Who Are The Best Public Speakers Alive Today?

Cathy O'Dowd - one of the best speakers alive

The best alive?

If I asked you to make a list of the five best public speakers of all time, who would it include?  

I’ll take a guess:

  • Winston Churchill;
  • Martin Luther King;
  • Steve Jobs;
  • Zig Ziglar;
  • Cicero. 

Did I get any of yours? 

While this list contains some of the most excellent speakers from history: I have a problem with it.

First, none of these speakers is alive today, and second, they don’t feature a single woman.

Surely there are some living people and female speakers who can top this list? 

Doing my research for this post, I found that the vast majority of websites all name the same few people from history as being the best public speakers. 

Some sites even rank Hitler up there, but still don’t feature any women!

I’m going to right that wrong today by not only giving you a list of the best public speakers alive but also including an appropriate mix of men and women. 

Why? 

Well, if we keep writing posts about the best speakers in history, but only include dead men, then we’re never going to spot any new talent, are we? 

So, here are six outstanding speakers who are alive and well today that you can learn from and will help you develop your speaking style and help you become a more confident speaker.

They’re in no particular order, but let me know who you think is the best of the bunch.

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1. Simon Sinek

I can’t remember a time Simon Sinek has spoken, and I’ve been able to ignore him. 

Everything he says seems to be so clear and well-articulated that I feel like he’s read my thoughts and rephrased everything I think about the world in a way I understand it. 

His in-depth research and passionate delivery inspire greatness in everyone who hears him speak or reads his works.

I remember the first time I saw him speak in his Golden Circle’ TED Talk and knew straight away that I had to change my speaking style. 

Sinek shows how most companies focus on what they do and how they do it, but the BEST companies focus on why.

He speaks conversationally and assumes no knowledge. He writes all of his books in the same way including his first and most famous, Start With Why.

Without a doubt, Simon Sinek is one of the best public speakers alive today.

If you want to learn from the man himself, he has created a course on presenting that you can find on SkillShare. Sign up for a free account through this link.

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2. Gary Vaynerchuck

Here’s a controversial one. 

For full disclosure, I’m not a fan of Gary Vee’s. 

His brash style and outlandish demands of his audience make me uneasy, but that doesn’t make him any less of an effective speaker. 

Gary has an army of adoring fans who all believe that if they can hustle and grind their days out just like he has, they too can be a roaring success. 

His motivational speaking style comes entirely from authority. 

Unlike Sinek, Gary tells you what to do rather than explaining the deeper meanings behind why we perform or take action. 

You decide which is more useful for you by reading his most recent work Crushing It.

He has a habit of getting to the point and making sure you get the point before he moves on.

No matter what you think of him, you will get some solid advice from his book or any of his YouTube videos, which are a daily kick in the chops for anyone who wants to succeed.

3. Brenée Brown

Following the kick in the pants style of Gary Vaynerchuck, I give to you the world’s leader on empathy and vulnerability, Brenée Brown.

Brenée Brown is the first female speaker on my list, and she hits a wildly different note than the first two mentions. 

I first came across Brenée when writing my dissertation at university. I was writing about the wellbeing of leaders and found her book Daring Greatly to be a fantastic resource on having the courage to be vulnerable. 

A few months after I wrote my dissertation, she wrote a much better version of what I was trying to achieve with Dare To Lead. I wonder if she read my report? 😉

Her writing skills are one thing, but she’s also a top-notch public speaker too. 

You can find proof of this in her TED talk The Power of Vulnerability which is an ode to self-compassion. 

I would say Brenée’s style is that of a storyteller. She’s almost always either telling a story or building up to one, and you never lose focus watching her. 

4. Cathy O’Dowd

Compared to the other speakers on my list, Cathy goes under the radar even though she was the first woman to climb Everest from both sides.

I might never have come across Cathy if I hadn’t been lucky enough to be in the audience at the Professional Speaking Association Conference in 2019. 

The room had been relatively tepid in applause and cheer until Cathy came along and told us all the story of how she’d climbed a mountain that was considered ‘unclimbable’ (my word, not hers but it’s a real word). 

Cathy didn’t just tell her story but invited the audience to take part in it. 

