Sermons: A Study In Contrast . . . .

contrast 1

Question:  Based On Experience, Who Should Be The Most Effective Public Speaker? 


Not sure how I came across this speech.  Nevertheless, after listening to him, I decided to listen to him speak at other venues!

He is a remarkable public speaker which may be more identified with and recognized by the secular world than the religious community.

He really is not only a remarkable speaker, but apparently, he has a personal relationship with the Lord — didn’t know that.  Probably because I am not into the movie world.


Video Link Put God First – Denzel Washington’s commencement speech at Dillard University

Number One . . . . Put God first!

Put God first in everything you do.

everything that you think you see in me

everything that I’ve  accomplished

everything that you think I have

and I have a few things

everything that I have is by the grace of God

understand that — it’s a gift

40 years ago

March 27 1975

It was 40 years ago

just this past March

I was flunking out of college

I had a 1.7 grade point average

I hope none of you can relate

I had a 1.7 grade point average

I was sitting in my mother’s beauty shop

they still call it beauty shops now

what they call it — yeah I’ll sit in the beauty parlor

I was sitting in my mother’s beauty parlor

and I’m looking in the mirror and I see behind me this woman under the dryer  and every time she looked up she

every time I looked up

she was looking at me — looking at me in the eye

I don’t know who she was and I said you know

she said somebody give me a pen

give me a pencil — I have a prophecy

March 27 1975 — she said

boy you were gonna travel the world

and speak to millions of people

now mind you

I flunked out of college

I’m thinking about joining the army

I didn’t know what I was gonna do

She’s telling me I’m gonna travel the world and speak to millions of people

well I have traveled the world

and I have spoke to millions of people

but that’s not the most important thing — the success that I had  

the most important thing is that — what she taught me and what she told me that day has stayed with me since

I’ve been protected

I’ve been directed

I’ve been corrected

I’ve kept God in my life and has kept me humble

I didn’t always stick with him

but he always stuck with me

so stick with Him in everything you do

If you think you want to do

what you think I’ve done

then do what I’ve done 

and stick with God



Number Two  . . . . Fail Big

That’s right — fail big

today is the beginning of the rest of your life

and it can be a very frightening

it — it’s a new world out there

it’s a mean world out there

and you only live once

so do what you feel passionate about —  passionate about take chances — professionally

don’t be afraid to fail

This IQ test was nine dots and you had to draw five lines with a pencil within these nine dots without lifting the pencil the only way to do it was to go outside the box 

so it’ll be afraid to go outside the box

don’t be afraid to think outside the box

don’t be afraid to fail big to dream big

but remember

dreams without goals are just dreams

and they ultimately fuel disappointment

so have dreams but have goals —

life goals

yearly goals

monthly goals

daily goals

I try to give myself a goal every day

sometimes — just did not curse somebody out — simple goals

but have goals

and understand that to achieve these goals

you must apply discipline and consistency

in order to achieve your goals you must apply discipline

which you’ve already done 

and consistency

every day

not Tuesday —  and miss a few days

you have to work at it

every day you have to plan

every day

you’ve heard the saying

we don’t plan to fail  – we failed to plan

hard work – works

working really hard is what successful people do

and in this text tweet twirlk world that you’ve grown up in — just remember

just because you’re doing a lot more doesn’t mean you’re getting a lot more done

remember that

just because you’re doing a lot more doesn’t mean you’re

getting a lot more done

don’t confuse movement with progress

my mother told meso yeah yeah cuz — you can run a place all the time and never get anywhere


continue to strive

continue to have goals

continue to progress



Number Three  . . . . You’ll never see a U-haul behind a hearse

I’ll say it again

you’ll never see a U-haul behind a hearse

I don’t care how much money you make

you can’t take it with you

and it’s not how much you have – it’s what you do with what you have

we all have different talents

some of you will

be doctors

some lawyers

some scientists

some educators

some nurses

some teachers

yeah okay

some preachers

the most selfish thing you can do in this world — is help someone else

why is it selfish?


