Guest Post: The Ten Commandments of Speaking in Church

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 do’s and don’ts:

1. Don’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. Don’t talk about your talk—how and when you were asked to speak, how long it’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 what—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! Apologizing—for whatever reason—gives everyone license to disregard you and your message. If you don’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 Authority’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 life’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: “Don’t be like anybody else. Be different. Then you can make a contribution. Otherwise, you just echo something; you’re just a reflection” (Temple and Cosmos, 1992).

5. Here’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. It’s your chance to work out the kinks in private before the big event takes place in public.

6. Unless you’re the bishop, don’t call the congregation to repentance! It’s not your job, and it’s a sure-fire method of how not to win friends and influence people. If repentance is what’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 it’s straight from Public Speaking 101. Everything you say should support your main point. If it doesn’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 speaker’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: “The purpose of prayer is to bring our will into alignment with God’s will” or “If we truly understand that everything is the Lord’s, we will be more willing to share our resources with others”).

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. Don’t justify a mere 20 minutes of preparation on Saturday night with the “it’s just another church talk” line.

President Hinckley put it simply: “Don’t muff your opportunities. Be excellent.” (“The Quest for Excellence,” Ensign, Sept. 1999).

10. When you and everyone else breaks commandments 1-9, be patient. Speaking in church isn’t easy, and let’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 you’re the speaker, solicit feedback from a few trusted sources (almost no one does this!). In this way, you’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. He’s a native of Fruit Heights, Utah and served in the Argentina, Bahía 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. He’s a three-time elders quorum president desperately trying to get the job right. Email:

65 thoughts on “Guest Post: The Ten Commandments of Speaking in Church

  1. 11. Don’t mention past sins…or present ones…in any detail.

    Say “A while back when I was struggling with some things“, instead of “A while back when I was struggling with my porn addiction and the constant sexual fantasizing involving some of the young women in our ward…”

  2. People in my ward need to read this! Nice job. I think I’ll make a copy and secretly insert it into the Sacrament Meeting programs this Sunday. I’d add one bit of advice: if you’re an emotional person who tends to get VERY emotional when certain topics are brought up, don’t bring up those topics in your talk. Five minutes of uncontrolled weeping, flying tissues, and nose blowing doesn’t play out so well.

  3. That post was oh so overdue. Thanks so much for that list; I’m sure many, many of us sat at our desks nodding as we went through them. Amen on Kevin’s #11. I’m betting there are a few more out there, perhaps “Always smile and end with a firm testimony”?

  4. I’d like to add some detail to #1 and 2:

    #1 And PLEASE don’t begin with a joke which you know everyone in the congregation has already heard from the pulpit a bazillion times. You’re just forcing them to give you a courtesy laugh even though they don’t think it’s funny; in other words, you’re maneuvering them into being dishonest.

    #2 Please don’t tell me how much you dislike talking and how hard you tried to avoid the bishop. As soon as you tell me that you don’t want to be there, you’re really telling me that you have nothing to offer me, and thus I’m going to waste my time sitting and listening unwillingly to a talk you don’t want to give. You can admit to being nervous and unskilled; that’s fine. But don’t start your talk by telling me that the gospel is so low on your list of priorities that you detest telling people about it.

    If I were to do as Jesus did and say “Upon this hangs all the law and the prophets,” I would say that the one essential for any church meeting or service is DON’T WASTE MY TIME. Don’t have a lame leadership meeting because you’re supposed to have one and shame people into coming out of duty, then give them nothing. Don’t let pack meetings or Primary activities take forever to get started and completely ignore the interests and needs of the children for whom the activity is ostensibly taking place. Don’t make everyone in the room regret having to be there. The time of the saints is valuable. DON’T WASTE IT.

  5. Jedd, excellent suggestions..oops — commandments. You nailed several things that always make me uncomfortable, and so did you, Kevin.

    A few weeks ago, a young man spoke just before leaving on his mission he opened with a joke about how the counselor in the bishopric told him if he gets nervous, just picture all the young women in the audience naked. Awkward.

    The other thing I don’t think you included are opening statements like, “The bishopric asked me to speak on X, but I am going to speak on Y.” Or, “I haven’t prepared anything, so I will be relying on the Spirit.”

    That said, I agree that #10 is the most important. I confess that sometimes I tune out because of some statement like the ones mentioned above — I’m very wrong to do that.

