the best you’re going to find on YouTube. Whether these speakers discuss making difficult decisions, getting more out of life, innovating in business, or curing world hunger, they’re bound to leave you with some food for thought and a new way at looking at the world—or at least offer an entertaining way to spend the next 15 minutes. And if you want to maximize the time you already have, our list of the 60 Ways To Buy An Extra 60 Minutes Every Day might help.
Elon Musk; May 16, 2014
The legendary entrepreneur and founder of Tesla Motors and Space X, addressed the graduating class of USC Marshall School of Business in 2014. He talked about working super hard, attracting great people, and taking risks before the obligations and anchors of life start slowing you down. As he puts it, “take risks now, do something bold.”
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Larry Page; May 2, 2009
Google’s co-founder talked about family, legacies, and finding a path to make your dreams real to the graduating class of Michigan University. He describes how important it is to get support from the people around you and that “when a really great dream shows up, grab it.”
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Patrick Dixon; July 18, 2011
For those trying to improve their communication and presentations, the futurist keynote speaker gave this powerful leadership speech on how to execute successful presentations that engage the audience at the Zermatt Summit, in 2012. He touched on how to win customers, how to give world-class lectures, and how to communicate with your audience.
Matt Damon; June 6, 2016
Will Hunting headed back to MIT to speak to the graduating class of 2016 about his experience with college and the financial crisis. He extends these experiences to the challenges faced by the larger world, including regions facing extreme poverty and water shortages. He concludes by saying that the fate of humanity depends on the choices the graduates will make.
Jeff Bezos; June 11, 2010
Amazon’s founder and CEO addressed Princeton students and talked about his childhood, about quitting his secure job in New York, and taking a wild risk with an internet startup. “In the end, we are a sum of our choices,” he tells those in the crowd.
Oprah Winfrey; November 9, 2015
The talk show host, author, entrepreneur, and American royalty, Oprah Winfrey, was the keynote speaker at QuickBook Connect and spoke about following your passion and doing things that make you happy. She talked about finding what you love to do and that letting “your personality serve the energy of your soul is the authentic empowerment.”
Steven Spielberg; May 26, 2016
The two-time Academy Award–winning director, producer, and screenwriter addressed the graduating class of Harvard University in 2016. He talked about knowing exactly what you want to do with your life and how to face your character defining moments. As someone who’s films have so memorably captured major moments of history, it’s no wonder he also reminds the audience that “you create a better future by studying the past.”
Sheryl Sanberg; May 16, 2016
The COO of Facebook who has turned “Lean In” into a mantra for many, addressed the Barkley University alumni at their 2016 commencement, talking about reaching rock bottom and bouncing right back to find meaning in her life. She memorably said how she learned that “in the face of any challenge you can choose joy and meaning.”
Peter Dinklage; June 5, 2012
The actor best known for playing Tyrion Lannister took to the stage at Bennington College to talk about his life growing up and the challenges he faced living in New York City and how he learned to reframe them. He hits both emotional and hilarious notes, and the urgent advice that the audience “don’t wait.”
Gary Vaynerchuk; December 17, 2011
Serial entrepreneur and founder of Vayner Media, the huge digital ad agency that serves major clients across America, talked about his humble beginnings: running eight lemonade stands when he was a kid in New Jersey. He gets into themes like making long bets, e-commerce, and where online businesses are heading, adding that “it doesn’t matter how many Facebook followers you have—but how many will buy something.”
Croix Sather; May 10, 2012
If you find going to the gym to be a chore, this might be a good message to get you off your couch. At a TEDx event in Las Vegas, Sather talks about his pretty insane project: running across America by doing a marathon and giving a keynote speech each day for 100 consecutive days. He explained that “you have to push through the hard parts, that is when your character is defined.”
Neil Gaiman; May 23, 2012
Fantasy and sci-fi master Neil Gaiman addressed the graduating class at the University of Arts, urging them to follow their dreams, learn from failure and disappointment, and push forward through challenges. For a guy who’s tried his hand at everything from comic books to films, he says that “nothing I ever did only for the money was ever worth my time.”
