The Gift of Speech - Don't Drop the Mic (Bishop TD Jakes Chapter One Extract)

Our words vibrate with the power of possibility. Just as circuits channel the crackle of electric currents, words form messages, whether written or spoken, that have changed the course of history countless times. 

I first felt the sparks of the charge they could carry as a boy clustered with my family around our television set. Our little house was the last house on the left at the end of a dead-end street, paved now but then just a dirt road, in Charleston, West Virginia. I can still see the ragged couch we all perched on to watch a console filled with tubes in the back and a screen in front made of glass as thick as my grandmother’s bifocals.

It was the early sixties and our country was fractured by the Vietnam War, the Woodstock era, and the growing Civil Rights movement. Willie Mays was playing ball and the Supremes were as popular as Beyoncé is today. Lucy was eating more candy than she could pass down the factory assembly line, Aunt Bea was baking pies in Mayberry, and Lassie was the dog every child wanted!

One night, however, stands out more than all the rest. On the 6 o’clock news, we watched as a young man in a black suit enthralled a large crowd of listeners then called colored people.

We soon learned he was a Baptist preacher named Dr. Martin Luther King, and never in my young life had I heard a speaker with such a melodious voice deliver tones with the cadence of a song.

As captivating as his speech was, I remember becoming distracted by an even more impressive revelation: My father was sitting with us and watching Dr. King. Through weary, heavy-lidded eyes, my father gazed so intently, his admiration for the man on the small screen unmistakable. Seldom did my father get to sit and watch TV with the rest of us. He was far too busy working to keep the electric bill paid to enjoy the frivolity of television programing. But watching Dr. King with the rest of us, my father had never seemed so engrossed in anything that I could recall.
The Gift of Speech - Don't Drop the Mic (Bishop TD Jakes Chapter One Extract)
The Gift of Speech - Don't Drop the Mic (Bishop TD Jakes Chapter One Extract)

Dr. King’s controversial message of non-violent resistance to the injustice of the times was as amazing to me as it was to my father. Against barking dogs and fire hoses spewing a deluge of hate, in an atmosphere of unbridled violence aimed at innocent people merely exercising their First Amendment rights, Dr. King stood firm with no weapons, no army tanks, nothing but the passionate elocution electrifying his audience with the sound of his voice and a message of hope.

No matter what his adversaries did to him, he just kept on speaking! His courage was remarkable. His cadence was legendary. It was then that I first realized the power of a man with a microphone. I’m not sure how to quantify the level of his impression on me as a child. Was it his message that moved me? Or maybe it was my father’s rapt gaze at him? Whatever the allure, that night left me with one unforgettable take away: A man with a microphone could change the world!

Communicate boldly and effectively like never before with the help and guidance of a #1 New York Times bestselling author and trusted Bishop.

In Don't Drop the Mic, Bishop Jakes speaks to readers about communication and how the ways we speak and interact with others can be part of our everyday ministries. He helps readers understand:

  • Why the way we speak and the words we use matter.
  • How speaking well, no matter your topic or audience improves your chances of getting the result you want.
  • How to craft your message, whether it's a simple email or a speech under the spotlights, to connect with listeners.
  • Why good communication is important for building connection and community.
  • How sharing God's Word produces abundant fruit
Drawing lessons from Scripture and his own life, Jakes gives career advice for those who have or want to grow into a speaking career, but he also provides clear direction and insight for everyone who gives presentations, writes emails, or talks to other people in their job or home life.

There will be practical advice about how to craft insightful and meaningful communications, but the heart of this book is really about how we can communicate more clearly to build community and share the hope of Christ in our everyday lives.

The more adept we become at using all available resources to convey our message, the greater our impact. From lovers to litigators, entrepreneurs to entertainers, and bloggers to board members, we all want to communicate more effectively, intimately, and efficiently. Whether you're interviewing for a new position, proposing a new business plan, auditioning for a performance, delivering a report for your committee, teaching Sunday school, or sharing your heart with a loved one, this book will help.

Power of Life and Death:

Dr. King’s example illustrates the power of communication to accomplish what wars, weapons, and web wizardry cannot achieve. He ignited an awareness in me, along with millions of others, that what we say can divert devastation and unify those willing to listen with understanding. Dr. King illustrated and amplified the timeless truth I had learned in Sunday school that the tongue has the power over life and death (Proverbs 18:21).

This wisdom remains as timely as ever. Now more than ever, the power of communication commands our public attention as well as our personal interactions. Simply put, the sharper our array of communication skills, the most successful we become in virtually every endeavor.

