Submitted by Jedd Fowers
Over the course of an average lifetime, a church member will sit captive for roughly 10,000 sacrament meeting talks given by unpaid amateurs with little to no speaking experience. Yet millions of us willingly listen to such talks week after week, year after year.
The church must be true.
What should we expect from ourselves and from others when it comes to speaking in church? Eloquent, scintillating speeches from silver-tongued orators? Probably not. Well-prepared, engaging talks from thoughtful members? Yes, absolutely. Why not?
For something so commonly practiced in the church, public speaking is a skill for which we receive surprisingly little instruction. Our training comes tacitly, mostly by watching others and imitating them. The problem is that we often imitate the poor habits at the expense of the good ones.
We can do better. Herewith, a list of doâ€™s and donâ€™ts:
1. Donâ€™t begin your talk with a canned joke. This is what unfunny people do! Nothing communicates lack of direction like a scripted joke unrelated to your topic. By all means, use humor to warm the audience to you as a speaker, but let it bubble up naturally from your content.
On a related note,
2. Donâ€™t talk about your talkâ€”how and when you were asked to speak, how long itâ€™s been since you last spoke in church, how nervous you are, how you tried to avoid the calls of the bishopric counselor, and so on. Guess whatâ€”nobody cares! Such details are trite, uninteresting, and usually irrelevant to your topic, so forego them and jump right into the action.
3. NEVER apologize as a preface to your remarks! Apologizingâ€”for whatever reasonâ€”gives everyone license to disregard you and your message. If you donâ€™t think your talk is worth much, no one else will either.
4. Be original. This does not mean be intentionally controversial or flamboyant or irreverent. But filling the entire time reading a General Authorityâ€™s talk or quoting extended passages of scripture can provide the congregation with an unintended sleep aid.
There is nothing more original than your own experience. At some point during your talk, tell us what lifeâ€™s journey has taught you in relation to gospel principles. Tell us how you interpret and
understand your beliefs. Help us think about things in a new way.
Hugh Nibley said it best: â€œDon’t be like anybody else. Be different. Then you can make a contribution. Otherwise, you just echo something; you’re just a reflectionâ€ (Temple and Cosmos, 1992).
5. Hereâ€™s an oldie but goodie: practice your talk beforehand. Words on paper often come across very differently in spoken form. The time to learn this is before you speak, not after. Stand in front of a mirror and run through your entire talk. Even better,
go to your meetinghouse during the week, stand at the podium, and speak to an imaginary congregation. Itâ€™s your chance to work out the kinks in private before the big event takes place in public.
6. Unless youâ€™re the bishop, donâ€™t call the congregation to repentance! Itâ€™s not your job, and itâ€™s a sure-fire method of how not to win friends and influence people. If repentance is whatâ€™s needed, your preaching of gospel truths will naturally lead
people to it.
7. Pick one message and stick to it. This may be the most challenging commandment of all, but itâ€™s straight from Public Speaking 101. Everything you say should support your main point. If it doesnâ€™t provide support, leave it out. Otherwise, you run the risk of confusing or overwhelming your audience with extraneous information.
One sign of a good talk is that listeners can easily articulate the speakerâ€™s message in one or two sentences. Try this experiment: on your way home from church, see how easy or difficult it is to summarize the messages of the talks given that day (examples: â€œThe purpose of prayer is to bring our will into alignment with Godâ€™s willâ€ or â€œIf we truly understand that everything is the Lordâ€™s, we will be more willing to share our resources with othersâ€).
8. Pay particular attention to people who give good talks. What did they do that was so captivating and inspiring? In what ways did their talk stand out from the rest? Record what you learn, and next time you speak, review your self-made speaking guide.
9. Take seriously the assignment to speak in church. Members are longing to obtain something of value from your message, so give it to them. Push yourself to a new level of topical understanding, a deeper level. Spend time praying about and pondering upon your
message. Donâ€™t justify a mere 20 minutes of preparation on Saturday night with the â€œitâ€™s just another church talkâ€ line.
President Hinckley put it simply: â€œDonâ€™t muff your opportunities. Be excellent.â€ (â€œThe Quest for Excellence,â€ Ensign, Sept. 1999).
10. When you and everyone else breaks commandments 1-9, be patient. Speaking in church isnâ€™t easy, and letâ€™s remember that no one is getting paid to do this.
Above all, be encouraging. Tell speakers what you thought they did well, and be specific. If youâ€™re the speaker, solicit feedback from a few trusted sources (almost no one does this!). In this way, youâ€™ll raise your level of self-awareness as it relates to your
speaking strengths and weaknesses and be in a well-informed position to make improvements.
Each of us knows the power that a polished, spirit-filled gospel message can have on the hearts and minds of listeners. To the surprise of some, following these guidelines actually takes the focus off the speaker and allows the gospel message to shine through prominently. And that is what speaking in church is all about.
Jedd Fowers resides with his wife and son in Carrollton, Texas, a Dallas suburb. Heâ€™s a native of Fruit Heights, Utah and served in the Argentina, BahÃa Blanca mission from 1990-1992. He graduated from BYU in 1996 with a degree in International Finance and is currently employed as a pricing consultant by a large information technology services firm. Heâ€™s a three-time elders quorum president desperately trying to get the job right. Email: [email protected]