Speaking in church without fear

Unless you are in a leadership position, have recently moved into a ward or are about to move out of a ward, the odds of you speaking in Sacrament meeting in any given year are fairly slim. The exception of course, is if you reside in a small ward or branch where there are less than forty active adults to choose from. That’s how many a typical ward will go though in a given year.

Think about it. There are fifty two Sundays in a year. Two Sundays each month are used up with Fast Sunday and High Council speakers. That leaves twenty eight available Sundays. Five Sundays each year are used up with General, Stake and Ward conferences. One Sunday is the Primary program. That leaves twenty two Sundays where you are a possible target.

If you are in a typical ward, there are two youth speakers and two adult Sacrament speakers on those Sundays where the Bishopric chooses from the ward members. The themes on many of the Sundays through the year are predictable – New Year’s (goals), Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Independence Day, Pioneer Day, Thanksgiving and of course, Christmas.

Choosing a theme

Almost always, you will be given a theme by the member of the Bishopric whose month it is to conduct. Typically, the themes are very basic, such as faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, tithing, the Sabbath day, Joseph Smith, the apostasy, the restoration, the plan of salvation, revelation, prophets, priesthood, Book of Mormon, and the list goes on.

On a rare occasion the Bishopric member will feel inspired to give you a very specific theme such as, “How paying tithing helps us prepare for the temple,” or “How we can know the Book of Mormon is true through study and prayer.” If you’ve been a member of the church a long time, you’ve heard all these talks and given many of them yourself over the years.

An even rarer occurrence is to have the Bishop ask you to speak without assigning a theme. He may feel inspired to have you be the one to approach the Lord and decide what he would have the members of the ward hear that Sunday. This would be extremely rare. Even High Council speakers are assigned their speaking subjects by the Stake President or senior High Councilor.

How to prepare

My first piece of advice in preparing to speak is to thank the Lord in prayer for the opportunity to learn something new and to improve your talents through the speaking experience. Accept the assignment graciously, being sure to ask specifically how many minutes you are expected to speak and confirming the assigned topic. A typical sacrament talk is twelve to fifteen minutes.

The next suggestion I offer is to envision yourself standing and speaking at the podium. This is the key to success. Ask the Lord in prayer to help you see the event in your mind’s eye. See the reaction of the members of the congregation in advance as you are speaking. Imagine some of them nodding their head in agreement as you mention something that they have experienced.

Decide if you are going to use notes on cards or notes on paper. Some talented people use no notes. I am not one of those special people. I need something to get me started on each point I want to make – a quote, a poem, a story or a scripture. I usually put that on the top of each page and then a few supporting quotes or ideas down below it. My main points are one per page.

The prepared talk

I know people who can stand at a moment’s notice and give a fifteen minute talk without notes and without preparation. Sometimes their words are uplifting and edifying but sometimes they are simply rambling and general talking. This is not what we should do when we are assigned to speak in Sacrament meeting. I think the Lord expects us to prepare and to speak confidently.

There is nothing wrong with preparing your talk word for word if that is what you feel you need to give you the confidence to deliver it. However, you do yourself and the congregation a real disservice if you just read the talk word for word. Unless your delivery talent is exceptional and you make a living as a news announcer, please do not read your talk. We can do better than that.

I know, the General Authorities read their talks in General Conference. In fact, their talks must be submitted weeks in advance so that the translators can practice and be prepared to interpret them at the time of delivery. This also helps in the timing for publication. It really is a miracle that we receive the Conference talks so quickly. They usually arrive in less than six weeks.

Finding material

There is no way a member of the church today can say that they cannot find enough material to fill twelve to fifteen minutes of time. There is so much available on the church web site that the real problem is in sifting through it all and in finding just the right content. I will usually review what I have on hand in my own files and personal library before turning to the church web site.

I then divide my talk up into main points. Because I am an old man with poor eyesight, I use an 18-point type so I can see it easily without effort. I know from experience that it takes me about two minutes to go through a page of 18-point type. So I only have to prepare six to eight pages. Your introduction and your conclusion take one page, leaving you only four to six to complete.

Again, I recommend you do not read your talk, but if you feel you must, try to just read the first paragraph on the top of each page. With practice you can read and look at the congregation at the same time. I know that sounds impossible, but trust me, it can be done. That’s why I use the 18-point type. By the time you finish the first paragraph you can explain it in your own words.

What not to do

Please never start your talk by saying that you don’t enjoy public speaking. Just launch right into it either with the quote, story, scripture or other material that you have selected to introduce the theme. Put yourself in the congregation and think about it. That shouldn’t be hard. You have heard enough talks over the years to know that apologizing is simply not a good way to start.

You can start by naming your theme or you can let the story, quote or scripture introduce it for you. There’s nothing that a congregation likes more than a confident delivery. That comes from knowing that you are prepared. The Lord has said that “if ye are prepared ye shall not fear.” It can be very disconcerting to stand in front of your ward members to speak, but should not be.

