Speeches from Film: The Pursuit of Happyness

One of my favourite movies from recent years is The Pursuit of Happyness, starring Will Smith. Based on a true story, the movie is about Chris Gardner, a man in financial difficulty who is trying to raise his son alone after his wife leaves him.

It is very moving and Smith is terrific in the main role. I highly recommend it.

In today’s post, there is a short clip from the film. It is a scene in which Smith manages to find a little bit of time at the beginning of his day to play basketball with his son.

At one point, Smith tells him that he will probably not be very good at basketball and that he shouldn’t spend too much time on the court. His son is understandably upset. Smith, who has seen his own dreams shattered over the years, realizes that, instead of discouraging his son, he should teach him to protect his dreams. The result is this speech that begins at 1:10 of the clip:

Five great things about the speech

Smith’s speech, which it is set out below, is only 40 seconds long, but there is much than we can learn from it when it comes to public speaking. Indeed, it has the following five traits, all of which are all hallmarks of a great speech:

  • A simple message.
  • Sincere emotion.
  • Good eye contact.
  • A call to action.

A great scene and a great lesson about public speaking and life in general. Here’s the text of the speech from The Pursuit of Happyness, written out like a poem – the way speeches should be written.



Don’t ever let somebody tell you,
you can’t do something.

Not even me.
All right?

You got a dream?
You gotta protect it.

People can’t do something themselves, they want to tell you you can’t do it.

You want something?
Go get it!


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  1. Thanks for sharing this post. LOVE IT! We think alike and I wanted to let you know I’ve paid it forward and posted on my Facebook. Keep the dreams alive my friend!
    TCOY = Take Care of You!

    1. Lucy, thanks very much for the comment and for sharing it on your Facebook page. Much appreciated. I find comments like yours incredibly motivating. Feel free to link up with my via Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. It would be my pleasure. The icons are on the right side of the page.

  2. Just to verify that Lucy “paid this forward” I’m coming here from her. 🙂 This is a great post and reminder that we need to pursue what we believe we are supposed to do. I’ll add to this that it is important to build a team of supporters, not nay-sayers and not necessarily “yes-men”, who can provide objective unbiased feedback blended with encouragement.
    Thanks for sharing! I’m going to Tweet this and probably post it on my blog at some point.

    1. Thank you, Janna, for the comment. And thanks also for mentioning Lucy. I very much appreciate your comments and I particularly like “objective unbiased feedback blended with encouragement”. Great stuff!

  3. Hi John — thanks for posting this. Two thoughts to share.
    The first is of course the message itself, which is especially important today for so many people. The bottom line is — if you want something, of course there may be challenges, of course there may be naysayers, but know what you want, and then go for it.
    The second is as you framed it, from a speaker’s perspective. The message doesn’t have to be fancy, or verbose — break it down so even a child can understand it and act upon it.
    (Oh, and I have also PIF (paid it forward…smile)

    1. Thank you, Leslie. When moving toward one’s dreams, it is so important not to give up hope when the resistance increases. So often, people throw in the towel just before things start to change for the better. It reminds me of a stanza from Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If”:
      If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
      To serve your turn long after they are gone,
      And so hold on when there is nothing in you
      Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
      As for your second point, I completely agree. One of my favourite quotes for my students is from Leonardo da Vinci: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
      Many thanks again,

  4. Hi John,
    I thought the movie was gut wrenching (iro its message) and most insightful on many levels. Your excerpt shows this clearly. Thanks for sharing and I look forward to more of your messages. I have also retweeted.
    Kind regards

  5. Hi John:
    Thank you for this insight into the movie. I often use this movie as part of my workshops.
    Firstly, I use it to talk about ‘getting to the essence of the story’. In real life, Chris Gardner’s life was quite a bit more complex than the movie depicts. However, the script writers were able to skilfully focus on just the key characters and elements thus making something that was easy to follow but kept the key essence of the story.
    Secondly, I use it as a good example of the Quest story line often favoured by script writers.
    I shall now add your thoughts so that I have three interesting things to say about the movie! As all good Toastmasters know, three is the magic number! Haha!
    BTW I see that you have dropped me a mail re November. I will drop you a mail later today or tomorrow. I have just returned from 2 1/2 weeks in California so have a bunch of email to attend to. However, just to say that I am still keen if you still are!

    1. Hi Freddie, thanks for the comment. Interesting to see the different creative ways in which the movie can be used in an educational manner – on many levels. Hope that you had a great time in California. Still keen on the November meeting if we can make it work. We’ll chat in greater detail by email.

