The revered pastor, author and filmmaker offers wisdom on how to connect with your audience and tame public speaking nerves — and find more meaning in your work.
If you’re ever feeling a bit tired or uninspired with your work, type the name “T.D. Jakes” into YouTube.
Regardless of your faith background, or what types of messaging tends to motivate you, the man is a master communicator whose charisma and wisdom captivates millions around the world.
In 1996, Jakes founded The Potter’s House, a non-denominational, multicultural church and global humanitarian organization, in Dallas, Texas, which has grown to more than 30,000 members. During that span, Time Magazine named him “America’s Best Preacher.” Meanwhile, he’s launched a daytime talk show, written a slew of best-selling books and earned numerous film credits.
Oh, and Oprah called him “America’s treasure,” too.
How does he do it? What are his tips for connecting with such a massive, diverse audience?
According to Jakes, it starts with vision and belief. And learning how to become a better steward of whatever gifts and strengths you already have within you.
He was kind enough to share more communication guidance via email.
Ragan: I’d like to know how you learned to communicate so well. Have you always been a natural communicator, or was it more a matter of gaining experience/trial and error?
Jakes: It’s a little bit of both. My mother was a public speaker. I grew up traveling with her and watching her give speeches. Some of my growth as a communicator has also come as a result of trial and error, critiquing myself and finding ways to get better.
Critiquing yourself is an important part of being successful as a communicator and evaluating the effectiveness of what you were trying to communicate. It is an opportunity to ask, “Did you accomplish what you were trying to do, and did you make it better?”
I also think it is good to have someone in the audience whose opinion you trust to help evaluate you. Sometimes it can be difficult to be objective when evaluating yourself.[RELATED: Keep your skills sharp with the comms industry’s most comprehensive online training. Learn more] Ragan: What are some of the most common communication pitfalls/mistakes you see and advise people to avoid?
Jakes: First, be yourself.
Nothing resonates with an audience like authenticity. An audience can recognize fraudulent behavior very quickly. Being your authentic self and letting your personality shine through can be very effective. Humor and personal stories can help create a bond with the audience. Personal stories can also be very effective.
A critique of staff is best communicated in person. Your voice inflection can change the tenor and tone of the whole message, but you can’t change what voice they read it in. If the matter is sensitive in nature, it is best to deliver it in person or by phone.
When it comes to addressing an audience, I recommend telling them what to expect, then dig down into the depths before restating what you said. When people know what to expect, they settle in. When they don’t know what to expect, there is a certain tenseness. That can be remedied by sharing what you intend to say.
How you deliver the message to the people you work with is important. I prefer a discussion format with my team. This is a good way to make sure what you said and what they heard is connected. Sometimes what you say and what they heard may depend on their individual perspectives.
Ragan: What are your best tips for people to improve their workplace communication—and guidance for people who want to communicate better with their friends and loved ones?
Jakes: Less is more. Get to the point of what you’re trying to say. And get to the why.
When people understand the “why,” the buy-in is much better. A lot of times when people don’t know the why, they may obey but do it in frustration or confusion because they don’t really understand why. The more you can work them through the process and help them understand what you’re thinking, the more likely they are to walk away with an understanding of what you’re trying to accomplish.
When it comes to humor, I would avoid saying anything that makes people uncomfortable especially given the climate we’re in. I would avoid stereotypes and condescending comments because we’re in a hyper-sensitive environment. When you’re in a room with people who are different from you, I would avoid pointing out differences. That can be dangerous. I advise people to point out what they have in common, and then work your way into what you have in your material. You want them to feel like you’re learning together. Strive to create an environment where you’re not just telling them to do things but telling them how you reached the conclusion.
Ragan: What advice would you give someone who feels uninspired in their work? How can they communicate in a way that uplifts, entertains, persuades or even inspires those around them?
Jakes: If you’re uninspired in your work you may not be doing what you were really created to do.
Find something to do that you enjoy and that inspires you and challenges you. If you’re uninspired, that may be a warning sign that you’re not where you need to be.