Who among us can honestly say that their lives, loves, and even their livelihood, won’t benefit from developing and maintaining better communication skills? Whether they’re used for conflict resolution in a tempestuous personal relationship with someone we love or whether we are interviewing for a career change that could affect the level to which we live, work, and play, we have a much better chance at success if we can communicate effectively.

As I embark upon the task of sharing about the significance of speaking and the powerful gift of communication we have been given, I hope you will find my humble offering beneficial

in a variety of settings. While I have become a lifelong student and practitioner of communications, I do not write this book in an attitude of arrogance or superiority. Rather, my intent is to enhance our respect for the art of speaking and to enhance our eloquence as preachers, presenters, politicians, performers, poets, and entrepreneurs.

By sharing the ever-evolving journey of my own linguistic development, I hope my pitfalls can divert the direction of your own discourse, providing you with a clearer understanding of what’s involved when we share language to convey meaning. Being a communicator myself, I understand its significance within the human experience, the importance of it in our relationships, our emotional equilibrium, and our creative expressions, as well as its vital significance as a lens outside ourselves into other lifestyles, cultures, communities, and businesses.

History would be vandalized if we lost the great speeches and founding documents that have developed, defied, and deepened the human condition. Great men and women have opened their mouths and changed the world. Writers have picked up their pens never knowing of the countless readers their missives would inspire, instruct, and entertain beyond their intended recipients.

You and I wield this same kind of power today.

Method of the Message

While technology gives us the ability to converse with people around the world with split-second speed and impeccable accuracy, it is not the power source of our communication. Now, I will try to avoid the propensity often exhibited among my generation to bemoan the development of technology—in part because it is this very innovation that enables me to pen these words in a cohesive, comprehensive manner as efficiently and effectively as possible! You and I have access to spell check, grammar correction, auto-fill, and other linguistic conveniences that Shakespeare could never have imagined, not to mention methods such as email, texts, tweets, and other social media.

Interestingly enough, we now live in an era when computerized voices guide us through prompts whenever we call for customer service assistance from major corporations. Other companies employ international troubleshooters to address domestic questions and concerns, which we may notice from the accented voice responding to our inquiry.

Listening devices such as Siri and Alexa, coupled with audio activation of autotype, record our speech patterns and repeated phrasing in order to program around our patterns. Key words on Instagram have replaced blog sites, and the convenience of tweets has replaced heart- felt talks on virtually every topic. I often wonder if our memories have shrunk as our phones have become smarter than their buyers!

Before you scoff at the notion of artificial intelligence robbing your brain of its old job, let me ask you, how many phone numbers do you remember? How many poems, Bible verses, and sports stats can you recite? Before we had such powerful cyber capabilities, we relied on our memories, emoting speeches and conversations that led our nation, solved our conflicts, united our families, and educated our children. For the most part, text and tweets have replaced much of the personal nature of communication. Minds groping for the right word have been replaced by our fingers looking for the right button!

While the Internet and language-interfacing technology has provided a way for us to conduct meetings without having to travel, to inform others without invading their personal space, to celebrate family milestones without traveling any miles, it has also impaired the way we correspond. When limits of time, screen space, and character quantity dictate our directives, we lose more than eloquence in the details. Artful statements become archaic as personal styles of expressing ourselves to the fullest degree have become less central to cultural modes of communication.

I’m sure you realize that communication invites all the senses from the human eye to the listening ear. Authentic communication, however, isn’t just audio, but it is also audiovisual if not multi-sensory. Communication for us as humans is an interesting mix of subliminal signals as well as audible sounds. A pause, a raised eyebrow, the hint of a smile—they convey just as much as our diction, tone, and style of speech.

Effective communication allows our body language and voice inflection to unite with our linguistics. The connection of all of these modes creates a symphonic experience of expression that crescendos into a more elaborate concerto of sensory impressions received by our listeners. Looking back, I’ve reflected many times on how Dr. King mastered this fusion of speaker and speech, language and listener, method and message. I suspect all of the great communicators that have made an impression on you similarly reflect this same rhetorical radiance.

Technology has increased the size of our potential audience, but have we compromised the unspoken intimacy of reading between the lines? Of feeling a message deep in our bones before our minds even have time to process it? Like a flood spilling across the plains, our online communication may cover more surface area but lacks the depth to create a current. Without diminishing the benefits of technology, we must consider how to maximize the quality of our communication, how to retain the rhetorical rhythms and lyrical linguistics that penetrate our hearts and minds, not just our eyes and ears.

