This is a post has been stewing inside of me for some time. How to give a talk in church (or any other public forum for that matter)…
Sometimes I feel in the Mormon church we are great at inspiring but not so great at the nuts and bolts of how to implement that inspiration. For example, we teach young single adults that dating, courtship and marriage are important, but how often do we talk about etiquette on a date or what practical things we can do to prepare for a family? Not much.
Public speaking is another example. How is it possible in all my years of speaking in the church I have never been to one activity or lesson on the mechanics of good public speaking? One would think there would at least be a mutual activity or enrichment lesson? Maybe there is an assumption that everyone already knows how to do this and it is easy? We are, after all, forced to speak publicly from primary on…
However, repetition in public speakings is helpful but couldn’t we be merely repeating the same bad things, reinforcing the same distracting tendencies?
To be clear, if I don’t get anything from sacrament meeting the fault is mine not the speaker. I am responsible for my own spirituality but a good talk certainly can make my job easier.
In giving this advice let me further clarify that while public speaking is a strength of mine, I by no means have it all figured out; however, to the best of my ability I have came up with some tips to use the next time you are asked to give a talk:
1. Decide on 3 important points that you want to make. This helps you plan for little time or elaborate if given a lot of time. You can always just bare your testimony on the 3 points and sit down or you can do your full prepared talk, and perhaps have a few ‘if time’ stories on hand to include if needed.
2. Write out your talk- I know some will disagree with me on this but I do not believe the outline format suits the unseasoned speaker. Write out your talk and include the quotes and scriptures so you don’t have to be flipping around to find things.
3. Be weary of bad introductions “The bishop assigned me this talk 2 weeks ago…” “I am going to speak on testimony”, “Have you heard the joke about the bishop, a chicken and the RS Pres” All such introductions are deadly.
4. Do not ‘couple brag’. A brief introduction may be appropriate for new couples but we don’t all need to hear about your wives fantastic cakes or how great your dog is. Get to the doctrine.
5. Practice giving your talk. Stand in front of the mirror and give it trying to look up every 30 seconds or so to make it feel more natural.
6. Follow the rule of 1/3rds:
a. 1/3rd of your talk should be statements of doctrine. This includes quotes, scriptures and other resources. For example, a talk on tithing may include Malachi 3:10
b. 1/3rd of your talk should be explanation of doctrine and how it applies to our lives. So, you’ve stated a scripture on tithing, now you are going to explain in your own words what the scripture and tithing mean to you.
c. 1/3rd of your talk should be personalizing the doctrine to your life. Tell us a story on an experience with tithing from your life or ask your friends for their experience, do a poll on fb or twitter, find a story in the ensign that touches you or a scripture story you’ve always loved. You’d be surprised how far you can get by ‘This scripture has always been special to me because….”
d. These 3 are all equally important. If you just have data (scriptures, quotes) it will feel dry, just explanation it can drag and introduce false doctrines by accident, being too personal can be awkward or distracting. All 3 must be there for a great talk (think about Elder Hollands or Pres Monson’s talks and you will see they follow this rule of thumb in general.
7. For the most part, do not throw away your talk at the last minute and ‘speak by the spirit’. Sometimes that is needed but most of the time I think it is Satan’s way of having congregations full of unprepared speakers.
8. Do not worry about offending people or making your talk apply to everyone. While we shouldn’t be rude, I’ve heard speakers go a little overboard in the ‘we want to keep the single mothers happy’ in talks about the family. The thoughtfulness is good but I think most people are comfortable with a little bit of doctrine on Sunday not applying to their situation. Also, it can make a person feel more ostracized when their ‘special circumstance is made a big to do of’. It is typically better to find a core in the doctrine that most anyone can relate to and mention that in the course of the talk.
9. Try to prepare your talk in advance with prayer and study.
10. Stick to the scriptures, Ensign and other church meetings. Do not quote general authorities from personal conversations or fuzzy sources online. There are quotes that have been attributed to multiple general authorities over the years, oftentimes stating incorrect doctrine.
11. Finally don’t apologize for your life or talk. I used to apologize when I’d tell stories of my mission, and I suppose those can be a bit over the top, but in general, just share and if its a good story people won’t care if its a mission story or whatever.
12. If you say “I know the church is true” give a little bit more information to help new members understand. “I know the church is true because I have prayed about it and gotten a witness in my heart” That is so much more powerful and easier to relate to.
13. Finally leave your congregation with a challenge. Something they can do like make a list of friends they haven’t spoken with, or a person they can forgive. President Hinckley was the best at this. Practically every conference talk he gave would end with some variation of ‘we can all do better. Let’s go and do it!”
14. My last advice is to remember when you are quick to criticize someone’s talk, remember they aren’t being paid to do this. It is out of the generosity of their heart and love of the gospel that gets them up there. That alone deserves some respect.
Always remember public speaking is scary! Some fear it more than death:
(The Church has published their 10 tips for giving a talk in church. Pretty good! https://www.lds.org/ensign/1993/12/random-sampler?lang=eng
Dr. Randy Bott giving his 4 parts to writing a talk. This is brilliant http://magazine.byu.edu/?act=view&a=2409