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

Part 4 (Memory) here. 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.

Well, it’s been awhile, and despite the title, this is not the last installment.

Delivery is something that can be overdone, and when it is overdone, it ruins the talk.

I’ve seen people with horrid delivery move me to tears and plenty of well-versed orators have left me feeling cold.

The first rule is: The Spirit matters most. The second is: Don’t fake your delivery.

That said, here are some ways you can improve the delivery of your talk without faking it. You don’t have to be trained in public speaking (although that’s always a plus, when not overdone), but there are small things anyone can do to improve the delivery of their talk. And if you have the Spirit in your words, a well-delivered talk can move from very good to great (or even excellent).
Pay attention to General Conference. Notice how the General Authorities speak. Each one has their own unique style, and each unique style is effective in its own way. Generally, they do not mumble into the microphone, or refuse to look at the audience. For the most part, they speak in clear, enunciated words. The delivery styles of the General Authorities form the basis for my advice:

First: Read your talk out loud at least once before actually giving it. I’ve said it before in previous installments, and it can’t be repeated enough. It is the single best piece of advice I can give. Here, it will help with delivery because you will be familiar with the rhythm of your sentences and paragraphs. If you have the time, practice saying sentences in different ways, with different tones or shadings. Practice reading it louder or softer. Get used to your own voice and figure out what seems effective.

Second: Look at the audience. One reason the General Authorities have teleprompters placed in front and to the sides of the pulpit is so that they are constantly looking at the entire audience, rather than just starting straight ahead or down (though the “staring straight at you” approach can also work, if you occasionally change which direction you are staring). It’s extremely hard to make any connection with the audience when you aren’t looking at them.

Third: Control your hands. We all have many unconscious “things” we do with our hands. Stroke our beards (those of us that have them), twirl our hair, pick our nose, scratch our necks, pull at our necklace, scratch behind our ears, etc. They are all distracting – and while the Spirit can overcome distractions, it’s best to remove distractions and let the Spirit work unhindered. Other than occasionally (and quickly) wiping the sides of our mouths if spittle is building up, your hands need to remain in a neutral position and stay away from your body. Holding your notes is one way to avoid doing this. I find that lightly holding onto the sides of the pulpit helps. Just give your hands something benign to do.

Fourth: Above all, do not pause in the middle of each sentence. I actually blame the 80s and 90s church videos for this tendency among some members, where it seemed that every testimony or narrator would pause: “I glad I could share this . . . with you today. I’ve felt good about . . . what I’ve been telling you.” Watch General Conference – the GAs do not pause in the middle of each sentence. Thoughtfulness is portrayed not by pretending to be thinking about how to finish the sentence – instead it comes from having thoughtful things to say. And if you’ve been following this series, you won’t have to worry about that.

For the next installment, I’ll have a few final thoughts, and I’ll have some responses to a few questions and comments that came up on previous threads.

This entry was posted in Any, 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.

10 thoughts on “How to Give a Great Sacrament Meeting Talk – Part 5 of 5: Delivery

  1. We had an awesome Stake Conference this past weekend, and I was struck by the differences between two talks given by two youth. One was rough and not very polished in his speech. The other was smooth and incredibly polished in her speech. The better talk was by the rough spoken young man, because his talk truly invited the Spirit. The polished young women felt like I was attending a high school debate competition. Your ideas are great, but without the Spirit a well polished talk is not a good talk.

  2. Great advice. I especially endorse point 1, reading aloud — not only does that make you feel the rhythm, but you’ll also discover any tongue twisters in time to change them.

    May I add one more variation of your fourth point? I call it the Truman Madsen Effect: a tendency to exhale audibly at the end of a phrase, pause, then make a clicking sound with the tongue (like the click represented by “tsk-tsk,” except it is only one click) to begin the next phrase. It has become very common among BYU speakers in the past few years, especially among the Religion faculty. Annoying!

    This is a great series, and I’m glad to know there will be more.

  3. Delivery does matter. People who have been speaking in church for a long time seem to develop a certain cadence when speaking. A non-member friend who saw a General Conference talk described it as sounding like the guy was trying to sell him a used car (if you weren’t paying attention to what they were saying). I find that delivery very annoying, which is one reason I prefer reading the Conference issue of the Ensign rather than watch it. For some speakers I have a hard time concentrating on anything they say because it sounds so monotone and over-prepared.

    I love a Sacrament Meeting that has speakers talking like we’re all friends chatting about our love of the Savior.

  4. Thanks for this series. One of my pet peeves is that louder is not always better. The first counselor in our bishopric seems to think that the louder he talks, the more effective his talks are. I hate it when he talks, because he winds up yelling at us, and it physically hurts my ears.

  5. One thing I recommend is to be yourself, but be your better self. I’ve often been impressed with the less polished speaker who seemed more genuine, though I’ve heard some polished speakers who spoke with incredible power. I don’t think the level of polish is the critical factor, rather I think it is the spiritual power of the speaker and our preparedness to receive.

    I also think one of the reasons to be yourself is that we each have the ability to reach people that others won’t connect with.

    Controlling your hands can be critical, I remember a great talk with a continued distraction of clicking a pen. I often humble myself before speaking and ask the Lord to help me know what to say through the Spirit. I find that when I’m humble I’m not thinking about how I look or what to do with my hands and I can focus more on the message I’m giving and anything the Spirit wants me to share. Focus on the moment!

  6. I remember my brother giving a talk in sacrament meeting as the youth speaker, and he was so nervous that he cried from start to finish. I remember this vividly because I was so nervous and embarrassed for him. Yet after the meeting, lots of people came up to him and commented on what a spiritually powerful talk it was. Maybe they were just trying to comfort him, and maybe he fooled some of them, I don’t know. We both laughed about it later, because he said he was flat-out scared to death.

    This memory makes me think of a key element of good delivery — don’t get distracted by what the audience may be thinking of you. Chances are, they’re not thinking that much about YOU at all. Instead, try to ensure the audience understands what you’re saying. It’s really a matter of shifting the focus from self to audience. If you care more about the audience, they will feel the Spirit and the right message will come through.

    Thanks for all the good advice in this series.

  7. Ivan: “For the next installment, I’ll have a few final thoughts, and I’ll have some responses to a few questions and comments that came up on previous threads.” Did you ever write your “next installment” on this topic? Thanks. Sandy P.S. And yes, I am just getting to this party late!

  8. Sandy – no, I never did quite finish the series. A dissertation followed by a divorce caused me to take a temporary leave of absence from posting (I was in no emotional shape to write or comment). But perhaps I should wrap this up and create a master index to all the parts. Thanks for reminding this is all here.

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