Have you ever seen someone fire up PowerPoint slides for their sacrament meeting talk? Me neither. This is because the format for sacrament meeting is inspired and PowerPoint (or any other visual aids) is not allowed. Count this as a huge blessing. Many may consider the lack of slides a challenge since they won’t have their “bullet points” to read.
My father recently shared with me THIS ARTICLE in the Church News. I found it ironic since I was in the midst of researching and writing this very post.
I found that article insightful. It has many good points that I agree with and other points I would debate. Nonetheless, I think more people need to educate themselves on how to effectively speak in sacrament meeting. It’s the most important meeting in all of the church and therefore it should be enjoyable to attend.
You are there to change them, not to teach them
If there is one mistake people make when preparing a sacrament meeting talk, it is trying to teach something rather than trying to change those that are listening. Trying to find that one quote that nobody has heard, or trying to explain the Hebrew translation of one passage of scriptures. This isn’t the point. Don’t get me wrong, I love doctrinal gymnastics as much as the next guy, but save it for a blog entry, or write a book about it. It has its place and it is important. But in a sacrament meeting you are putting the congregation to sleep.
A few years back I was hired by a company to travel North America and present to groups of people averaging 100-300 in attendance. I did this about 10-15 nights a month. I enjoyed the job (minus the travel) and really wanted to sharpen my public speaking skills. The book The Naked Presenter was recommended to me. Garr Reynolds, the author, approaches public speaker from a metaphorically nude standpoint. Meaning, when you present the best way to connect to the audience is not through great powerpoint slides, or cliché jokes, or even a perfect outline. It’s about just being you. The more real you are the more likely people listening will engage.
Verbatim is for General Conference, Not Sacrament Meeting
If you plan to simply type out each word and then read it verbatim over the lectern, why not just pass out a hard copy and I’ll read it on my own time? I am more likely to absorb the message by reading it than having you read it to me.
This is a tempting strategy for sacrament meeting talks. Many are beyond nervous about public speaking. And without a word-for-word crutch they just don’t see how it is possible. This is understandable, but it will fail to convey your message. With a bit of practice and further preparation anyone can speak from their heart and change the listener through the power of the spirit.
However, you can forget this guidance if you are ever asked to speak in General Conference. Between the mess of translation and timing, verbatim is the best option. Not all verbatim talks are bad. Isn’t that right, Elder Holland?
Focus on DOCTRINE not APPLICATION
In Elder Bednar’s book Increase in Learning, he explains a profound model for studying the scriptures which can also be applied to preparing a sacrament meeting talk as well. He explains that doctrines of the gospel lead to principles, which lead to applications. Many make the mistake of first focusing on applications or principles and leave out the doctrine all together. This seems to be the case with talks. You may have a great application story but without defining the doctrine first the story doesn’t help change the audience.
During your preparation, force yourself to define and focus on the doctrines present in the assigned topic and then focus on them. A good example of this is from, of course, Elder Bednar. In the 2013 April General Conference, there was much talk in society about the definition of marriage. He didn’t preach against same-sex marriage (application), nor did he pound the pulpit about homosexual rights (application). He simply spoke about the law of chastity (doctrine).
By focusing on the doctrine it changes the heart of man. How do I know this? President Packer said so:
True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior. Preoccupation with unworthy behavior can lead to unworthy behavior. That is why we stress so forcefully the study of the doctrines of the gospel.
Keep it personal by telling your own stories
When extending an invitation to speak, many bishoprics will have you reference a General Conference talk. Please know this doesn’t mean they want you to repackage the same talk. Within that talk are doctrines and principles that need to be referenced. Many General Conference talks have funny stories and include remarkable experiences that were very effective when used in that specific talk. However, don’t use them in yours.
The power of a story or experience is no more powerful than when it is told by the person who experienced it. Your story may not be as remarkable as other’s but share yours. It changed you personally, so we want to hear how.
Practice in the mirror–yes I’m serious
In the above mentioned talk it says, “For preparation time, a good measure is to take one hour per minute. For a 10-minute talk, plan on about 10 hours.” I couldn’t disagree more. For one thing, some bishoprics are lucky if they tell you three days in advance that you are speaking. And second, I think it’s a poor use of preparation time. Instead of preparing 1 hour for every 1 minute, I would suggest preparing 30 minutes for every minute and then use the remaining time to actually practice your remarks out loud, at least 5 times.
Speaking from the perspective of a bishop, this is a good suggestion because I can’t tell you how many times people THINK they prepare a 10 minute talk, when in reality they prepared a 20 minute talk. By practicing you will realize just how long your talk is. This will help you focus in on your topic and cut out the fluff.
Ok…I must admit. I don’t actually stand in front of a mirror when I do this. But I do practice it out loud and many times. This helps you understand how it all fits together, how it sounds, and any final tweaks. It’s one thing to draw a double-reverse pass on a chalkboard, but when it’s game time, it’s not quite as easy–without practice.
These are more practical suggestions that will help you deliver a powerful sacrament meeting talk. For more details on how to prepare your specific outline for a talk, most the points of the post Teaching With Engagement in Priesthood, Relief Society, & Gospel Doctrine apply as well.
What preparations steps do you take when preparing a sacrament meeting talk?