Because there is no paid clergy in the LDS church, lay members are assigned to speak in Sunday meetings. Typical Sunday services include a 70-minute Sacrament Meeting, which includes two or three 10-minute talks by members of the congregation.
An assignment to speak in Sacrament Meeting can be daunting, but the following tips will make it easier:
1. Prepare Well in Advance
The more time you spend working on your talk, the less nervous you will be when you give it. As D&C 38:30 says, “if ye are prepared ye shall not fear.”
Speaking assignments are usually given 1 to 2 weeks in advance. You might be tempted to procrastinate, but the earlier you prepare, the better. Preparing for a talk might sound unpleasant, but giving a talk when you are not prepared is much worse.
2. Identify the Purpose of your Talk
Start your preparation by identifying the goal of your talk. What are you trying to accomplish? Usually, the person assigning you a talk will give you a topic. Take that topic and identify a specific goal.
If you are assigned to speak about “developing faith in Jesus Christ,” potential goals include (1) helping your audience gain an appreciation of the importance of faith, (2) explaining how you have developed faith in Jesus Christ, or (3) encouraging listeners to take a specific step that will help them develop faith, such as committing to read the scriptures daily.
Once you have identified a single purpose, it will be much easier for you to decide what to say in your talk. Everything you say should help you achieve that purpose.
3. Follow a Logical Progression of Ideas
When writing your talk, start with the body. The conclusion and introduction will be added later. The body of your talk should be a logical progression of ideas that achieves your purpose.
If your purpose is to get people to read the scriptures in order to develop faith, you could divide your talk into the following logical progression: (1) what it means to have faith, (2) why having faith is important, and (3) how scripture study increases faith. You would then conclude by inviting your listeners to study the scriptures each day.
4. Use Reliable Sources for Authority
For each doctrinal point you make in the talk, cite to either the scriptures or a talk given by a church leader. This is easy to do because the scriptures, church magazines, and other sources can be searched on-line at lds.org.
5. Use Personal Experiences for Illustration
After making a point and citing authority for it, illustrate the application of the point by sharing a personal experience.
A personal experience can be a short comment about how you learned that a particular fact was true, or a full-length story from your life that makes the necessary point.
If your talk is ten minutes long, you will not have time to share many long stories. You will find, however, that telling a relevant story from your own life is the best way to capture your audience’s attention.
Any stories you share should be appropriate for a church setting and for listeners of all ages. Do not share disturbing stories of any kind. For example, a story of physical abuse might illustrate a Gospel principle (e.g., the importance of forgiveness), but is inappropriate because it will be upsetting to some listeners. Similarly, stories of past sins in your own life are inappropriate.
6. Be Positive
Throughout your talk, be positive. You might be assigned a negative-sounding topic (e.g., dealing with the death of a loved one), but you can find a way to make it uplifting.
You can be positive by: (1) offering solutions to problems, (2) using personal stories that are uplifting, and (3) avoiding cynicism and sarcasm.
7. Do Not Start By Lowering Expectations
Do not use your introduction to lower your audience’s expectations. Many speakers begin by explaining that they did not have sufficient time to prepare their remarks, by relating how they were asked to give the talk, or by focusing on their own insecurities as a speaker in some other way.
The purpose of such introductions is to lower the audience’s expectations and make the speaker more comfortable. Unfortunately, these sorts of introductions are tedious to listen to, and detract from the message of the talk.
Begin with a personal story that leads into the body of the talk. The first words out of your mouth might be something like: “Last Christmas I had an experience that taught me the true meaning of charity… [followed by a recounting of the experience].”
Or — better yet — you could begin without any preface: “Last December, a blizzard hit Montana. I was out there visiting my mother at the time… [followed by the rest of the story, which is related to your topic in some way].”
By jumping straight into a personal story you immediately grab your audience’s attention.
8. End by Stating Your Conclusion
The conclusion of your talk will explicitly affirm the purpose that you identified previously.
If the purpose of your talk was to inspire your audience to take some action, end by inviting them to take that action. You might also add your personal testimony that taking the action will be worthwhile.
If your purpose was simply to teach a Gospel principle, then end by testifying of the truthfulness of that principle.
9. End on Time
No matter how you conclude your talk, you absolutely must end on time. As soon as you start going past your allotted time, people in the audience will start getting fidgety and distracted. Even if you have to cut yourself short, end on time.
One way to allow flexibility in the length of your talk is to identify portions that are optional. For example, you could plan for a long concluding story, but then leave it out if you do not have enough time.
10. Have Fun!
Giving a talk can be enjoyable. If you are excited about your topic, the audience will sense your excitement and respond positively.
Speaking in Sacrament Meeting is a chance to serve others. If you make the most of this opportunity, you will feel the joy that comes from serving.