  6. Another couple of rules for speakers …

    1) Be considerate of the other speakers who have prepared talks. Be conscientious of how much time you have been assigned to speak. Keep your eye on the clock and stick close to that timetable. Others have also been assigned to prepare for a specific period of time and they should not be relegated to merely bearing a testimony OR filling a large portion of time that you didn’t use.

    2) If you are the last assigned speaker and the sacrament meeting is supposed to end at x hour, keep your eye on the clock and finish your talk a couple of minutes before that time. Remember that there is still supposed to be a closing hymn and benediction. The last speaker’s first priority (unless the bishop says otherwise) is to make sure the meeting ends on time, regardless of whether or not there has been sufficient time to give the talk that was prepared. Not only does extending the hour of sacrament meeting tax the patience of listeners (particularly small children and their parents) but it robs those who teach after sacrament meeting of their teaching time. If necessary and hardly any time has been left for you to speak, bear a brief sincere testimony and sit down. Consider your talk preparation to merely be a great personal learning experience and leave it at that.

  7. Andrea, that is maybe the worst thing I’ve ever heard of being said in Sacrament meeting. Wow. Was he saying it jokingly, as if to pin something unsavory on the counsellor in a humorous way, or did you get the idea the counsellor had really told him that? Wow, that makes me uncomfortable.

  8. I really don’t think our counselor offered this young man that particular counsel. I think it was meant as a joke on him because he’s so appropriate.

  9. I shared the above rules because the last three times I’ve been asked to speak in Church, I have been the last assigned speaker of the meeting. Each time I was asked to prepare to speak for ten minutes. On one occasion I was basically left with no time at all and the bishop asked me to just bear my testimony. I stood up and spoke for about 45 seconds and sat down. On a second occasion I was left with a few minutes. The other time I was left with twenty-five minutes.

    It isn’t that I can’t sympathize. It seems that many speakers are so focused on giving their talks that they go into hyperspace. The motives are good but their natural instinct for time gets warped by adrenaline, fear, interest in sharing certain points, etc. and they fail to pay sufficient attention to the clock.

  10. An other one I’d add is don’t read extended quotes. There are two reasons. First, most people can’t read dynamically and it interrupts the flow of your talk. It tunes people out. Second 9/10 people have heard what you’re quoting dozens of times and they start tuning out.

    My belief, after giving a lot of boring doctrinal talks in my early 20’s is that you shouldn’t really do much doctrinal exposition. Have two or three key points and then communicate them. And the best way to communicate them is to think of some interesting stories from your life or someone you are very close to. Tell them in an interesting fashion.

    I know it sounds weird, but my talks improved tremendously when I thought about all the talk shows on TV I enjoyed listening to. Think about the good guests on say the Tonight Show. They have one or two entertaining anecdotes. Now I’m not saying a talk ought be like that. But people listen when you are saying something entertaining. It’s a sad fact of life that people tend to not be listening when you aren’t entertaining.

    Further, if you can teach a gospel principle in an interesting story it’ll reach people’s hearts. Use the old creative writing principle. Show, don’t tell. Show people the principles you are communicating in real life incidents.

    BTW – while I hate crying in Sunday School lessons, I actually think that if you are the crying type it can be effective in a talk. But try to hold it off to the end. And don’t fake it.

  11. I absolutely agree with danithew on being sensitive to time.

    I also think we need to focus especially on CJ’s point, which is that every talk needs to be centered on the Savior.

    A few years ago, I conducted an informal experiment. I had just purchased my first Palm Pilot – it was one of the newest models, with and expanded 8 MB of memory (woo-hoo)!!

    For about 1 year, I kept a record of the talks in Sacrament Meeting. I organized each talk into one of three categories – A) talks that explicitly mentioned the Savior, B) talks that included some indirect reference to the Savior, and C) talks that did not mention the Savior at all (except for the obligatory “in the name of…” at the end).

    I don’t remember the final numbers, but proportionally, the talks for each category (A:B:C) fell out something like 1:5:4 – and that included monthly testimonies by Bishopric members, ward conference, high councilors, etc.

    I never shared my survey with anyone at the time – it was only for my own amusement, since I wasn’t getting much else out of the talks at the time).

    Still, I think the results show at least one reason why I wasn’t getting much out of the talks.

    Excellent topic, Jedd!!!

