Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Sacrament Meeting talks

I have been attending A LOT of missionary farewells lately (2 or 3 each Sunday).  Last Sunday I listened to the first sentence by one of the young men and immediately thought, "this is one kid who knows how to give a talk."  Why did I think that?   Simply because he didn't start his talk with "I was asked to speak on..." or "The bishop asked me on Tuesday to..."  or "I really don't want to be doing this but...".  No, he just started speaking.  I loved it! 

After the meeting I told this young man that I was impressed that he knew how to give a talk and he told me it is all thanks to his dad.  This really got me thinking about how, in the church, we have children give primary talks, youth give 2 1/2 minute talks and ward members give talks but we NEVER have any classes or instruction on HOW to give a talk.

Now, I am one of those few who actually enjoy giving a talk.  I am not the best speaker but I feel like I do a pretty good job.  If I were ever asked to teach people how to give a talk (and that would be a pretty cool assignment), I know a few things I'd say.

1) Ask questions.  When someone calls to ask you to give a talk, by all means say yes but then ask them questions.  How long should my talk be?  Who else is speaking with me?  Will there be any musical numbers?  What order will I be in the program (must be more flexible if  you're last)?  Ask if all the speakers have the same topic or slight variations.

2)  Decide your focus.  The best topics have a very specific focus.  Look at the General Conference talk titles in the Ensign.  They don't say "Faith" but say "How Faith Helps You Endure Times of Trial". 

3)  Decide your type of talk.  Is it instructional or motivational?  Think about what you want to have happen as a result of your talk.  Do you want your audience to know different ways to study their scriptures or do you want them to feel inspired to feast upon their scriptures.  Write your talk with your end result in mind.

4)  Study, study, study.  Nothing beats good preparation.  Do not just show up and "let the Spirit guide you".  You have the sacred trust of the pulpit.  If you have 200 members in your congregation and you are speaking for 10 minutes that equates to 2000 minutes of people's time.  Time is a precious commodity.  Don't waste it by rambling incoherently.  Not much is worse than a speaker finishing the talk and having the audience wonder what the point/subject was.  I do believe that with a lot of prayer and faith, the Spirit will guide and direct you but only after you have done some serious preparation yourself.

5)  Write the talk.  Write it word for word or write a general outline - whatever works best for you.  Take into account your nerves.  You may think an outline will work but then you get nervous and can't remember what you planned to say.  On the other hand, if you write every word and then get nervous and read it, you will come off stiff and boring.

6)  Watch your introduction and conclusion.  Those will be what people remember most so especially take your time preparing these.  Do NOT start by telling people what you will be speaking on.  You will better engage your audience if they have to work to determine what your topic is (not to make it too obscure but get them actively listening as to where you are going with your starting quote or story or whatever).  Also, if you tell them what you are speaking on, they may tune you out as they mentally start thinking about what they would say on the subject.  Start your talk with a personal story or a powerful quote from a general authority or a scripture.  Just start right into the meat of the subject.

7)  Don't forget to testify.  Bear witness of what you are teaching.  It doesn't have to be at the conclusion.  You can testify anywhere in the talk.  Just make sure you do it!

8)  Practice.  With a timer.  Speak into the mirror or face a couch pretending it's your audience but make sure you speak it out loud.  Do it several times and time yourself each time so you can be certain you are taking your allotted time.  I don't care how engaging your talk is and how charismatic you are, if you go 10 minutes into Sunday School's time, you will have most of the congregation fidgeting in their seats and casting glances at the clock every 30 seconds.  The bishop will be wondering if he should stop you.  Every Primary and Sunday School teacher will be trying to determine what they can cut from their lessons to make them fit and they'll be mad at you because they spent hours on their preparation too!

9)  Look/listen for distracting mannerisms.  That's why I recommend practicing out loud in front of a mirror (or you could record yourself).  You need to know if you say "umm" every fourth word so you can try to stop that.  Or maybe you twirl your hair or run your hands back and forth along the pulpit.  These things are all very distracting and can take away from the message.  You are better off doing a death grip on either side of the pulpit and hanging on for dear life.  Practice removing those distracting elements from your talk.

10)  Relax.  Just remember you are speaking to a ward that already loves you.  No one is going to stone you for saying the wrong thing.  You won't be "fired" from your calling.    You most likely won't even have anyone come tell you didn't do a good job.  Pray for guidance and then trust in the Spirit.  Speak from the heart and people will be moved.  No one is expecting a professional public speaker. 

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