The most talked-about speeches of 2014

December 18, 2014, 1:12 AM UTC
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai poses with her medal during the Nobel Peace Prize awards ceremony at the City Hall in Oslo December 10, 2014.
Photograph by Reuters

They can be funny, or inspiring, or go straight for the heartstrings, but the one thing the year’s best speeches have in common is that, once they turned up on YouTube, people around the world tuned in — and told their friends.

For its annual list of the talks that got the most buzz, nonprofit public-speaking organization Toastmasters International looked at videos of hundreds of contenders and narrowed the field to these seven, in chronological order:

1. Accepting an Oscar Award for best actor, for his performance in “Dallas Buyers Club,” Matthew McConaughey described the three things he needs each day: “Something to look up to, something to look forward to, and someone to chase.”

2. Management theorist and author Simon Sinek, in a TED talk on what distinguishes mere managers from true leaders, said that a leader makes employees feel secure and draws them into a “circle of trust,” creating a sense of safety, especially in uncertain economic times.

3. After winning the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award, power forward Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder, brought many in the audience (and himself) to tears while thanking his mother for being “the real MVP.”

4. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, speaking to graduating seniors at her alma mater Harvard, at one point addressed the women in the Class of 2014: “The first time I spoke out about what it was like to be a woman in the workforce was less than five years ago. That means for 18 years, from where you sit to where I stand, my silence implied that everything was okay. You can do better than I did, and I mean that so sincerely.”

5. Following a big loss in the Little League World Series, David Belisle, coach of a team of young players from Cumberland, R.I., gave a stirring post-game talk, telling his team, “You’ve given me the most precious moments of my athletic and coaching career.”

6. For his story of personal growth, entitled “I See Something,” Sri Lankan Dananjaya Hettiarachchi won Toastmasters’ Championship of Public Speaking. He won out over 30,000 other contestants from 126 countries.

7. Two years after surviving a terrorist attack for advocating on behalf of girls’ education in Pakistan, 17-year-old Malala Yousafzai won the Nobel Peace Prize. In her acceptance speech, Yousafzai vowed to keep speaking out on the importance of education, saying children around the world “should stand up for their rights” and “not wait for someone else” to do it.

Different as they are, says communications coach Dilip Abayasekara, each of these talks reflected the speaker’s “passion, and a deep involvement with the topic.” Himself twice a Toastmasters Championship finalist, Abayasekara adds, “Everyone has his or her own style, but humility, and a willingness to be vulnerable, always wins over an audience.”

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