Sure, you can click on YouTube to hear some of the best speakers in the world - for free. I'm partial to Carnegie Mellon computer-science professor Randy Pausch's post-pancreatic cancer diagnosis "last lecture," Steven Jobs' pursue-your-dreams commencement speech at Stanford, and excerpts from Martin Luther King Jr.'s last address, "I Have Been to the Mountaintop."
But as you can tell from the crowd noise in the background of those talks, nothing beats seeing inspirational speakers in person. The icing on the cake: getting to look at them and hear them for free (or for very little money).
Some of the best places to start looking for options: bookstores (check out the independent ones near you), museums (check out the American Association of Museums for the ones near you), libraries, and universities.
Here's a sampling of a few places around the country with top-notch speakers:
Elmhurst College in Illinois. This fall Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, will visit on Sept. 23. Other 2012-2013 guests will include Jerry Reinsdorf, majority owner of the Chicago Bulls and White Sox, and Bishop Eugene Robinson, the first gay person ordained within the Episcopal Church. "It really is an effort to serve the larger community," says Jim Winters, Elmhurst's vp for communications and public affairs. "We get standing-room-only crowds." It's good for locals - and for students. "The conversation can be broader than you'd find just in the classroom," says Winters. (Last year Watergate reporter Bob Woodward visited Elmhurst College and talked about democracy.)
Princeton University in New Jersey. The Handmaid's Tale author Margaret Atwood will speak on Oct. 16 and New York Times columnist David Brooks on Nov. 14.
Loyola University in Maryland. David "Sonny" Lacks, son of Henrietta Lacks, will speak at Reitz Arena on Sept. 1.
The Bookstall in Winnetka, Ill. This legendary independent bookstore attracts big-name authors for adults and for children. Dav Pilkey, the author of the Captain Underpants kids' series, will visit on September 11.
Grinnell College in Iowa. Its Rosenfield program has sponsored visits by more than 400 lecturers, including former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.
National Zoo in Washington, D.C. Meet and hear from a great ape keeper on various days, including Aug. 3.
92nd Street Y in New York City. The Y does charge a small fee, but it's worth it. For example, on Nov. 29 James Beard Award-winning chef Marcus Samuelsson, owner of Harlem's Red Rooster restaurant and the winner of "Top Chef: Masters," will talk about his life and career.
To find the best speakers heading to your area, do some more digging on your own. Happy in-person listening!
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