the gratification

the goodness that comes to you

the good feeling

the good feeling that I get from helping others

nothing’s better than that

not jewelry

not big house I have

not the cars

but the it’s the joy

that’s where the joy is in helping others

that’s where the success is



Finally  . . . . I pray that you put your slippers way under the bed tonight

so that when you wake up in the morning

you have to get on your knees to reach them.

and while – while you’re down there say

thank you for grace

thank you for mercy

thank you for understanding

thank you for wisdom

thank you for parents

thank you for love

thank you for kindness

thank you for humility

thank you for peace

thank you for prosperity

say thank you in advance for what’s already yours

 how I live my life

that’s  where I am

one of the reasons why I am today

say thank you in advance for what is already yours

true desire in the heart for anything good is God’s proof to you sent beforehand to indicate that it’s yours already

I’ll say it again

true desire in the heart — that itch that you havewhatever it is you want to do

that thing that you want to do

to help others and

to grow and

to make money


that desire

that itch

that’s God’s proof to you beforehand already to indicate that it’s yours

and anything you want good

you can have

so claim it

work hard to get it

when you get it — reach back — pull someone else up

each one — teach one

Don’t just aspire to make a living — aspire to make a difference.



What made it . . . .

° one of those good-to-great speeches
° an easy speech to listen to
a speech which kept the audience’s attention and focus
° worth using as an example
° worth providing the whole transcript


Yes, his personal “ethos” made a difference, but more than that there were several reproducible rhetorical techniques which Denzel Washington understands, or . . . .

maybe taught him by a “speaker’s bureau,” or
learned through his professional acting education, or
acquired because of his career, or
learned because of his upbringing in the church*.


Simplicity: The points were simple.  They were not long, over-worded, complex truths or principles.


Clarity:  Each point was clear and clearly stated and succinctly worded.  His three points may be more remembered than the many power-pointed main /sub / subsub  and/or the alliterated main / sub/ subsub points of a sermon!


Repeating / Restating / Expanding: I have tried to highlight the “stacking of comments” in the transcript by indenting the stacks.  To grasp the rhetorical value of this go back and check out this previous article.  This also adds to clarity because it slows down the flow of words by expanding a concept, and/or restating and repeating the same idea.


Unmistakable Points & Progression:  The “three” — really four even though the fourth was stated as “finally” — points were verbally indicated — one, two, three, finally.  While there was a lack of “transitions” which moved you from point to point, it works.

Number One . . . . Put God first!
Number Two  . . . . Fail Big
Number Three  . . . . Y
ou’ll never see a U-haul behind a hearse
Finally  . . . . I pray that you put your slippers way under the bed tonight

I often say to the university students I teach here in Florida . . . .

Minimally — worse case — not the best way to move from point to point — but if nothing else at least say, “Point Number Two.”  At least we know that we have moved from the previous point and know where you and we are.”


Creating Tension & Resolution: Washington was able to keep the audience listening by creating some tension and resolution of that tension.  Three examples of that are . . . .

The story of the woman looking at him in the Barber Shop
Selfishness is helping someone else (what???  That is self-less!  No?)
Put your slippers way under the bed tonight (what???  What is he talking about?).


Perhaps the most valuable lesson which can be learned from this speech by Denzel Washington is this . . . .


Focused:  He said a lot —  in less than 9 minutes!  His ability, effectiveness, and ability to succinctly drive home points should challenge if not rebuke may other public speakers, including pastors. 

Please Note: The point is not — “Preach for under 10 minutes.”**  “Serial Public Speakers,” such as pastors, who speak to “serial audiences,” such as congregations, can and should work at being as effective in communicators!  Public Speaking abilities can be learned and developed!  The most effective communicators should be those who do it the most, and that would be preachers!

Denzel Washington is a study in contrast!

Can I suggest, his speech may have said more than many a message spoken this past Sunday.

Many a sermon takes far more time to say far less!



* “Denzel Hayes Washington, Jr. was born on December 28, 1954 in Mount Vernon, New York. He is the middle of three children of a beautician mother, Lennis, from Georgia, and a Pentecostal minister father.”

Want to listen to another great speech by Denzel Washington’s commencement speech at the University of Pennsylvania — it is under seven minutes!

**The point is not — “Preach for under 10 minutes,” but it is not a bad idea to say more in less time — It is called “focus.”

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