She used an incredible tool called Mentimeter to let us make choices as to what she should do as she climbed the mountain with a team of braver people than the A-Team.

It was so immersive, and at the end of her speech, which I won’t spoil, everyone stood up and gave her a thunderous standing ovation. 

What a speaker. 

She doesn’t even speak that often because she’s doing the do and lives her life in the mountains.

Nevertheless, she is most certainly one of the best speakers in the world alive today. 

Her book Just For The Love Of It isn’t just about climbing mountains. It’s about self-discovery and achieving the ‘impossible’. 

I have learned so much from Cathy, and so will you if you watch her speech, but trust me: it’s well worth seeing her life.

5. Danajaya Hettiarachchi

Don’t worry if you can’t say his name. It’s taken me six years of practice to get it right. 

Danajaya is quite simply one of the best speakers alive today, and I base all of my evidence on the fact that he once delivered the most memorable speech I’ve ever heard. 

I See Something was the speech that helped Danajaya to win the 2014 World Championship of Public Speaking with Toastmasters International.

I have played a clip of this speech in almost every full-day public speaking workshop I’ve done since. 

Why? Because it’s that damn good!

I See Something will make you laugh, cry, and relate on a deep level to what Danajaya has seen, heard, and felt through his life. 

And, he does it all in an eight-minute time frame. 

You cannot afford to miss this speech. It will add so much to your life, I promise you. 

If it doesn’t, you can have your money back!

Although Danajaya has done very little, in terms of authoring books or creating even more memorable speeches since that ground shaker, I do believe that he will be back with a bang at some point. 

For now, watch his speech and learn from a true master in the making. 

Now, get ready for a controversial choice that many may disagree with me on, but I stand firmly behind my choice.

6. Greta Thunberg

I can already see some eyes rolling at the back. 

“How can you choose Greta Thunberg as one of the best public speakers alive today? She’s just a teenager.” 

Hear me out.

I have many friends who hate Greta with a passion, especially after her cringy attack on world leaders as the United Nations.

If you haven’t seen it, she yelled: “How Dare You! You have stolen my dreams!” while reading directly from a script. 

You can see it here, but don’t let that guffaw be the decider for you on whether Greta is one of the best public speakers alive. 

Greta is a very talented speaker. 

She’s already a global force at 17 years old. 

She knows how to: 

  • lead a movement;
  • grab attention;
  • influence others, especially those in power;
  • create urgency; and,
  • get people to take action.

When she wants to, she can pull off a fantastic speech with some eerie use of the pregnant pause.

See an example of what she can do in her TEDx Talk where she didn’t use a script. 

Bear in mind; she was 15 at the time. 

How many 15-year-olds do you see on the cover of Time Magazine? 

She’s even written a book titled No One Is Too Small To Make A Difference.

I will not bend on my claim that Greta is one of the best public speakers alive today, but let me know if you think differently.

Some notable mentions

Sticking to six was a tough challenge. 

I have so many other speakers I would have loved to mention who have changed my life for the better such as Brian Tracy, Anthony Robbins, Jim Carrey, and even Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

But, I wanted to keep this list balanced and also include at least one that I’m not so keen on and another that you probably aren’t. 

At least I managed to get some of my heroes into the post somewhere :).

Always learn from the best

If you want to improve as a speaker, you must always be watching and learning from the best public speakers alive.

Who I consider the best might differ from you, but it doesn’t make me right and you wrong, it just means we have different opinions. 

I would love to know who you think are the best speakers in the world, but try to surprise me and give me some names I’ve never heard.

If we sit listening to the same speakers over and over, we form an echo chamber for ourselves. 

The best speakers alive today are those that are fresh, unique, and say what needs to be said but isn’t being already. 

Enjoy this list and keep on your journey to be on my list of the best public speakers alive one day.

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Who Are The Best Public Speakers Alive Today?

Danny Riley

A corporate trainer, award-winning speaker, TEDx Speaker coach, and Distinguished Toastmaster. Danny designs and delivers Leadership Development Programmes as well as coaching professional speakers. He is a Chartered Manager, a member of the CIPD, and dedicates his life to developing executives who want to deliver more persuasive pitches and presentations.

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Who Are The Best Public Speakers Alive Today?
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