Because successful communication requires an exchange of understanding that transcends the syllables we hear or the sentences we see. Successful communication requires mastering the art of translation.

Lost in Translation

Communication, no matter how eloquent or effusive it may be, is incomplete if understanding isn’t achieved. Connecting with the recipient of your message is an essential element of successful communication because being understood is the ultimate objective. Words may be exchanged in a common language, but without understanding both the methods and manners, the message is usually incomplete.

Understanding serves as the glue of effective communication. Being understood and understanding others requires shared consideration of context, motive, intention, and culture. Understanding leads to shared space where common values emerge, along with goals of mutual benefit. Your emotional seedbed flourishes in an environment where you are understood. Your economic fortitude is enhanced; your value to the team accrues in value when you are able both to understand others and be understood; and your ability to lead grows proportionately.

If the goal of communication is understanding, then it involves sharing more than the same established alphabet, language, and vocabulary. Speakers of the same language must still translate one another’s messages within a cultural context and familiarity. We see this across historical periods, generational slang, and regional figures of speech.

For example, I have a friend from the rural South who often expresses his suspicion or doubt about something by declaring, “Something in that milk ain’t clean!” The first few times I heard his colloquialism, I chuckled at the homespun wisdom of this memorable metaphor. Such phrasing had a freshness that caught my attention and conjured up a specific image. Over time, the expression began penetrating my thoughts, taking up residence in my head, until—guess what?—I started saying it, too! While I didn’t intentionally decide to adopt it, subconsciously I became influenced by the speech of another person!

Is this not how we all learn to communicate when as infants we appropriate language from our parents? From simple vocabulary words and names to phrases and complete thoughts, we formulate our messaging by memorizing alphabetic and linguistic constructions. Sheer repetition establishes the most basic foundation of communication until we master other aspects of language and expression. While using the same letters and language is essential at first, we often overlook the idiosyncrasies of our mother tongue. We rarely consider that something that comes as naturally as speaking could be enhanced or endangered depending on what we do with what we have been given.

Speaking seems and feels natural, though, only because our first language, in my case English, isn’t spoken merely because we studied it. We assimilate it because our parents or family members modeled it in their speech to us. Not just their vernacular or vocabulary, but also their intensity of tone, implementation of humor, or overall tenor conveyed consistently in our home and early environments. Like handheld mirrors, we reflect what’s closest to us, or where we’ve been, and who we listen to, without even being aware that they are programming our speech through the filters of our sensory and neurological experiences.

Think of it this way: If a Chinese family would have taken me home from the hospital, I would have grown up speaking Mandarin. I would’ve adopted the tone and timing that fit into the atmosphere and culture of my upbringing. If a family from Paris had taken me across the Atlantic Ocean at birth, I would likely be speaking French and regularly ordering croissants! So then the language we were first exposed to can often become our primary means of communication, complete with a twang, a staccato delivery, or a southern drawl.

Because speech is reflective and reflexive, when you speak you are telling me more than the sentences you construct. I am gathering information from both what’s spoken and what’s suggested by the way in which you speak. This kind of interpretation often gets labeled an impression, as in, the good kind you want to make on a prospective employer, an attractive date, or a new neighbor. Many times, we may not realize how much we convey beyond what we actually say!

Message Received

Where did we learn these nuanced ways of communicating? Those early exposures we’ve had are like zip codes in that they identify general locations as to where we are in life, social status, generational phrasing, cultural colloquialisms, sense of humor, and intelligence. Early sights and sounds can leave us enunciating phrases with a British crispness or the rapid-fire, slurred speech of a street thug. Both speak English but can communicate very different messages even when speaking the same words!

We are influenced and often evaluated with early categorizations and often-permanent assumptions based on the tenor and texture of our speech. I know it’s not fair, and I know is not a completely accurate assessment. I’m just acknowledging that people do it every day! Shouldn’t we know the full message we’re sending?

Seeing then, that our early and even later associations, experiences, and exposures can morph into a particular style as different as hip hop is from country music, we must master as many facets of our communication as possible, both to be understood and to understand others. Through these earliest influences we adopted dialects, shaped our accents, increased the use of certain colloquialisms, and establish our euphemisms. Greater awareness of the language we speak, as well as how and why we say what we say the way we say it, is our first step toward more effective communication.

You aren’t just a result of what you say. You are a result of who you listen to most often, engage with consistently, and spend time around socially! Who are you listening to? And did you ever realize that simply listening to them and dialoging consistently with them is programming you even after you walk away?