  6. Hi John,
    Very inspiring post. I joined Toastmasters and I am ACB. I was working on my public speaking manual and found your website through your “No man’s land” video on YouTube. I have bookmarked your website and will take tips from here very often.
    I must say that I was very inspired reading this post and video. Amazing work.
    Best Wishes

    1. Thanks very much for the comment. I am glad that you enjoyed the post and look forward to having you visit this blog in the future. Best of luck with the completion of your TM Manual.

  7. “A successful book is not made of what is in it, but what is left out of it.”
    — Mark Twain

    John, you unintentionally confirmed one of the many ways in which Mark Twain’s quote is correct. The confirmation statement below was taken from your website.

    “One of my favorite movies from recent years is The Pursuit of Happiness, starring Will Smith. Based on a true story, the movie is about Chris Gardner, a man in financial difficulty who is trying to raise his son alone after his wife leaves him.”

    In what way does your statement confirm Mark Twain’s comment? In the word wife. Chris Gardner was never married to Jackie, years prior to where the movie began he as was married to Sherry. Jackie was an affair that he had on the side. He left his wife Sherry so that he could be the father he never had; the father to the son that him and Jackie were about to have together. Jackie and Chris were never married.

    John, people like you and I, who are either married or grew up in a family with married parents, are biased to view the marital situation differently that the actual story. Someone in a different situation might assume that they were just living together, never legally married. From my own life experiences was also led to believe that Jackie was his wife.

    After coming to the understanding of Gardner’s relationship situation, I watched the show again, I love that show. I was surprised to find that the show did not say or do anything to lead the viewer to think that they were married; instead it left that conclusion up to the viewer to personalize the story to them.

    “A successful book (screen play) is not made of what is in it, but what is left out of it.” In this case relationship information left out allowed a broader spectrum of viewers the opportunity to make a closer connection with the lead character. I know I did.

    Always Press On,

    Rob Carr
    Woods Cross Utah

    1. Rob, thanks for taking the time to write such an involved comment. The opening quote by Twain made me smile because I used as a post about five or six posts back.

      I did not know that Gardner had his son as a result of an affair. But evidently that’s what happened. As for the movie, well, it has been a long while since I saw it, so I’ll have to make a point of watching it again. I checked a few sites. In the movie, Thandie Newton’s character is named Linda, not Sherry. I cannot remember consciously deciding that she was his wife; perhaps I just assumed it as you say. The interesting thing is that it appears that several other did too. The movie summaries on both Wikipedia and IMDb mention Linda as Gardner’s wife. Wikipedia even lists her in the cast as playing “Linda Gardner”. So I am not alone!
      Either way, it is a great show. Thanks again for the insight.

      1. Hi there, I understand it’s very late to be replying to the initial post left by Rob, but Linda is definitely his wife & the mother to Christopher (of course the son) as when she is leaving & they ponder back & forth over who shall be taking responsibility for Christopher she tells him that she’s his mother & he should stay with the mother, although this could be a mother figure however I doubt that very much so.

        Great work!

          1. Yes a few things were changed in order to make the story work better as a film, and a great film it was.

  8. Hi John,
    First,thanks for your post and just to tell you that this is my faviorte film and i actually used 4 positions in my life and every time i see the film I learn a new thing which helps me in my life.
    Thanks again.
    Mahmoud el Aydy

  9. Hi John, my name is omar i’m from usa .. i saw the movie mny time but i want to make study about it so please give main idea in each period, major details of the movie, and fcts plus opinion….emil me at mowahid81@gmail.com

    1. Hi Omar,
      Thanks for the comment. Unfortunately, I do not have the time to give you all of the information that you are looking for. (And, I am not a film critic.) However, I am sure that if you search the Internet, you will find the detailed analysis that you are seeking. For example, I found this article on Wikipedia.
      Good luck with it.

  10. Hi and thanks for the post. This is my favourite movie, and it inspired me a lot, actually i am from india, and i belong to a middle class family, and i always had a dream for bollywood, and i saw this movie when i was struggling for my career asa writer and it inspired me so much that i struggle for three years and now i have started my career as a song writer 🙂 so i just want to say don’t ever leave your dream, just focus on that with hard work, dedication and commitment, you will definitely get it…

  11. Hi John, great post. Just came across it while looking for a transcript of the speech for my blog post that I am working on today. This is one of my favorite movies.