Ragan: What’re some tips to excel when speaking via video? How about Zoom mistakes to avoid?
Jakes: We live in an age of sensory overload.
Anything you can do to enhance the experience — whether with charts, graphics or other compelling visual aids –- goes a long way. When you’re on a Zoom call, certain hand gestures when talking and smiling can be helpful. Remember, people can only evaluate you from the chest up. Communicate with your hands, make sure you’re smiling, look pleasant, and make sure that the lighting looks good. Those kinds of things can be very helpful.
Ragan: How do you lessen nerves before a big speech?
Jakes: I don’t like to stay in the back or behind the stage until it’s time for me to speak. I like to feel the atmosphere in the room. People are going to stare at you for the first five minutes of your speech, and that can be uncomfortable.
I like using the gathering moments prior to the speech to introduce yourself to people. It creates an atmosphere in which they’re not all seeing you at once.
I like to prepare myself to a point where I’m so excited about what I have to say that the messenger becomes less important than the message. I don’t like to speak about things I’m not passionate about, and I don’t like to speak about things I’m not prepared for. I want to be familiar with my material, friendly with my audience and fluent with the facts I want to convey.
Know your material well, and know the audience, and break the ice. If you don’t get to break the ice, you might start by telling a little bit about yourself, who you are, where you came from, where you grew up, your family and some trivial things that give people a sense of who you are before you go into what you have to say.
Ragan: Would you be willing to share any communication failures or blunders that provided a teaching moment?
Jakes: My favorite one is when I was in Kenya some years ago. We’d gone there to build wells. I used the term “native” and didn’t know the word was an insulting term there. I got blasted on social media for a day and a half. I apologized with a video so they could see my face and hear my tone and explained that I didn’t mean to insult them in any way.
It went away, but it also taught me in a very vivid way how the use of a word in one country can mean something different in another country.
Ragan: How can you make “boring” content livelier and more exciting? How can you change hearts and minds of colleagues and customers in a business setting?
Jakes: Visual aids, illustrations, bringing people into it, personalizing it and telling a story can go a long way in enlivening content.
Drawing on personal experience and encounters also helps. Here’s an illustration on a talk about gun violence: “When I was in Chicago, I met a girl named Sally who lost a brother in a drive-by shooting. Her brother was just one of more than 100 victims in that city in the first six months of this year.”
Personalize the content. Politicians do that all the time. They invite people in all the time to make the content more relatable to the audience. The more you humanize it, the more you make it relatable to them.
Such an approach can be helpful in a business setting. More and more businesses are committing to social equity. The credibility of their brand depends on how they interact with people. Showing how you can be profitable and purposeful in a business setting is a winning combination.
Ragan: What are some tips for communicating well with difficult or toxic colleagues?
Jakes: Talk to them one-on-one and away from everybody. Ask them questions to get a sense of what might be going on with them. It may have nothing to do with you or the job.
You could ask, “How can I help you do better? I notice you’ve been a little frustrated lately and wanted to see what I can do. What can I do to assist you? You seem to be going through something and I want to know how I can help you.”
Ragan: Do you recommend any examples of companies (or organizations or people) who communicate extremely well and who might provide some messaging inspiration for our audience?
Jakes: I think Les Brown does a really good job. I think John Maxwell does too. And I think Cynthia Marshall does a really good job. I would recommend all of them without hesitation.
Ragan: What are your best tips for finding fulfillment in a job that might not be your “dream job”?
Jakes: Never lose sight of the fact that this is not your destination, but the transportation that could take you to your dream job. If you don’t treat with respect where you are, you are less likely to get where you want to be.
Ragan: What’s the short version of becoming a “masterful communicator,” and which traits must they possess?
Jakes: Colorful language that creates pictures and images can be very effective. Not just conveying facts and data like a newspaper article. You want your message to feel like a novel and not like a news article.
You can learn more about the power of words and how to become a well-rounded communicator in Jakes’ new book, “Don’t Drop the Mic.”
Image via The Potter’s House.
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