Public speaking alumni: Which universities produce the most skilled orators?

If using the data sourced from JLA’s internal data, please provide credit and include the note: “This research was gathered by keynote speaker bureau JLA.”


Alastair Campbell studied at the University of Cambridge between 1975 and 1979.
Speeches have defined pivotal moments in history – and changed the course of events.

But the importance of making great speeches is not confined to history. It’s a highly-prized, incredibly useful skill for everyday working life.

Billionaire Warren Buffett has said it can increase your career value by 50%, while Richard Branson has called effective communication the “most important skill any leader can possess.”

There’s even data to back this up. A study by the American Association of Colleges and Universities found speaking skills were the ability most desired by executives hiring new people.

Our research revealed the universities with the most skilled orators among their alumni — those able to engage and hold an audience, who are also leaders in their respective fields.

Methodology

  • Data comes from JLA’s database of over 3,000 professional keynote speakers, presenters and performers
  • Data was cross-referenced with alumni data from UK and Irish universities to identify the universities producing alumni able to command a fee for sharing knowledge, hosting and entertaining an audience
  • As well as charting the overall top 10, we have categorised universities into specialist, medium-sized and large institutions, based on their average yearly attendance
  • We also examined the most popular subjects at each university, to highlight the subjects inspiring the next generation of leaders and public speakers

Top 10 universities for producing skilled orators


Sir Chris Hoy studied at the University of Edinburgh between 1996 and 1999.
University of Edinburgh alumni make up just over 1 in 20 (5.59%) professional speakers working in the UK, meaning it’s the most prolific producer of public speakers.

Alumni include presenter and journalist Laura Kuenssberg, ex-Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and six-time gold medal-winning track cyclist Sir Chris Hoy.

The university ranks fourth in the UK for research power, which charts the quality and extent of research. Times Higher Education classifies 90% of its research as “world-leading” or “internationally excellent”.

The University of Bristol comes second, with just under 1 in 20 (4.99%) of the UK’s public speakers having studied here.

Among its alumni are illusionist and performer Derren Brown, journalist and newsreader Alastair Stewart, and the biological anthropologist and television presenter Alice Roberts.

The 2021 QS Graduate Employability Rankings placed Bristol at 58th in the world and 9th in the UK in terms of reputation with employers.

The University of Cambridge ranks third on the list: 3.79% of UK public speakers currently operating are Cambridge graduates.

Famous alumni include broadcaster and naturalist David Attenborough, political strategist and journalist Alastair Campbell, and actor and comedian Stephen Fry. Cambridge affiliates (alumni, academics and others holding official appointments) have won 121 Nobel Prizes between them.

According to QS World University Rankings, the University of Cambridge is the second-best university in the world behind MIT – and the best university in Europe.

Which subjects do orator-producing universities specialise in?

Some 41% of the institutions featured have a significant portion of students studying business and management courses. This could suggest that people studying business and management use the skills they learn to progress into leadership roles that require motivational abilities.

Medicine-related subjects were the most popular subjects at 23% of universities on the list. Then came engineering & technology, followed by social sciences, both of which were the most commonly studied subjects at 10% of the universities.

Which subjects are most attended at orator producing universities

Specialist ‘orator’ universities

Here we look at smaller universities, with student numbers up to 10,000 for the current year. In this category, two universities come joint top for the most speaker alumni.

SOASis a world-leading institution for the study of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, which trains many government officials, particularly in oriental languages.

The Royal College of Art, meanwhile, has come first nine years in a row for art and design courses in the QS World University Rankings.Being more specialised institutions, many universities in this category teach courses related to performance, the arts and theatre. Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, Royal College of Music and Arts University Bournemouth all feature, highlighting these universities’ natural leaning towards performance.

Indeed, on average, professional speaker alumni are twice as likely to have studied at a university in this category than any other.

Which specialist universities are producing skilled orators?

Medium-sized ‘orator’ universities

This category includes universities with between 10,000 to 25,000 students in the current year.

The University of Cambridge tops the list here. A world-famous institution that regularly appears in lists of top universities globally, engineering and technology subjects have the highest number of students. However, it’s highly respected for a number of subject specialisms. In terms of speaker alumni, Cambridge has nearly double the number of close rivals the University of Oxford.

Following Cambridge, Loughborough University comes second in this category. It’s only one of four institutions named University of the Year twice by the Sunday Times and is globally renowned for its sports-related courses.

In third, Brunel University is the 14th best UK university for employable graduates, according to Global University Employability Ranking 2022. Fittingly, for a university named after an engineer, it has a fine reputation for its engineering and technology courses.

Which medium sized universities produce skilled orators

Large ‘orator’ universities

These are universities with over 25,000 students in the current year. They represent a third of the institutions in the rankings, though the number of professional speakers from these universities makes up 53% of the total numbers.

Four of the top five universities overall belong to this category. Among them are the University of Birmingham, which came 12th in 2021 Times Higher Education rankings and boasts former prime ministers and 11 Nobel laureates as alumni.

After Birmingham comes King’s College London in fourth place for large universities. King’s also comes fourth in terms of age, at least in England: as part of the University of London, it’s England’s fourth-oldest university. It’s now one of the largest centres for healthcare education in the world.

Large orator universities

Those who make a living from speaking publicly studied at universities from all corners of the UK. Some of the biggest, most renowned UK universities boast the highest numbers of alumni orators.

However, when taken as a group of institutions, the specialist, smaller universities are twice as likely to have professional speaker alumni than larger universities.

One thing is for certain: UK universities nurture inspiring speakers. From world leaders to broadcasters, Nobel Prize winners, and influential academics, they’ve all emerged from some of the UK’s finest universities.

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