  12. And never, ever, read an email forward. Never. Not even if you check it on snopes first.

  13. I’ve always found it helpful to present the points in a talk as a numbered list (e.g., “four points for showing greater love and respect for your spouse”). People love lists, and are more likely to pay attention because they want to get every point in the list. Even if you lose them on point #2, they’ll be tuning back in for point #3 because it’s different than #2.

    The master of this is President Monson. He even gets his list names to alliterate (“a language of love, a household of healing, a family of faith”, etc.).

  14. Clark suggested don’t read extended quotes, and to that I would add don’t read much at all. I find it much more difficult to process material that is read rather than spoken, and I suspect I’m not alone. I understand that for some people the fear of public speaking is so great that they can’t countenance walking up to the pulpit without a word-for-word talk written out, and a few people do manage to read with enough clarity and expression to make it bearable. However, I think a talk built off of a thorough outline and some practice will generally communicate far more effectively, and thus is well worth whatever extra time and courage it may require.

    In addition, it’s easier to adjust the length of your talk, as Danithew wisely suggests, if you’re working off an outline rather than a script.

  15. Anna’s thought (#15) reminded me of another: If you quote from the scriptures, don’t actually read from your scriptures. And, with the exception of long passages, don’t worry about giving the reference.

    Bad example: “The Lord wants us to look for ways to do good and serve others. In D&C 58:27 we read … [open scriptures; flip, flip, flip, flip, flip] … ‘Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness’.”

    Better example: “The Lord wants us to look for ways to do good and serve others. In a revelation to Joseph Smith he explained that ‘men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness’.”

  16. The best thing to do with scriptures is figure out what you’re using and print them out in large type ahead of time. It avoids any flipping and you have everything in order.

  17. I’d second Ben. Any quotes you read, you ought have printed out. In this day and age where most of us have computers, this is a no-brainer. I think that applies to Sunday School lessons as well.

    Regarding Jim’s comment about references to the savior. I remember hearing that claim way back in the mid-90’s and trying several experiments like him. Unlike his experience though I was shocked at just how frequently we do discuss the savior. I’ve not done it for a while though. It’d be interesting to see it in our current ward.

  18. I’m with Dan on the time thing. I have three perfectly good, unused talks from instances when I was the last speaker on the program. Even at my own missionary farewell, I only had a couple of minutes.

    A corollary: If you’re the last speaker, prepare ahead of time what parts of your talk you can cut or elaborate on to end on time. There’s no need to have fluff filler, but I always have more material than I can use, so I prioritize it so I can make good use of whatever time is available, and if I’m short on time, I don’t have to stress out about how to edit my talk on the fly.

    Another suggestion: Sacrament meeting is not Sunday School. Audience participation is not necessary. It’s not even encouraged. Don’t invite people to open their scriptures with you, or to raise their hands, or stand up if they served a mission (awkward!).

  19. (1) It may be easy for Internet Mormons to forget, but there are plenty of Mormons who don’t have computers.

    (2) My impression is that Church leaders have encouraged members to bring their scriptures to meetings in which talks are going to be given and to read along in the scriptures when the speaker is quoting scriptural passages. This is, of course, facilitated by the speaker giving the scriptural reference. During the few seconds you’re watching the speaker flip through his scriptures, you might try flipping through your own to find the passage in question.

    (3) Some of the most memorable and powerful speeches/sermons/talks have, of course, been written down ahead of time and read.

  20. As for writing out a talk, I used to always use notes — now I write my talks out. It’s actually easier to adjust on the fly with a written talk if you’re trying to adjust for time, as you can see how much text you are adding or deleting.

    It’s completely possible to give a written talk without reading it. I rarely look down at my typed script. I read it beforehand enough to know what I’m going to say, and even if I don’t use the exact words that I’ve written, with a text in front of me, I can focus on the delivery instead of what words I’m going to use.

  21. Bryce Inouye wrote:

    Don’t invite people to open their scriptures with you

    The first 2 Google hits on “turn with me” and “devotional” are:

    “. . . Turn with me to Mosiah 4:29.” Elder Bednar, BYU-Idaho Devotional, 9/1/1998.

    “. . . Please turn with me to Section 130 of the Doctrine and Covenants.” Elder Bednar, BYU-Idaho Devotional, 8/31/1999.

    If anyone thinks this is only a personal quirk of Elder Bednar, I’d be glad to track down similar statements by other General Authorities.

  22. Bryce Inouye wrote:

    Devotionals are not sacrament meetings.

