How can Aristotle and St. Augustine help you give a better sacrament meeting talk? The answer is rhetoric.
Now rhetoric has various definitions depending on the historical period under discussion and the scholar you are asking. I won’t get into those controversies. For this series of posts, I will focus on rhetoric as the art of speaking and writing well in order to move your audience.
As we live in a world that communicates through writing and visual media, few people have the opportunity to do public speaking, and that aspect of rhetoric has slowly vanished from the field (On campus, the Theater department is more likely than the rhetoric department to teach the public speaking classes). However, Mormons have the occasional (or often, depending on the calling) opportunity to engage in public speaking. In that sense, we resemble the ancients because we still engage in public oratory on a democratic level.
Often rhetoric is considered the art of persuasion, but the aim of a sacrament meeting talk usually is not to persuade the listeners to believe or accept some new thing or idea – unless, of course, you have an audience made mostly of those who are unconverted (whether to the gospel or that particular principle). However, I will discuss the matter of the audience in a future post. The main point here is that a great sacrament meeting talk does not need to persuade – but it does need to effectively communicate with the audience and move them to greater heights of devotion and communion with the spirit.
The series does not intend to teach you to dazzle the audience with your oratorical skills. If the congregation walks out thinking “that guy/gal can certainly speak well,” then you have aggrandized yourself at the expense of the spirit. This series will focus on how to give a great talk that gives the glory to God and not to the speaker.
I will organize the rest of the series around the traditional five canons of rhetoric (parts 1 – 5): invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery. They all cross over in various ways, but in preparing (and preparing for) a sacrament meeting talk, this scheme works very well.
Before I get started though, I figured I would write a “post 0 of 5” in order to see what the larger internet/Bloggernacle community would like to see addressed in this series. Keep in mind that I will focus on “giving a great talk” and not on “not giving a horrible talk” (though some of the latter will inevitably work its way into the discussion).
So, what would y’all like to see included/discussed/avoided in this upcoming series? While I already have the basic ideas ready, like any good rhetorician, I would like to keep my audience in mind as well.