Sitting in counsel with those who communicate the way we wish we could can often improve our speaking styles. This sharpening can ultimately improve your economic bottom line, result in invitations to new opportunities, and enhance the number and quality of your relationships. Just as dogs hear high-pitched whistles that fall silent on human ears, our communication style will attract some and be ignored by others. All the more reason to be heard by those whose success you wish to emulate!

Let me ask you again: who are you listening to? More importantly, who is listening to you?

Power in Presence

My mother wisely said that no one knows how intelligent or ignorant you are until you open your mouth. The moment one starts to speak, we learn more than the words formed. We listen at diction, articulation, and accents. We garner further insight from the intensity of pitch and tone, all partnering together to convey more than mere words alone could do. Emotions slips through our tone like sands through an hourglass!

Gifted performers learn to master these nuances. One of my favorite actors has always been Denzel Washington. Like all iconic masters of the craft, he can carry a scene that has no words at all. His facial expressions can speak an entire story arc in a matter of moments, expressing more with a glare, a shudder, or a snarl than any words in the script could achieve. There’s a scene in Safe Room when Denzel’s character is dying, and he controls the entire event without saying a word. It is gripping and quite intense. And when he has lines, this Academy Award-winner uses both the power of what he says and how he delivers the lines to convey the essence of the character he is portraying.

We often call this quality “presence,” that intangible force that Denzel, along with so many other expert communicators, possesses and wields so judiciously. I maintain that presence, or whatever we choose to call, it emerges any time our message and our methods unite to reinforce one another. In fact, it is virtually impossible to ascertain how a person feels about

what is being said without hearing their voice and reading their body language. This is why texts, emails, letters, and transcripts may be open to misunderstanding or misinterpretation more frequently than personal delivery.

Who would want an attorney who couldn’t bring himself to stand before the scrutiny of a perplexed jury and passionately deliver a compelling closing statement? Or how does a commissioned sales representative overcome the reluctance of a prospective customer if she doesn’t have the ability to use the pageantry of language to close the deal? What would teachers do without the capacity for reframing, restating, and rearranging the words required for their students to absorb new concepts?

Everyone from the politician to the pulpiteer to the parent to the panelist relies on the sheer art of communication to compel transformative decisions every day. The use of language has transformed strangers into lovers, fueling the vehicle that transports them to the altar of a sacred sanctuary to share vows formalizing their union in holy matrimony. The eloquence of language has been used to dissuade hostage-takers and would-be assailants from igniting the violence of genocide in Rwanda and the atrocities of apartheid in South Africa. Powerful speech abolished the once accepted societal plight of the South’s Jim Crow laws, persuading the Supreme Court to purge our country from the hideous sin of slavery.

We have achieved milestones in human history because someone somewhere appreciated the power of the microphone, not the bullets of an AK47, the intimidation of an army tank, or the barking dogs on the side of nervous police. Counselors have used language to prevent suicides

by talking those in despair away from the edge while mothers communicate to calm an agitated baby from hysteria to a calm slumbering rest. The vocal cords, coupled with tongue and teeth, have been as powerful as any weapon known to us. The Bible tells us even God used “the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21, NIV).

Indeed, speech is a powerful tool!

Speak from Your Soul

Down through the years, I’ve become best known for my communication as a preacher and public speaker. In addition to preaching and public speaking, however, I’ve also learned to adapt my communication methods and modalities through the movies I’ve produced, the television work I’ve done, and the many books I’ve written. Regardless of the medium, my communication style is a mix of all of the previous men and women in the little world that I grew up in. It was born from an instinctive place, influenced by hearing many models.

My style comes from my soul because so much of what I communicate is some form of ministry. My speech and the style of my delivery began outside the camp of any academic training and beyond the doors of any seminary. Instead, I’ve relied on spirit and spunk, wind and warmth, compassion and conversation—all seasoned with a passionate and often poetic fusion of ancestry, heritage, and the power of a listening ear and open heart.

Nonetheless, I’ve always appreciated the academic perspective—theological, hermeneutical, and linguistic—showcased by many other preachers and ministry leaders. Which brings me back to my friend Dr. Frank Thomas and the catalyst for this book. Dr. Thomas and I met a number of years ago at an annual ministerial conference when he introduced himself and we began chatting about each other’s presentations. I was immediately impressed with his credentials as well as his grounded, practical manner of discussing the more academic facets of preaching. A renowned scholar currently serving as the Director of the PhD Program in African American Preaching and Sacred Rhetoric at Christian Theological Seminary, Indianapolis, Indiana, Dr. Thomas also teaches homiletics there and has frequently published on his findings.