    It’s hard to argue with that. But what is it about sacrament meetings that makes it inappropriate for my bishop, stake president, etc. to ask the congregation to read along in the scriptures in their sacrament meeting talks, but appropriate for General Authorities to do so in devotionals, stake conferences, regional conferences, and general conferences?

  23. While I clearly disagree with some of these “commandments”, my reaction to many of them is: Yeah, I hate it when people do that. Is that the intended response? Are there Millennial Stargazers for whom this list is actually corrective, those who, say, didn’t realize until reading this list that it’s uncool to tell unfunny jokes? If not, what would a set of Sacrament Meeting commandments that would edify us look like? Would one of them be, say: Thou shalt open your heart to the speaker’s message by paying attention to what he/she is saying, and not spend the time doing unrelated scripture study, preparing your lesson, or reading the half-Gig Wikipedia you have on your Palm Pilot?

  24. Chris —

    It’s not so much that it’s inappropriate to ask the congregation to flip open their scriptures — it’s bad speaking practice. If you have 5-10 minutes to get a message across, you don’t want to spend 1-2 minutes flipping around in your scriptures. Also, I know that when I’m reading scriptures, I tune out the speaker for a few seconds even after he or she has started speaking again. I may even start looking at other references and give up on the talk completely. Don’t give your audience a chance to tune you out.

    In a devotional or other longer format talk (say 20-50 minutes), you have more time to spend, and it’s actually probably a good idea to give your listeners a bit of a break from hearing you speak.

    I do think it’s inappropriate to ask returned missionaries in a congregation to stand. I really hate that.

    Also, to bolster your point in #25, Jedd points out in point (not comment) #10 that the listeners in the congregation have responsibilities as well.

  25. Re: Chris Grant and #’s 20, 22, 24, and 25:

    It is appropriate to point out the scriptural passage and invite others to turn to it if you (the speaker) intend to spend some time on an exegesis of the passage, or engage in a scripture chain. As others have pointed out, this usually happens in a devotional setting (fireside, Know Your Religion [RIP], or classroom).

    But when speaking from the pulpit in sacrament meeting and using a verse or two in support of your thesis, it’s unnecessary and distracting to stop, ask people to turn with you, and flip through your scriptures.

    So the commandment (#12?) would be: The longer the passage and the more devotional the setting, the more reason to cite. The shorter the passage and the more sermon the setting, the less reason to cite.

  26. I am interested by Chris Grant’s point that perhaps these ten commandments are more relevant to the type of person not reading this blog, but that there may be other commandments on speaking that this particular audience should pay more attention to. Ignorance and non-topicality may not be problems that bloggernacker deal with. What are some of our problems? Arrogance? Condescension? Over-involvement with the abstract elements of the gospel? What are the pitfalls that the average bloggernacker would fall into as different from those of the average member?

  27. I think that obviously there are responsibilities on the part of both the speaker and the listener. If you’ll turn with me to Section 50 :), we can see that when its done right, both are edified.

    Elder Eyring gave some great tips for the listener in his book “To Draw Closer to God” which I haven’t read in a while, but I do remember him saying that we should always have a prayer in our hearts for the speaker/teacher and that if we are bored or aren’t getting something out of the talk/lesson we ought to think of how we would talk about that point and listen actively.

    Sometimes the point of asking someone to speak in church is at least as much for their benefit as for ours. We all get better through practice and if its not safe to struggle in front of your ward family, then who can you struggle in front of?

  28. What are some of our problems? Arrogance? Condescension? Over-involvement with the abstract elements of the gospel? What are the pitfalls that the average bloggernacker would fall into as different from those of the average member?

    I think this is a great question. I’m reluctant to call it arrogance, but I frequently feel that I have more experience or knowledge of the Church than the average member in teh ward, as a direct result of all my online interaction. It’s not necessarily prideful, but I think it easily can be.

    The flip side is that I frequently assume they’re all jsut aware as I am, and am thus surprised when people in my ward exhibit a lack of awareness of things like blogs or FAIR or the ward-specific Church site.

    I foresee the day in the not-too-far future in which “ward webmaster” is a formal calling.

  29. I personally feel spiritually edified when a speaker gives a scripture reference, and allows me a moment to turn to it before he reads or quotes any portion of it. I like to follow along, and feast on the words in my eyes and ears. If I then wander a bit in the scriptures, finding cross-references and such, then I think this is good- the speaker got me thinking deeply about the topic, and I have been edified because of it. I mark the scriptures, sometimes leave little notes about what the Spirit is prompting, and listen on.

