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.