The secret is to remember that you are speaking to people who almost all believe as you do and are there because they love the Lord and want to be edified and uplifted. I know that’s why I go to church. So put your fears behind you through preparation and prayer. If you are terrified, tell that to the Lord, not to the congregation. The Lord who sees in secret will reward you openly.

Summary and conclusion

There are numerous books and articles available to members of the church with advice on how to give a talk when assigned. In my opinion, they could all be summarized with this one piece of advice – let the Lord guide you in your preparations. This is the Lord’s church and I know that he is willing to help you provide the living waters that the members of your ward want and need.

Thirty years of speaking in the church as a regular member, missionary, bishopric member and high councilor has helped me grow tremendously. Besides teaching a Sunday school class, there is nothing I enjoy more than speaking in church. I know, that may seem very strange to some. The reason I enjoy it so much is because the Lord edifies me as I prepare and when I speak.

In other words, this is just one more piece of evidence to me that this is the true church of Jesus Christ. Ministers and teachers in other churches can be inspired but there is just nothing like speaking or teaching under the influence of the Holy Ghost which the Lord promises to all those who join his church, and receive that gift by the laying on of hands by his authorized servants.

7 Responses

  1. You should turn this into a Ensign or New Era article. Talks in Church would improve 100%, if speakers took your advice.


  2. This is a classic!Do submit it to the Ensign.


  3. Another vote for submission – smileThis is Excellent!Thank you for taking the time to share!


  4. I generally agree with your ideas on talks. One thing that upsets me most is when people go way over their time limits. Several years ago when I was High Priests Group Leader, at Priesthood Meeting in Ward Conference the Elders Quorum President and I were each assigned 10 minutes, leaving the member of the stake presidency the remaining time. I had my talk timed to go exactly 10 minutes. The EQP took 19 minutes, and I read mine and cut out a minute or so, and the last speaker had 5 minutes. Last year I spoke in church and was told I had 20 minutes, and had it timed to within a few seconds either way; but, knowing what happens with many earlier speakers, I marked several paragraphs (with the their timings written out) so that when I knew how much I had to cut, I could quickly “x” out enough to correct for that–it turned out to be 7 minutes.When I give a talk, during preparation I read it out loud at least 10-12 times, checking rhythm, emphasis, timing, and making sure that my tongue can get around all of the words–it’s amazing how many hazardous words don’t show up until repetition 10, or later. I make sure the pages are in the right order and then staple them together. I print it with page numbers at the bottom of each page. While reading it I hold a finger on the page so I don’t lose my place when I look at the audience, which is most of the time.I was in the Tab Choir for 20 years and sat in the choir seats for more than 120 sessions of General Conference, so I saw the GAs all read their talks from a teleprompter. (They also have a rehearsal room, with a podium and teleprompter.) There were only two exceptions: LeGrand Richards, and Thomas Monson–who memorized all of his talks. I remember once when President Kimball misread a word, which changed the meaning of that sentence, and recognizing it immediately, he reworded the rest of the sentence so that it said what the sentence had intended.It’s said you shouldn’t read your talk, but you should let the Spirit guide you as you speak. For me, the best example is the GA approach that the Spirit not only helps you during the talk, but especially in your preparation, when adequate time is spent to get it done right. You don’t have to wait until the delivery for inspiration. You also stay within your allotted time limit and don’t rob someone else of their time. To each his own, whatever works, as long as it does.


  5. Dan – Amen to your added details. That’s so sad about speakers who do not respect the time constraints. I have see it over and over again. It is partly due to inexperience and nervousness, but almost always due to lack of preparation. You are so right – inspiration comes to me as both as I prepare and as I deliver. Thanks so much for adding to this essay. I appreciate the visit.


  6. Amen! Great post. Just to follow up on Dan’s comment: I had a speaking assignment last Sunday in our Spanish-speaking branch and had 3 minutes left by the time I began. The meeting had been a wonderful meeting, with a strong and amazing spirit, with all the talks given in fluent Spanish, and it was suggested quietly that my assignment be postponed a week so I could deliver the full talk I had prepared – especially since I would need a translator. However, I had been praying for inspiration throughout the meeting, and I had received a clear impression to write a verbatim paragraph that had not been part of my preparation. When it was suggested that the talk be delayed, I insisted on speaking anyway. The new 1st Counselor in the Branch Presidency accompanied me to the podium, and I instructed him quietly (whispered in his ear) to read a few underlined sentences from the Bible Dictionary then read the paragraph I had written during the meeting. (Obviously, translating them into Spanish.) I didn’t say a word n English to the congregation. At the end, I added one sentence in English, which I felt should come from me personally. He translated it, and I closed the talk. It took almost exactly three minutes – and I believe it was perfect for the meeting. Preparation is important, but inspiration is more important.


  7. Tim, I liked this little tutorial on giving a talk. Nothing makes me want to take my kid out to the foyer more than hearing, “When the Bishop called me this week,” or “I put off preparing for this talk until this morning,” or “I’m not very good at giving talks,” or “bear with me,” or any other kind of pre-talk talk about giving a talk. Just give the talk!…without the pre-talk monologue.


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