    The point is- for the sake of those odd members like me who actually LIKE to read along with what the speaker is quoting in the scriptures, PLEASE do not take the above advice.

    Bryce pointed out above:

    Also, I know that when I’m reading scriptures, I tune out the speaker for a few seconds even after he or she has started speaking again. I may even start looking at other references and give up on the talk completely. Don’t give your audience a chance to tune you out.

    I see no problem with this. Unlike in other settings, the speaker is not the sole focus of attention in sacrament meeting, at least not for me. My sole focus of attention, when I am not battling children, is on listening for the voice of the Spirit to tell me how I can change my life to be closer to the Savior based on what the speaker is saying. Sometimes, I must confess, this focus leads me to not focus my attention on every word coming out of the speaker’s mouth. I don’t think it is appropriate for the speaker in sacrament meeting to draw so much attention to him/herself that the focus is completely on him/her.

    I HOPE that when I speak, people will occasionally tune me out to listen to the spirit telling them how to transform their lives, to get closer to Christ. I hope that I am not too distracting to allow the congregation their personal communion with the divine. And as a listener, that is all I ask of the speakers. And usually, no matter how they deliver, I can be uplifted by their messages.

  30. A number of years ago I was at the annual CES Symposium at BYU. The subject that year was the Old Testament. This was right after Elder Eyring had been called to the Quorum of the Twelve, and he was the keynote speaker in the Marriott Center. (A devotional setting if there ever was one.)

    He took as his text the allegory of the unfaithful wife from Hosea chapter 2. And here’s the interesting part: He specifically asked the audience not to open their scriptures. He wanted them to focus on his address and not get lost in the text.

    While there is a time and place for “lets all turn to…”, there is also a time and place for asking your audience to just listen.

  31. It seems that a problem with “turn with me” is that your audience has different turn speeds.

    On the one hand, you have seminary scriptorian Ryan who can be on the page of any scripture within 1.5 seconds. (Remember those little scripture races?)

    On the other hand, you have elderly congregant Bryce who must locate the right book, put on the reading glasses, and slowly turn to the right page. You have parent Clark who must set down a child, pick up his scriptures from under the Cheerio bowl, and turn to a scripture that he half-heard because he was picking up crayons. You have new convert Jordan who doesn’t exactly know where the book of Moses is, and is scanning the table of contents.

    And you have every sort of permutation in between.

    So how long does the speaker pause? Long enough for the laggards on one end? Only long enough for the racecar drivers on the other end? Some point in between?

  32. Kaimi, as you probably know, it’s asking waaaaaaaay to much to put the kid down. The parent holding the kid is just going to miss this little exercise, and hope the scripture is read aloud from the pulpit (which he may miss as well, depending on the kid).

  33. THOU SHALT NOT tell the story of the “birdies in the cages.”

    THOU SHALT NOT use as your authority a story told to you by your brother-in-law who knew someone whose sister said a General Authority told her that . . .

    THOU SHALT NOT discuss politics from the pulpit.

  34. Some more tips for speakers (and teachers as well):

    Be sensitive to everyone who is in the audience and who might potentially be in your audience (you might be surprised at who could show up). Be aware that there might be unmarried people, single mothers, investigators or non-members, divorced people, old and young, children, etc. Even if you are in a ward that is tailored to a specific demographic (such as married students), don’t assume that your audience will entirely fit one category of people, background or stereotype.

    The experience I have to share isn’t actually a sacrament meeting experience … nor was I present … I just heard about it. Our married student ward was dissolved and we were put in a new married student ward. The next Sunday the new ward’s Relief Society had a meeting in which the women were invited to each introduce themselves and answer questions on a poster. One of the numbered questions said: “Tell us about your husband.” Of course there was one divorced single mother who was there and she very noticeably left early (and upset) before her turn arrived.

  35. This idea is a bit more specialized but perhaps pertinent for some. Is there a demographic in your ward that hears the talks being translated from English into another language (or from one language into another)? If so, when preparing your talk, keep in mind the linguistic capabilities of the translators.

    I was in a branch where I was regularly asked to translate English talks into Spanish. A decent percentage of the ward was Spanish-speaking and they would listen with ear-phones to my translation. How I pity those poor people who had to listen to me try and spontaneously translate other peoples’ thoughts into their native language.

