The History of the Motivational Speech

By Joey Asher

Category: Other

To our mind, there’s nothing much more motivational than John Belushi’s (aka Bluto Blutarski) famous speech at the end of the movie “Animal House” when he is trying to motivate his sad sack fraternity brothers.

“Over? Did you say over? NOTHING is over until WE decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? HELL, NO!”

But that is just one of the many motivational speeches reviewed in a wonderful article by Christopher Hitchens on The article entitled, “You Can Do It! A History of the Pep Talk”, can be found here.

The article starts with great speeches from the Bible and follows the tradition of motivational speaking all the way through the present day.

It’s a long article that doesn’t draw many conclusions about what makes a great motivational speech. But it does include all the wonderful excerpts from the great speeches that many of us are always trying to remember.

Among the highlights:

Roosevelt’s address to the nation following the bombing of Pearl Harbor:

“We are now in this war. We are in it–all the way. It will not only be a long war, it will be a hard war….We don’t like it–we didn’t want to get in it–but we are in it and we’re going to fight it with everything we’ve got.”

Churchill’s address prior to the Battle of Britain:

The Battle of Britain is about to begin. On this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization…Hitler knows he will have to break us in this island or lose the war.

If we can stand up to him all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may move forward into broad sunlit uplands; but if we fail, the whole world, including the United States and all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister and perhaps more prolonged by the lights of a perverted science.

Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duty and so bear ourselves that if the British Commonwealth and Empire last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour.”

From “Moby Dick” there’s Stubb, the second mate, urging his crew to row faster to catch up with the whale they were hunting:

“Pull, pull, my fine hearts-alive; pull, my children; pull, my little ones… Why don’t you break your backbones, my boys? What is it you stare at? Those chaps in yonder boat? Tut! They are only five more hands come to help us–never mind from where–the more the merrier. Pull, then, do pull; never mind the brimstone–devils are good fellows enough. So, so; there you are now; that’s the stroke for a thousand pounds; that’s the stroke to sweep the stakes! Hurrah for the gold cup of sperm oil, my heroes!…Pull, babes–pull, suckings–pull, all…””

The tyrannical sales manager in David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross” who tries to motivate his sorry sales team by telling them about the new sales contest:

As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Anybody want to see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you’re fired.

Speechworks is a communication and selling skills coaching firm. We teach professionals how to craft and deliver complex messages in a simple, persuasive manner. Since 1986, through workshops and one-on-one instruction, we have helped countless individuals become better presenters and communicators. You can reach us at 404.266.0888, or on the web at


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