So you’ve just been asked to speak in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and you’re feeling a little overwhelmed. Perhaps you’ve been given a topic, a general conference talk, or was told you could speak on what you wanted. It can be intimating to speak in Church. It can be especially difficult if you’re struggling with anxiety or if it’s your first talk in Church. I remember giving a talk once that my legs were shaking so bad that my knee kept hitting the pulpit in front of me.
It’s not your talk – It’s Gods.
There’s a few things to keep in mind as you prepare. First, remember you’re not in charge. All meetings are to be “directed and guided by the Holy Spirit” (D&C 46:2) If you prepare and pray in faith, it won’t be your talk it will be God’s. You’ll speak the words that will be given to you. “And the Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach” (Doctrine and Covenants 42:14). So there’s not some magic formula or series of steps to prepare for your talk. However, there are gospel principles you can follow that will allow you to be guided by the spirit in both the preparation and giving your talk. Here are some suggestions that will help you prepare to give your talk.
Tell YOUR Story
Don’t give a book report on the topic you’re assigned. Teach the gospel as you understand it. Bear your testimony. Tell your story.
Consider this story told by Elder Oaks in a General Conference Session.
Two men formed a partnership. They built a small shed beside a busy road. They obtained a truck and drove it to a farmer’s field, where they purchased a truckload of melons for a dollar a melon. They drove the loaded truck to their shed by the road, where they sold their melons for a dollar a melon. They drove back to the farmer’s field and bought another truckload of melons for a dollar a melon. Transporting them to the roadside, they again sold them for a dollar a melon. As they drove back toward the farmer’s field to get another load, one partner said to the other, “We’re not making much money on this business, are we?” “No, we’re not,” his partner replied. “Do you think we need a bigger truck?”“April 2001 General Conference “Focus and Priorities”
If you simply give people the sparks notes version of your topic- or give a book report style talk, you’re purchasing a melon for a dollar and selling it for a dollar. You don’t need a bigger truckload of information, either. Like the two partners in the story, your biggest need is a clearer focus on how you should value and use what you already have. How can you teach and bear testimony on the topic as you understand it?
Teach People who you are, not what you know.
I heard this phrase in the mission field and it as always stuck with me, Teach people who you are, not what you know. Tell YOUR story. That’s how you end up being spiritually profiable, you apply the gospel to your life and share that experience. That buying a “melon” and getting greater value out of it. Your talk will only be as good as your personal testimony of the subject. So if you want to improve your talk, improve your testimony on the topic. Pray for it, live it, and internalize the topic.
The Lord has called you to speak on that topic in Church, not some robot member. Your personality affects your ability to give that talk. Make sure you get a testimony of that topic and then share that experience in you talk.
Elder Holland taught that “The size of your faith or the degree of your knowledge is not the issue—it is the integrity you demonstrate toward the faith you do have and the truth you already know…I am not asking you to pretend to faith you do not have. I am asking you to be true to the faith you do have.” (“Lord, I Believe”)
Don’t think you need some grand strong “I know” testimony either. Sometimes the most touching testimonies are from those who don’t fully know yet, but simply and honestly believe. This story also comes from Elder Hollands Talk.
“A 14-year-old boy recently said to me a little hesitantly, “Brother Holland, I can’t say yet that I know the Church is true, but I believe it is.” I hugged that boy until his eyes bulged out. I told him with all the fervor of my soul that belief is a precious word, an even more precious act, and he need never apologize for “only believing.” I told him that Christ Himself said, “Be not afraid, only believe,”12 a phrase which, by the way, carried young Gordon B. Hinckley into the mission field.13 I told this boy that belief was always the first step toward conviction and that the definitive articles of our collective faith forcefully reiterate the phrase “We believe.”14And I told him how very proud I was of him for the honesty of his quest. ” (Lord, I Believe)
2 Have a Bulleted Outline
Do not read your talk. If you need to get all your thoughts out on paper, go for it. Write out your whole talk. But then get a new paper write down the key bullet points you want to speak on. A simple outline. What’s your opening sentence? Then what do you share? What scriptures go where?
Having just an outline will keep you from staring down at your paper (or worse- your phone) while you give your talk. You’ll be forced to know the matter on what your speaking on. You’ll give your talk in your own words and will allow the spirit to speak through you. So write down just a few bullet points to take with you. Ideally these are just phrases of the different sections of your talk. So if you need to remember what you wanted to say next in your talk, you can glance down and go to the next section.
You may find it helpful to write down the full scripture or phrase your wish to quote in your talk. That way you don’t have to go to that scripture during your talk, you can just read the quote. This is an exception to the rule. It’s fine to look down while quoting a scripture or a phrase. But everything else, try to use your own words and have just bullet points for what you wish to speak on.
3 Practice! Practice! Practice!
I had this amazing piano teacher when I was younger that was a sweet grandmother like woman in my ward. She use to end each piano lesson with “Practice! Practice! Practice!” You could count on her saying those words every time. She sometimes threatened that if I didn’t practice she would cry all night and ruin her pillow and I would be responsible to get her a new one.
The more you practice your talk, the easier it will become. Ideally you should practice giving it to someone else, like a family member or friend. If you’re too embarrassed to, start by practicing with yourself out loud. Film yourself on your phone and then watch it. Practice in the mirror. The more practice you have, the better you’ll get at giving your talk.
Adjust the talk as you practice. If something doesn’t feel right, change it. If you don’t like how it flows, change it. Make revisions as you practice. When you practice with others, ask for their feedback. Their positive feedback will encourage you. Their negative feedback will be good for you and you’ll grow from it. Take all the feedback, draft another outline and plan for your talk and try again.
4 Take the appropriate amount of time
Don’t go over. If you’re given a certain amount of time to speak, stay within that time. Don’t go too far under either. Having an outline will help. You can determine what sections can be skipped if you need to. You can also add “bonus” sections if you’ve given your whole 5 min talk in 1 min. If you prepare extra sections, you’ll feel more confidence that you can fill the time needed.
5 Have a Prayer Journal
Your talk should be directed by the spirit. As your preparing, take time each night to pray about your talk. Write down thoughts that come to you. Show the Lord your outline and ask for His help. You can even practice your talk with the Lord. As you do, I promise He’ll speak to you and you’ll be given inspiration for your talk.
I know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lord’s Church and Kingdom on the earth. I know this fully. When you are asked to speak, I know the Lord will help you. It is His Church. It is His Meeting. It is His Talk. And You are also His. He wants to help you more than you can imagine. Reach out to Him and He will reach out to you.
Best of luck on your upcoming church talk!