    I remember once someone gave an excellent talk but they used a lot of words I had never learned in the mission-field. Specifically, the speaker told a extended and humorous story about a pioneer woman who was astonished to find all her ducks/geese dead. She hurriedly plucked them all. Then to her surprise they “woke up”. They had eaten some poppy plants that put them to sleep.

    It was a great story but due to my vocabularly limitations and the surprise plot twist, it was literally impossible for me to communicate what was being said. I didn’t know the words for duck/geese, plucking, poppies, etc. I was trying to use descriptive words. “So there is this pioneer woman and she discovers all her birds are dead and she starts to remove … oh geez, how do i describe feathers? … oh and then the dead birds weren’t dead. They woke up. They had eaten these flowers.” Needless to say, it was a translation nightmare.

    Sometimes when I hear general conference talks that utilize unusual English idioms, complex language or poetic devices I wonder how the translators are doing. It is comforting to know that the translators are usually native speakers and that they get the talks beforehand. Still, in a ever-diversifying world-wide Church we need to be more aware of this dynamic and adapt our talks accordingly.

  36. Great perspectives on this topic from the group.

    On the “to open the scriptures or not” question, my observation is that in a sacrament meeting, most people don’t do it even when asked (except the bishopric, who have to set a good example). I prefer to focus on the speaker myself. I’ve also had leaders who, when speaking, specifically asked the congregation not to open their scriptures but simply listen to the verses being read.

    Chris Grant (#25) – while ‘bloggernackers’ will hopefully have some advantages here, I am convinced that public speaking prowess doesn’t necessarily coorelate with intellectual horsepower. Some of the smarter people I know often try to wing it (sometimes it works), talk way too long (what I have to say is IMPORTANT!), or worst of all, force a hair-thin connection between their profession/intellectual passion and the atonement, for example. That’s why everyone needs feedback, no matter how well they think they did at the podium.

    danithew (#36) – right on the money. If we’d all adopt the ears of a NON/white-middle class-married-4 kids-5th generation member/, we’d hear some things in sacrament meeting that would make us cringe.

  37. It seems that the problem here is that you are all focusing on how to be a good public speaker. But the Lord does not require good public speaking. Nobody is talking about how to focus on the spirit or prepare to really touch people in the audience- through the spirit. All of the stuff discussed here is fluff- theoretical meaningless fluff- compared to that.

  38. Jordan, I think you are correct but only to a point. Moses was a stutterer, etc. I think the 10 Commandments suggested by the guest blogger can serve as practical tips to help bring the Spirit to a meeting that is, let’s be honest, sometimes dull and less than spiritually uplifting. I have often felt put off, for example, by someone prattling on and on about how they tried to avoid speaking and they hate speaking and yadda yadda–I think such things prevent the listeners from feeling the Spirit. The suggested tips, it seems to me, if followed, will yield more talks in which both speaker and congregant are edified.

  39. Jordan you are of course correct. But I also think of the parable of the talents. We should always be trying to improve, especially in teaching the gospel. If you feel good enough to try and teach – either in sacrament or a church calling – then hopefully you’ll try to improve and do a better job.

    Speaking as one who while younger probably fit into Jedd’s criticisms, I recognize that I needed to improve and looked to the speakers who did do so well to do it.

  40. Jordan Fowles – Essentially, what I’m suggesting here are ways to remove the distractions from our speaking styles and thus create the best environment for the message and (hopefully) the accompanying spirit to take center stage. We can and should work to be both effective communicators and worthy conduits of the spirit.

  41. Jordan, one more thing. I think one of the points you’re making is that if one truly has the spirit, that’s all that’s needed to effectively communicate (“the Spirit shall give you utterance. . .”). Forget man’s ideas about effective oratorical skills. If that’s what you’re saying, I would agree. The challenge for many of us, however, is that we learned to speak in church by watching others speak in church (for better or for worse). You can’t ignore the effect of that conditioning.

    If we could start with a blank slate and the spirit, most of us would probably be very good speakers.

  42. I do agree that there are many people who obviously haven’t sought the spirit before speaking. And there are some whose speaking skills are so poor that they impede the message sought to be conveyed (unless an audience member is very attentive indeed).