  12. Hi John,

    I have been a great fan of yours. Just like you, I am very passionate about public speaking. I am a struggling toastmaster. I found your blog very helpful for my speeches and your analyses very enlightening. If you have time, please view a few of my speeches on YouTube (Channel : Aung P Tun). Really looking forward to your valuable comments.

    Thanks and always looking forward to your next post.

    Aung P Tun

  13. from the movie “the pursuit of happyness” is it always the case you will pursue happiness and get happiness? pls explain further

    1. Hi Rosemary. I don’t think that that is the case at all. A person’s pursuit of happiness does not guarantee happiness. Indeed, many people pursue happiness but do not succeed in reaching it. That is why the phrase is worded “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” in the Declaration of Independence. People have the right to life, the right to liberty and the right to pursue happiness; i.e., try to be happy however they choose (as long as it is legal). Happiness is not guaranteed but the right to try and be happy is.

  14. Owsm movie. it was just superb, as it had inspired many peoples even i was a lot inspired by it. LOVED IT!!!! Thanx John…………

  15. This is a really great Article that helped me on my homework for school. I have to write a journal entry so I’m trying to find the script so that I can get a quote from the movie. My teacher only let us see the scene once so this place is the greatest for helping me study.

    – Carissa

    1. Hi Carissa. Thank you for the comment. I am glad that you found the post to be helpful. Best of luck with all of your homework assignments!

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John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

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TA Leader, Gore and Associates

I first got in touch with John while preparing to speak at TED Global about my work on ProtonMail. John helped me to sharpen the presentation and get on point faster, making the talk more focused and impactful. My speech was very well received, has since reached almost 1.8 million people and was successful in explaining a complex subject (email encryption) to a general audience.

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CEO, Proton Technologies

John gave the opening keynote on the second day of our unit’s recent offsite in Geneva, addressing an audience of 100+ attendees with a wealth of tips and techniques to deliver powerful, memorable presentations. I applied some of these techniques the very next week in an internal presentation, and I’ve been asked to give that presentation again to senior management, which has NEVER happened before. John is one of the greatest speakers I know and I can recommend his services without reservation.

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Senior Data Scientist, Expedia Group

After a morning of team building activities using improvisation as the conduit, John came on stage to close the staff event which was organised in Chamonix, France. His energy and presence were immediately felt by all the members of staff. The work put into the preparation of his speech was evident and by sharing some his own stories, he was able to conduct a closing inspirational speech which was relevant, powerful and impactful for all at IRU. The whole team left feeling engaged and motivated to tackle the 2019 objectives ahead. Thank you, John.

Umberto de Pretto

Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

I was expecting a few speaking tips and tricks and a few fun exercises, but you went above and beyond – and sideways. You taught me to stand tall. You taught me to anchor myself. You taught me to breathe. You taught me to open up. You taught me to look people in the eye. You taught me to tell the truth. You taught me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I got more than I bargained for in the best possible way.

Thuy Khoc-Bilon

World Cancer Day Campaign Manager, Union for International Cancer Control

John gave a brilliant presentation on public speaking during the UN EMERGE programme in Geneva (a two days workshop on leadership development for a group of female staff members working in the UN organizations in Geneva). His talk was inspirational and practical, thanks to the many techniques and tips he shared with the audience. His teaching can dramatically change our public speaking performance and enable us as presenters to have a real and powerful impact. Thank you, John, for your great contribution!

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HR Specialist, World Health Organization

John is a genuine communication innovator. His seminars on gamification of public speaking learning and his interactive Rhetoric game at our conference set the tone for change and improvement in our organisation. The quality of his input, the impact he made with his audience and his effortlessly engaging style made it easy to get on board with his core messages and won over some delegates who were extremely skeptical as to the efficacy of games for learning. I simply cannot recommend him highly enough.

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National Education Director, Association of Speakers Clubs UK

John joined our Global Sales Meeting in Segovia, Spain and we all participated in his "Improv(e) your Work!" session. I say “all” because it really was all interactive, participatory, learning and enjoyable. The session surprised everybody and was a fresh-air activity that brought a lot of self-reflection and insights to improve trust and confidence in each other inside our team. It´s all about communication and a good manner of speaking!"

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General Manager Europe, Hayward Industries

Thank you very much for the excellent presentation skills session. The feedback I received was very positive. Everyone enjoyed the good mix of listening to your speech, co-developing a concrete take-away and the personal learning experience. We all feel more devoted to the task ahead, more able to succeed and an elevated team spirit. Delivering this in a short time, both in session and in preparation, is outstanding!

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CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

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Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

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Senior Director and Talent Partner, ADP International