When we think of great speeches, we may have the idea of mature speakers with wisdom that comes from age. Malala Yousafzai can easily disprove that idea, on her 16th birthday she delivered a formidable speech at the United Nations. She is also the youngest Nobel laureate. This speech will be the centre of this #LearnFromGreatSpeeches where you can see how to infuse passion, use rhetoric and leave an impact on the audience.

The opening

Today is it an honour for me to be speaking again after a long time. Being here with such honourable people is a great moment in my life and it is an honour for me that today I am wearing a shawl of the late Benazir Bhutto. I don’t know where to begin my speech.

The opening is very graceful and grateful. She shows a great humility and shows great respect for the audience. Humility is always positive and is not the opposite of confidence. You can have both at the same time, you want to be humble-confident not arrogant-confident.

Inclusion, amplification and anaphora

There are hundreds of human rights activists and social workers who are not only speaking for their rights, but who are struggling to achieve their goal of peace, education and equality. Thousands of people have been killed by the terrorists and millions have been injured. I am just one of them. So here I stand. So here I stand, one girl, among many. I speak not for myself, but so those without a voice can be heard. Those who have fought for their rights. Their right to live in peace. Their right to be treated with dignity. Their right to equality of opportunity. Their right to be educated.

In this passage Malala amplifies her speech. We are not talking rhetorical amplification, rather extending it for other people, like she is their spokeswoman (on top of being one of them). This not only adds to humility but it moves the speech from subjective to objective. It’s not (only) me, it’s the idea: we are many people. By giving it a broader reach it gains importance and raises more emotions in the audience. Just after there is a beautiful anaphora “their right” that adds power (more on that later).


I do not even hate the Talib who shot me. Even if there was a gun in my hand and he was standing in front of me, I would not shoot him. This is the compassion I have learned from Mohammed, the prophet of mercy, Jesus Christ and Lord Buddha. This the legacy of change I have inherited from Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Mohammed Ali Jinnah. This is the philosophy of nonviolence that I have learned from Gandhi, Bacha Khan and Mother Teresa. And this is the forgiveness that I have learned from my father and from my mother. This is what my soul is telling me: be peaceful and love everyone.

Note the cultural inclusion of this passage. Every speech should embrace the context and here we are at the United Nation. Malala Yousafzai cites several figures from different religions and cultures with a touchy reference to her parents. How to be personal and universal at the same time.

That is something you should aim for. Try to make your presentation personal while embracing all your audience and make them feel part of it.


Dear sisters and brothers, we realize the importance of light when we see darkness. We realize the importance of our voice when we are silenced. In the same way, when we were in Swat, the north of Pakistan, we realized the importance of pens and books when we saw the guns. The wise saying, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” It is true. The extremists are afraid of books and pens. The power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women. The power of the voice of women frightens them.

Antithesis is a rhetorical device that makes it simpler to understand a concept by framing against its opposite. Here it is used to give more power to the first statements, we appreciate more what we have if we imagine how would it be to loose it. There is also a parallel construction here (“We realised the importance of … when …”). Having more sentences with a similar structure helps the audience focusing on the message inside them.


We call upon all governments to ensure free, compulsory education all over the world for every child. We call upon all the governments to fight against terrorism and violence. To protect children from brutality and harm. We call upon the developed nations to support the expansion of education opportunities for girls in the developing world. We call upon all communities to be tolerant, to reject prejudice based on caste, creed, sect, color, religion or agenda to ensure freedom and equality for women so they can flourish. We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back. We call upon our sisters around the world to be brave, to embrace the strength within themselves and realize their full potential.

Another powerful anaphora, that is the repetition of a word (or few words) at the beginning (or at the end) of some sentences to add an emotional impact and make them more memorable. It is important to use it at the right time, best is when you want passion to surge and in the call to action. The call to action is indeed the reason for your speech or presentation and there is where you want to excite their passion at their maximum. We take decisions based on logic and emotions, if you want to move an audience try to add some pathos!


So let us wage, so let us wage a glorious struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism, let us pick up our books and our pens, they are the most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first. Thank you.

The closing is again inclusive, before it was “We call upon”, now it is “us” repeated and full of positiveness. It shows a way by again appealing to passionate objectives.

This is a speech that resonates in the audience’s heart as much as in their mind. This is a great speech you can learn from. You may not speak at the UN or have to story of Malala Yousafzai but surely you can take home few advices:

  • You don’t need to be old to deliver a superb talk
  • Be personal but embrace the widest possible audience
  • Be humble and be strong.

If you would like to see Malala Yousafzai’s speech at the United Nations in 2013 here it is.