  43. I was surprised to see Jedd’s list missing the following rule, paraphrased from a Ward workshop some years ago.

    Unless you are the conducting member of the bishopric, it is not your place to ‘greet’ the congregation. That is, do not commence your remarks by saying “good morning brothers and sisters”, as the congregation has already been welcomed.

    A quick check of General Conference addresses will see that the Brethren follow this counsel, and I have attempted to follow it myself. I much prefer a speaker that simply launches into their topic, as opposed to the stereotypical “good morning, brothers and sisters, today I have been asked to speak on…”

  44. Oh- wait. That would be me. I accepted such a call just the other night. Perhaps I should call the Bishop back and revoke my acceptance. There are so many rules to remember, after all, and I would hate to provide fodder to all those members who just sit there making lists of mistakes in the speakers instead of, you know, trying to LEARN something.

    But I will try to remember all of these rules. Eric, please be merciful should I slip and forget one.

  45. As long as you remember the three that I posted. Please don’t tell the story of the birdies in the cages. 😉

  46. Jordan, don’t be offended at hearing so many rules. This is a post about a specific topic and we’re just contributing ideas and thoughts on the matter. No one is really going to be able to follow every rule or do everything right.

    And you’re right. The most important and basic thing is to have the Spirit.

  47. Just a note on reading or reciting poetry from the stand.

    DO NOT read in a sing-song style, emphasizing the rhyme at the end of the line. Read with attention to the meaning. For instance:

    Whose woods these are I think I know.
    His house is in the village, though;
    He will not see me stopping here
    To watch his woods fill up with snow.

    My little horse must think it’s queer
    To stop without a farmhouse near
    Between the woods and frozen lake
    The darkest evening of the year.

    He gives his harness bells a shake
    To ask if there’s some mistake.
    The only other sound’s the sweep
    Of easy wind and downy flake.

    The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
    But I have promises to keep,
    And miles to go before I sleep,
    And miles to go before I sleep.

    Now let’s change the emphasis for meaning:
    (obviously my very personal interpretation, and there are others just as good, but start THINKING about the poem)

    Whose woods these are I think I know.
    His house is in the village, though;
    He will not see me stopping here to watch his woods fill up, with snow.

    My little horse must think it’s queer to stop,
    without a farmhouse near between the woods and frozen lake,
    The darkest evening of the year.

    He gives his harness bells a shake to ask if there’s some mistake.
    The only other sound’s, the sweep of easy wind and downy flake.

    The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
    But I have promises to keep,
    And miles to go,
    Before I sleep,
    And miles to go,
    Before I sleep.

  48. The above, of course, is a Robert Frost poem, and not written by David Rodger…

  49. And “To be or not to be” was written by Shakespeare.

    As in Shakespeare, William (1564-1616).

  50. And the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam was by, um, Omar Khayyam. Your point?

  51. Mine, too. We’ve had at least two formally called to that position, and it’s been around for something like a year (I’ve been here for 7 months and no one can tell me when, exactly, the position was created) or more.

    Fast and testimony in my ward seems unusually painful to me. We have people bear their testimonies of all sorts of things — not quite anything along the lines of “the Lord is on the side of the OSU Buckeyes” or anything, but almost anything else. And even our youth (even age 15 and up) bear their testimonies of how much they love their brothers, even though they fight all the time and yesterday Jacob and Ammon were just begging for a slap in the face. I’m also a little shocked at the proliferation of calling us to repentance (often reptentance in the areas of food storage and genealogy) and 25 minute testimonies.

    I don’t know if it’s just this ward, or it’s a tendency in larger wards, but one of the biggest differences between our old branch and this ward is that almost everyone under 30 is actively doing something else (drawing, reading, playing cards, plotting the murder of younger siblings, attempting to murder younger siblings…) during the entire Sacrament service. Oh, and almost all the adults have their “please just tell me this will be over in 30 minutes; all I ask is that we don’t run over” faces on.

  52. I find when I am feeling overly critical of other’s talks, I am not in the right spirit for church. It’s true that we all could improve on our speaking skills. However, those who find others in fault need to have a little Christian compassion. Isn’t that why we are there? There is a big difference between a boring talk and an inappropriate talk. Inappropriate comments should be discouraged. (Politics, past sins (in detail), and your feelings about the witchcraft in Harry Potter books are inappropriate). In short, there is something we can learn from all talks, if you want to be taught by the spirit.