Barack Obama; July 25, 2004
Whatever your political leanings, this is a keynote for the history books, introducing the future president to the country with an inspiring story of his origin and what it means to be a free human being. As he puts it, “the true genius of America is the faith in simple dreams.”
Tom Hanks; May 22, 2011
The movie star talks to Yale University’s class of 2011 about life’s journey and the need to stay focused on the bright side. He memorably advises them that “if fear is cultivated it will become stronger, if fate is cultivated it will achieve mastery.”
Nick Vujicic; October 29, 2014
Born without arms and legs, Nick Vujicic makes it clear to the audience that they can overcome virtually any disadvantage with the right attitude. He invites people to think bigger and get over their shortcomings, stressing that “You don’t know what miracle can come from your broken pieces until you give your broken pieces a chance.”
Steve Jobs; June 12, 2005
One of the most classic commencement speeches of all time, here the legendary Apple CEO addressed the students at Stanford University, talking about connecting the dots in his life and work and how his experiences helped him grow. Jobs urges graduates to look for opportunity in setbacks and concludes with the classic exhortation to “stay hungry, stay foolish.”
Michael R. Bloomberg; May 29, 2014
The billionaire former mayor of New York City, addressed the graduating class of Harvard University about democratic values, politics, and making tough decisions. He criticized the government and memorably says “do not follow the crowd, speak up and fight back.”
Bill Gates; May 20, 2013
The Microsoft founder addressed the graduating class at Harvard University, talking about his experience as a student there, and broadening it out to discuss his work battling world diseases, and the opportunities technology offers to end extreme poverty. He said memorably that graduates should measure their accomplishments in “how well they treat people a world away that they have nothing in common with but their humanity.”
Mark Zuckerberg; May 25, 2017
Another tech titan who has turned his attention to the world’s biggest problems, the Facebook founder talks about creating a world where everyone has a sense of purpose. He discusses making mistakes and feeling alone as the head the social network but emphasizes that “purpose is what creates true happiness” and graduates should strive to find their calling.
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Dave Grohl; March 13, 2013
Former Nirvana drummer and current Foo Fighters frontman, Grohl addressed an audience at SXSW to talk about life, music, and subcultures. He discussed the bravery required to be different and about the ambition of “wanting to be the biggest band in the world.”
Sandra Bullock; August 25, 2014
The Oscar winner and movie star speaks to high school graduates about not worrying about the unknown, raising the bar higher, and dancing a little bit before you step out into the world. She gave a few takeaways to the students including that “nothing is a failure, it’s just not supposed to work that way, because something better is supposed to come along.”
Dalton Sherman; February 10, 2012
This nine-year-old student from Texas grabs the attention of an audience of more than 20,000 people by talking about being able to become anything, create anything, and dream about anything. He describes how kids are not just the future, but that they need the best guidance possible to be ready for life. His key takeaway: “we need you to believe in every student in Dallas.”
Jim Carrey; May 30, 2014
The legendary comedian who famously came up from poverty to become the highest-paid movie star in the world speaks here to the Maharishi University of Management. He talked about reminding each other that we are part of a larger picture, about possibilities, and bringing new ideas to the world. “We are the light that shines through, all else is just smoke and mirrors,” as he puts it.
Ken Robinson; Jan 6, 2007
The author, speaker, and international advisor on education, spoke at a TED conference about reforming education so it fosters creativity. He talks about empowering children to follow their natural talents so they can better fit in society. He suggested that “we have to rethink the fundamental principles on which we are educating our children.”
Victor Antonio; Feb. 10, 2010
Motivational speaker Victor Antonio addressed alumni at the University of Phoenix and talked about the logic of success and why some people succeed and others fail. He talked about toxic people that go out of their way to demotivated you and kill your dreams. He urged the audience in his keynote to “stay away from pessimistic people.”
If none of this has spurred you into some stratosphere of greatness, you can always just take 10 Great Life Lessons from Steve Carrell, Internet Heartthrob. After all, he was Brick Tamland, of course.
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