I thought it was a pretty simple order – a cappuccino and two regular coffees.  This is the order I made at Dunkin Donuts on a recent visit to Boston.  Donna said the cappuccino was perfect; Kristina and I were not as pleased with our coffees.  For some reason, the young man with whom I placed the order made a mistake and requested cream and sugar be added to our coffee – this was not all right.  We wanted black coffee – you know, regular coffee.

Very kindly I made my way back to the counter to exchange the coffee I did not want for what I had ordered.  I explained to the young man I had ordered regular coffee but had been given coffee with cream and sugar.  His quick response to me was, “You aren’t from here, are you?”  I immediately thought we were about to have a conversation about my accent (which happens at least once a day when I am in this part of the country!) but actually I was about to be taught a lesson on ordering coffee in Boston.  It seems regular coffee there means cream and sugar is added.  Who knew?

Obviously, this was not an issue to argue over, so I accepted the mistake was made by me.  I must admit, however, I was fairly certain the guy at Dunkin was telling this southern boy a big story to cover his error.  As soon as we got back in the car I googled “ordering coffee in Boston” and guess what – he was telling me the truth!  Lesson learned!

In this instance, no one was really wrong.  I placed my order just like I had done hundreds of times back home.  The man at Dunkin Donuts prepared my order just like he had done hundreds of times in his store.  What I meant and what he heard were two different things entirely.  The problem was simply one of communication.

As one who has spent much of the last 43 years speaking in public, I am always looking for ways to improve my ability to communicate.  As a preacher, I am very aware delivering a sermon is one thing but communicating a message is another.  I have not succeeded by completing my sermon – my success is reached when those listening to me truly get it.  Proper response to my sermon will only be achieved when there is a clear understanding of what I am saying.

Whether you are a preacher, teacher or parent talking to your children – whether you are the foreman on your job, candidate running for office or coach of your church softball team – whatever you are and to whomever you are speaking, good communication will be key to your success. The speaker and the listener must be on the same page.  Failing to do so leads to consequences no one wants.

In order to become a good communicator I believe there are four essentials to which a speaker must commit.  This is not a pick three out of four, it is all or nothing.  Here are what I feel are the four non-negotiables in communication.


The mistake I made in Boston happened because I assumed my audience there was just like my audience in Cleveland, Tennessee.  This assumption on my part led to some really bad coffee!  If I had known my audience from the outset, I would have known the word to use was black not regular.

Knowing to whom you are talking allows you to speak the language of the room and avoid those mistakes that sabotage what you are trying to accomplish.  Will they understand your joke?  Will they understand your euphemisms and slang?  Will your method of communicating enhance or distract from your message? A little pre-thought can make all the difference in the world in your outcome. 


No one enjoys being talked down to.  So much more can be accomplished in a communicative setting when both parties have mutual respect.  The responsibility for ensuring this mutual respect is solely in the hands of the speaker. 

The two elements for conveying this respect will always be approach and attitude.  I must show respect from the very beginning and maintain respect throughout the entire discourse.  A speaker who fails to display these traits will be limited in effectiveness.  Depending on the audience – some may receive a little while most will totally turn the speaker off and not hear a word.  When this is understood and the goal is good communication, respect for the audience is accepted as imperative.


I have come to the conclusion some speakers really enjoy hearing themselves talk!  They drone on and on without any consideration of how what they are saying is being received.  In many of these instances the listener gave up long before the speaker did resulting in very little being accomplished.  If the goal was saying a lot – mission accomplished!  If the goal was communication – total fail!

This issue can be avoided by giving some time to listening to the audience.  The last thing a speaker wants to do is answer questions no one is asking.  Gaging the level of interest and determining the ability to understand can only be learned by listening.  Communication is, indeed, a two-way street.  Good communicators understand speaking is only half of the process – listening is extremely important.


Have you ever sat through a presentation and, when it was over, wonder what in the world was that all about?  All you knew was that was an hour of your life you would never get back!  There were a lot of words that came out of the speaker’s mouth but nothing to take home.  This is not good communication.

When a speaker knows, respects and listens to their audience it should not be too difficult to find enough content that can be deposited into the heart of the listener.  It is here when the speaker moves beyond the ear and enters the heart that communication takes place that has a lasting impact.  This is the crowning achievement of the speaker – knowing that information was imparted and will be remembered.

As I am writing this blog, I cannot help but remember that famous line in the classic movie, Cool Hand Luke.  When Captain is having a hard time getting rebellious Luke to follow instructions he says, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.”  Luke discovered in very explicit ways the horrendous consequences that come from poor communication.

I do not expect our audiences to be placed in solitary confinement because of our failure to communicate but it is very disappointing when the message we feel is important enough to share is not received by those to whom we are speaking.  It would seem to me if the message matters we should want to do our absolute best to ensure it is heard – not just heard with ears but with heart.

Even though we have advanced technology to assist us, there has never been a time in history when true communication is as difficult to achieve as it is today.  Distractions, limited attention spans, entrenched ideologies…the list is quite long of the challenges in conveying a message.  This is all the more reason we must be intentional in our preparation to speak and sensitive to the many factors taking place while we are speaking – we cannot take anything for granted. 

I am determined to be a better communicator. I believe in my message; therefore, I am committed to making sure it is packaged in a way that it will be heard and remembered.  I want to say what I mean and help my audience completely understand.

I do not ever want a regular cup of coffee again!


  1. My Brother;
    Thanks for your powerful commentary that must be adhered to in today’s problematic society. Thanks so much! Love you…


  2. Love this! I’m so thankful that the COG is blessed with messangers like you that strive to take the Gospel to people in such a way that it miniters to them. Keep sharing the Word!
    Who knew that regular could be understood as with creme and sugar. My first thought would have been regular as caffeinated and black!
    I don’t do public speaking anymore since I’m retired, but I have found myself often retyping a comment on Facebook to be sure my message is understood as intended!
    Thanks again for this timely message for today when messages are constantly misunderstood!


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