    My only wish is that more talks were Christ/doctrinally centered. If the bishopric has asked a member to speak about some new program in the church, I think it should be done in a way which is spiritually uplifting. Sacrament meeting should be the most spiritual of our meetings. We have a lot of investigators and new members that come to our ward who may not understand all of the programs of the church. I hope they felt something of the spirit while they were with us. However, if the talk is all charts and graphs on how to do your family history, I wonder what they get out of it.

  53. It’s been at least 8 years since I was invited to speak in Sac. mtg. I’m probably getting pretty rusty. I’ve never been a great public speaker but I happily considered every opportunity as a chance to practice.
    So I maybe gave a talk 5 times as a teenager (including Seminary Grad). And maybe 3 times during my early 20’s. Then nothing for the next decade.
    I think the hardest thing about preparing a talk, if I was asked right now, would be the pressure to think of things to say that were “profound” enough for this once in a decade experience.

  54. dp wrote:

    Unless you are the conducting member of the bishopric, it is not your place to ‘greet’ the congregation. That is, do not commence your remarks by saying ‘good morning brothers and sisters’, as the congregation has already been welcomed.

    I find this rule utterly baffling. As I understand it, it is violated by the vast majority of speakers in Hawaii. Greeting the congregation and welcoming them are not the same thing. When I served on the high council, I was requested by the stake presidency to convey their love and greetings as part of each speaking assignment.

    A quick check of General Conference addresses will see that the Brethren follow this counsel

    Here’s how some recent General Conference addresses have begun:

    “My dear brothers and sisters, here in Salt Lake City and around the world, it is good to be with you.”

    “I am grateful to speak to this world-wide audience of priesthood holders. It is now 8:00 A.M. Sunday Morning in the Phillipines, my home for the last two years. I send greetings to my beloved associates in that nation and to all of you.”

    “My dear brethren of the priesthood, how honored I am to be with you this evening.”

    “My dear brothers and sisters and friends, I greet you in the spirit of fellowship and love.”

    “My dear brethren of the priesthood of God all over the world, we extend to each of you our love and greetings wherever you are.”

    “My dear brethren, it is a humbling experience to stand before you this evening . . .”

  55. I’d disagree with the greeting comment as well. Although, truth be told, I think the whole “aloha” bit that many do in Sacrament is a bit old. But sometimes it works, and truth told I enjoyed it a lot the first dozen or so times I heard it. But I think it is like opening with a joke everyone’s heard hundreds of times. It loses the effect.

    But I do think that greeting people is natural, as is commenting on the weather or whatever. Further, that sort of throw away line or two can be great for composing oneself and getting rid of the jitters or nerves.

    I think we have to recognize that many people, even good speakers, can be nervous. So give people a break with the first few comments. Having said that though, I do think that avoiding cliches always improves ones talk.

  56. I don’t think it is necessarily a rule.

    But I have seen too many occasions when I was serving in bishoprics, where the introduction to a talk took up an inordinate amount of time, and it was time that the speaker had not taken into account when they prepared their 8 minute talk. So they ran two or three minutes over, and so did the next speaker, and the next, and the concluding speaker had 10 minutes to present what they had been asked to present in 20 minutes.

    Stand up, give your talk and sit down.

    “Good morning, brothers and sister, I am so happy to have this opportunity to speak to you in Sacrament meeting today. I notice that the sun is shining outside, and as I was walking here this morning, I thought how beautiful the day was, and how I could hear the birds sing and the sighing of the wind in the trees. We’d better enjoy it, because the weather forecast is for clouds to start moving in this evening, and tomorrow we are likely to have heavy rain. Because the day was so nice, I decided to wear my red tie with my blue suit, to have a harmony of color with the green leaves on the trees and and the dark brown of the tree trunks.It has been a long time since I have had the opportunity to speak in sacrament meeting, and I have pondered long and hard about the subject which I was assigned. I searched the scriptures, and tried to remember some of the things which I learned in Seminary many years ago…etc.”

    All fluff.

  57. You will all be pleased to hear that Jordan Fowles gave a talk in church yesterday in which he kept all Ten Commandments listed here and, at the same time, infused his message with a testimony that ensured all who desired could feel the Spirit. His talk was well prepared, well delivered, and insightful. Could serve as a model for what Jedd is aiming for.

  58. Awesome list – I am going to use this in a lesson for the Young Women. I also appreciated the comments in addition to the article. Thanks much 🙂

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