Famous Speech Quotes To Distinguish Your Speech

Famous speech quote - Gettsburg address

Using quotes from famous people in a speech can add interest and credibility to your words. While you should not over-rely on quotes, using them can show you are well-informed and help you make your point. It is crucial to interpret them correctly when using them.

A well-placed quote can serve multiple purposes within a speech to transform into something powerful, memorable, and intriguing. No matter what you say, there’s likely to be someone notable who made a germane comment you can incorporate.

Whether your goal is to work as a hook to capture the audience’s attention or to validate a claim you are making, the key is to use famous speech quotes appropriately. It is also important not to overuse quotes. Remember that you are the speaker people have gathered to hear you speak, so using too many will overshadow your meaningful original words.

What is The Advantage Of Using Quotes In Speeches?

Why use famous speech quotes to enhance your speech? They serve at least four purposes:

  • Add interest
  • Hook the audience
  • Illustrate a point
  • Validate your position

Most of the reasons come down to this: If a person with the stature of Martin Luther King, Jr., Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou, or Ben Franklin said something on the topic, your speech might be worth listening to.

Famous speech quotes - Maya Angelou & Obama

Drawbacks To Using Quotes

A poorly placed quote can detract from your speech. You risk losing credibility if you use the quote in the wrong context in your address. Be sure to quote the original speaker accurately and give credit to the right person. Misquoting or miscrediting the quote can cause the audience to lose faith in your argument. You want the audience to talk about your ideas, not about the authorship of a statement!

In choosing a quote, know your audience. Quoting Donald Trump on anything would turn off many groups, but other audiences might react similarly to inspiring words from Barack Obama.

Basketball Star Lebon James has been involved in social justice causes for years, yet when he commented on protests by Colin Kaepernick, Fox News host Laura Ingraham replied that he should “shut up and dribble.”

Famous speech quotes - Lebron James
All-Pro Reels, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

How Should You Decide How To Use Them?

An essential part of public speaking is determining what to add to your speech. If you are going to use a quote, be sure that the quote has value and fits within the context of the message you are trying to convey. No matter what fun or inspirational quote you find, leave it out if it does not add value to the speech.

Quotes should add to what you say, not detract from your message.

What Are 20 Famous Speech Quotes That Are Often Used?

There are many great speeches from politicians, authors, athletes, and professional orators to choose from, but here are some of the best.

  1. “Expect the best. Prepare for the worst. Capitalize on what comes.” – Zig Ziglar
  2. “The only thing that feels better than winning is winning when nobody thought you could.” – Hank Aaron
  3. “If you can dream it, you can do it.” – Walt Disney
  4. “If the freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” – George Washington
  5. “Magic is believing in yourself. If you can make that happen, you can make anything happen.” —Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
  6. “Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom – and no such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech.” – Benjamin Franklin
  7. “Give me liberty, or give me death!” – Patrick Henry
  8. “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.” -Albert Einstein
  9. “Speech is power: speech is to persuade, to convert, to compel.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
  10. “..when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you’ve got to say, and say it hot.” – D. H. Lawrence
  11. “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” -Nelson Mandela
  12. “The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” -Walt Disney
  13. “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.” -Steve Jobs
  14. “If life were predictable, it would cease to be life and be without flavor.” -Eleanor Roosevelt
  15. “You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching, love like you’ll never be hurt, sing like there’s nobody listening, and live like it’s heaven on earth.” —William W. Purkey
  16. “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ~Maya Angelou
  17. “Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.” -Mother Teresa
  18. “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
  19. “Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” – Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address
  20. “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
Famous speech quotes  -  Walt Disney

What Are The Top Quotes Used For Speeches?

Choosing the top 10 quotes to use in speeches is difficult because the best quote is one that fits the context of your speech. Let’s explore some topics and appropriate quotes you might use.

Success Quotes

  1. “The only thing that feels better than winning is winning when nobody thought you could.” -Hank Aaron
  2. “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that count.” – Winston Churchill
  3. “If you can dream it, you can do it.” – Walt Disney
  4. “Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice, and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.” – Pele
  5. “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” – Mark Twain
  6. “I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have.” -Thomas Jefferson
  7. “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” – John F. Kennedy
Famous speech quotes - JFK

Motivational Quotes

  1. “Don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do. Follow your dreams and persist.” – Barack Obama
  2. “If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.” – Unknown
  3. When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on. -Franklin D. Roosevelt
  4. “The journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single step.” – Lao Tzu
  5. “You can often change your circumstances by changing your attitude.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
  6. “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” -Henry Ford
  7. “If people are doubting how far you can go, go so far that you can’t hear them anymore.” —Michele Ruiz
  8. “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed.” —Michael Jordan


  1. “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” — Steve Jobs
  2. “Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow.” – Abraham Lincoln
  3. “People who wonder if the glass is half empty or full miss the point. The glass is refillable.” —Unknown
  4. “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” ―Aristotle
  5. “Tell me, and I forget. Teach me, and I remember. Involve me, and I learn.” – Benjamin Franklin
  6. “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” ―Kurt Cobain

What Are Some Famous Quotes By Martin Luther King Jr.?

Famous speech quotes by Martin Luther King, Jr.
  1. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” (Strength to Love, 1963)
  2. “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.” (from his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in 1964)
  3. “I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day, every valley shall be engulfed, every hill shall be exalted, and every mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plains, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.” (March on Washington, 1963)
  4. “I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education, and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.” (from his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in 1964)
  5. “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” (March on Washington, 1963)
  6. “I was a drum major for justice, peace, and righteousness.” (Atlanta sermon given in 1968)
  7. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” (Letter from a Birmingham Jail, 1963)
  8. “Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a better person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.” (March for Integrated Schools, 1959)
  9. “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” (from the I Have a Dream speech in 1963)
  10. “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” (speech given at the Washington National Cathedral in 1968)

Pam Berg

A former English teacher and currently an elementary principal in a rural school, Pam has honed her speaking skills in the classroom and before professional groups. Pam enjoys sharing her insights about public speaking almost as much as she enjoys running, which she does daily.

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