I soon discovered his balanced approach resulted from being a pastor for many years in addition to his education and expertise as a seminary professor. From my experience, the best teachers are also practitioners in their areas of expertise, and such is the case with Dr. Thomas. As we got better acquainted, we realized just how much we had in common despite the different paths taken in answering the call to ministry. He not only enjoyed my preaching over the years but began providing insight and analysis that left me stunned and humbled. Listening to Frank explain some of the sermons for which I’m best known, I felt like I was listening to halftime commentary by a veteran sports broadcaster reviewing highlights of his favorite ballgames.

Intrigued as I was, I also felt intimidated and confessed that I had never considered the way I did what I do in the ways he described. Dr. Thomas then urged me to write a book in which I did just that—shared the wisdom I’ve gleaned about communication and analyzed it in ways that others would find helpful. He stressed the need to create a linguistic legacy for future generations studying preaching and my place in the historical canon of black preachers.

I chuckled at the lofty aspirations he wished to ignite in me and explained that I could never write such a book. Frankly, the very idea was both intimidating and intrusive! Such scrutiny of my communication style felt like a violation of the personal, intimate process of creation, a granular autopsy of what begins in the abstract birthing of an idea. It was like asking your grandmother to pass on a recipe that has become part of who she is, instinctively consisting of a dab of this and a smidgen of that.

“All the more reason to ask for the recipe while you can!” Dr. Thomas responded. The more I resisted, the more he persisted until finally I told him I was willing to consider such an endeavor on one condition: that he actively participate by sharing some analytical insight afforded by his academic training. I knew that my attempts to explore the facets of the communication process would be limited without the unique perspective afforded by the various lenses Dr. Thomas could provide. Intrigued by the creative challenge, he and I continued having conversations about the power of communication in our culture.

The result is this book you’re now reading! As you will see, I often include Dr. Thomas’ insight in my expository exploration of eloquence, drawing from both his vast historical knowledge as well as his own experience as a gifted communicator. In fact, I was so impressed by Dr. Thomas’ overview of my preaching within a larger historical and theological perspective, I asked him to author his own chapters, which are collected in Section 5, “The Meal in the Message.” There, Dr. Thomas runs with our cooking metaphor and unpacks it with a brilliance I trust you will find every bit as delicious and nourishing as a Sunday dinner!

My goal, as well as his, is not to promote my way of communication as the only or best way. We merely hope to challenge you to consider the forces and factors shaping your own style of communication even as you adapt, adjust, and aspire to new forms of self-expression. As we share the ways I often transform my thoughts into words to be shared with various audiences, I hope you can learn from what works for me as well as from the mistakes I’ve made along the way.

Sometimes we learn the most when our communication falls flat. In fact, I’ve heard some scholars suggest that I break every rule that they teach about preaching! While I apologize in advance for those rules broken, I do so without shame, because what I do works for me! So let’s now discover what works best for you, even if we have to break some rules along the way. Let’s learn the unspoken alphabet inside you waiting to unleash the language of your soul!

If nothing else, I hope to spark your passion for language, elevate its significance beyond the formalized rules of grammatical correctness into the lavish coloring of mundane moments, and inspire you to use all the hues and shades available as you wield your paintbrush of speech. Language is a gift and it’s time you unwrapped it fully and maximized its potential to influence your life.
The Gift of Speech - Don't Drop the Mic (Bishop TD Jakes Chapter One Extract)
The Gift of Speech - Don't Drop the Mic (Bishop TD Jakes Chapter One Extract)

Many have been the pallbearers of their dreams simply because they didn’t understand that enhancing their communication skills can be the conduit to reaching dreams. The ability to speak can aid in helping people, serving the disenfranchised, increasing sales, reaching masses, stopping wars and gaining untold, boundless advancement, simply by commanding and channeling the constructive, creative force of language.

The more adept we become at using all available resources to convey our message, the greater our impact. From lovers to litigators, entrepreneurs to entertainers, and bloggers to board members, we all want to communicate more effectively, intimately, and efficiently. Whether you’re interviewing for a new position, proposing a new business plan, auditioning for a performance, delivering a report for your committee, teaching Sunday school, or sharing your heart with a loved one, this book is for you!

Let’s get started, shall we?

Extract From Don't Drop the Mic (Bishop TD Jakes Chapter One Extract)

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