How to Give a Great Sacrament Meeting Talk – Part 4 of 5: Memory

Part 3.5 (Using Analogies) here. Part 3 (Style) here. Part 2 (Arrangement) here. Part 1.5 (Sources) here. Part 1 (Invention) here. Part 0 (introduction) here.

Sorry this is so late.

Anyway –

Memory is the most overlooked aspect of giving a great talk.  Write your talk out (whether by hand or on a computer) and you have it handy.  No need to memorize it.  At General Conference, the GAs even use teleprompters.  So, there’s clearly no need to memorize your talk, right?

Wrong (sort of).

You should definitely have notes, and I don’t expect most people to memorize an entire talk.  But let me explain why you should memorize selected portions – and be so familiar with the rest that you could recreate most of it on the fly if required.

1.  Simple preparation.  It doesn’t happen often, but I’ve seen people get up to talk to realize they left their talk in the other suit jacket.  I’ve seen them realize their pages are out of order and spend several minutes getting them in order.  I’ve seen them realize that they were missing a page or two.

Every single one of these disasters could be avoided if you had committed key sections to memory and had a good sense of the overall talk.  You could give the talk anyway, even if it might be shorter, rearrange your pages while speaking, or feel confident that even with a missing page, you know exactly what should go there.  

2.  Delivery.  While this intrudes a little on part 5, it greatly diminishes a talk if you do not look at the audience.  Too many talks have people staring at their notes the entire time, only occasionally glancing at the congregation as if to make sure they were all still there.

If you notice the teleprompters at General Conference, they are positioned so that the speaker not only looks at the audience, but he looks at the entire audience.  You need to be doing that.  Memorizing parts of your talk allows you the freedom to look at your audience.  No matter how well written the talk, if you aren’t looking at the audience and making that personal connection, your words will fail more often than they should.

To keep from getting lost while you look up and out at the congregation, I recommend underlining, or putting in bold, or highlighting key words in important spots throughout the talk, so that you can quickly reorient yourself when you must refer to your notes.

3.  Make the message part of you.  This is the more subjective part of the talk experience, but anyone familiar with memorizing poetry, plays, or any performance piece should understand.  Memorizing something makes it more of a part of you than otherwise.  This allows your testimony and teaching of the principle(s) in your talk to be more fervent and heartfelt than it might otherwise seem.  As said, of the three reasons to memorize your talk, this is the most subjective, but it’s one I fervently believe in (but then, I spent two and a half years as an acting major before switching to English/Rhetoric).

[Also – if you follow my advice from earlier episodes in this series and read your talk out loud once or twice, you’ll find yourself familiar with the overall talk – enough that you could fake it if you had to].

Now that you have your talk written, and you’ve committed parts of it to memory, the time has come to actually deliver it.  The next (and final? Perhaps there will be a part 6 of 5) installment will focus on actually delivering your talk.

Oral delivery of our teaching connects us to the tradition of rhetoric more than most realize.  Most modern rhetoric focuses almost exclusively on writing, but with my background in theater performance, I’ve spent time studying the aspects and techniques of oral delivery.  While the next post won’t have any video, I’ll try to get as much across as possible with just the written word.

This entry was posted in General, In real life, Sacrament meeting by Ivan Wolfe. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ivan Wolfe

Ivan Wolfe teaches rhetoric at Arizona State University. He has a PhD in English from the University of Texas - Austin, and a BA and MA in English (with minors in Classical Greek, Music, and Philosophy) from BYU. He has several credits on various Christmas albums aimed at the LDS market, several essays in Open Court's Popular Culture and Philosophy series, and various book reviews in academic and popular venues. He also competes in Scottish Highland Games and mud run/obstacle course races, and he can deadlit over double his bodyweight (his last PR was just shy of 500 pounds). He is currently married to Lisa Renee Wolfe. He has five kids and four stepkids.

7 thoughts on “How to Give a Great Sacrament Meeting Talk – Part 4 of 5: Memory

  1. I’ve spoken twice in the last month or so (I moved, and I spoke in both wards). I find 3 x 5 notecards work very well. I use one side of maybe 3 or 4 cards. I don’t read them–they’re just reminders about what I should be talking about. They’re easier to manage than pieces of paper or a notebook. I have trouble memorizing things word for word, so I also use them to write down quotes and scriptures–it’s easier than looking something up in a book.
    What works for one doesn’t necessarily work best for all. A career speaker shouldn’t do things just like a shy teenager does. What’s important to the audience is that the talk is applicable to them in some way.

  2. Another useful and well-written piece of the whole.

    This has been such a helpful and well-done series, Ivan, and one that isn’t going to get outdated the way so many blog posts do, that it would be great if you could keep it from being buried. M* has room in its sidebar — how about making a link to this series on your front page, along with a short list of other entries in a “best of M*” box?

  3. However…..everyone has their own strengths & weaknesses.
    I remember when I was super shy and super nervous and slow to create sentences in public and had an excellent memory and was a fast reader. Writing it all out usually meant that I had planned it all out and therefore could say it comfortably (without reading it). Also, having it all written meant that with a simply glance the words could be called to mind and sent to my mouth.
    Unfortunately, my father felt that talks should not be “written” out and so at one point when my family spoke, I could only read a poem.
    I guess I shouldn’t resent it too much, since he did help teach me how to give a talk.
    I help my children give good primary talks. You should totally ask me to do a series on how to help your children give good primary talks. I have sat through years of horrible primary talks. I am quite proud (ok, maybe prideful) of how I help my children give talks based on what they can do.

  4. I found that writing a talk out has it’s place. It helps one set their thoughts in order. It helps the shy and scared buoy up their confidence. Milk before meat.

    Even now, I sometimes write out my talk when the phrasing is important. I can’t rely on my memory alone to recall a well-crafted phrase.

    I now use a mind map to outline my talks. The quotes and scriptures are all written out on separate pages. It freaks people out when they ask for a copy of my talk.

Comments are closed.