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The best commencement speakers are…

Jun 03, 2013

What makes a great speech? Persuasion.

This is what the experts at Quantified Impressions, a firm that analyzes communications skills, report is most critical to connect with a crowd--when the crowd is college grads, at least.

Examining 31 college commencement speeches cited in the press as compelling and memorable, the firm evaluated these talks against a database of ordinary speeches and everyday conversation. The analysis included 80 different metrics. Persuasion turned out to be the metric, or variable, that the 31 speeches had most in common.

And based on that, Quantified Impressions came up with a list of 10 best speeches.

"These speeches are the best because the speakers persuade the audience to be emotionally moved," says Noah Zandan, Quantified Impressions' president.

Turns out, the best speakers persuade by doing three key things. They explain their relevance ("I was just like you"). They give insight ("Here's what life will be like"). And they use inclusive words: you, we, us, with, along.

It's no surprise who comes out on top. Oprah Winfrey's speech at Stanford five years ago actually beats her talk to Harvard grads last week.

The speech ranked No. 3 below is particularly historic this week: It's 50 years ago this month that John F. Kennedy, in the midst of the Cold War and on the heels of the Cuban Missile Crisis, startled the Soviets by offering unilateral nuclear restraint.

1. Oprah Winfrey - 2008, Stanford

2. David Foster Wallace - 2005, Kenyon

3. John F. Kennedy - 1963, American University

4. Maya Angelou - 1977, University of California, Riverside

5. Winston Churchill - 1941, Harrow School

6. Arianna Huffington - 2013, Smith

7. Oprah Winfrey - 2013, Harvard

8. Aaron Sorkin - 2012, Syracuse

9. Former Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz - 2012, University of Wisconsin - Madison

10. Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos - 2010, Princeton

Where is Steve Jobs--his famous 2005 speech at Stanford--in the Quantified Impressions rankings? No. 20.

For more on this year's best commencement speeches, see Mary Civiello's Guest Post.

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