When members of the LDS Church are asked to speak in sacrament meeting, they are usually provided with a topic and a timeframe. In general, the best talks teach the speaker, as well as the congregation, at least one concrete way he or she can better live the gospel. These talks are interesting and inspirational.
To help make talks better, here are five tips:
1. Do not begin a talk with the story of receiving the assignment, which usually always includes the telephone call, the assignment, the nerves and the playful jab at the bishopric, which is followed by a polite laugh from the congregation. Don't do it.
It is really not very interesting or original. Resist the temptation. The general authorities of the LDS Church don't do it in general conference, so learn from their good example.
2. Do not spend too much time introducing yourself. Sometimes, it isn't necessary at all. If the bishopric has asked you to introduce the family, of course a brief introduction is appropriate.
Be careful to not go into too much detail about how you and your spouse met or other details that are better shared in a social setting. For example, the fact that you and your wife met at your cousin's farewell in Moab in 1998 holds nominal value for the congregation, and the congregation will learn more about you as you share your research and insights into a gospel principle.
3. There is no need to justify the topic. Sometimes speakers feel the need to preface talks with a disclaimer, saying they are not qualified to address the topic authoritatively or that they did not choose the subject. The congregation knows the speakers were assigned the topic. A disclaimer is not necessary.
4. Use humor sparingly, if at all. Public speakers often use a humorous anecdote to begin their addresses. Something about a congregational chuckle can give confidence to the speaker and pique interest in the address. Good things, right? Also, President Gordon B. Hinckley was always good for one-liner, and President Thomas S. Monson has thousands of stories that make everyone smile.
At times humor can be appropriate, but be careful; it's sacrament meeting, not stand-up comedy. Sometimes speakers find the congregational chuckle intoxicating, and the talks can take on a tone that is either sarcastic or witty, but certainly irreverent as they are seeking the next chuckle.
5. Teach something, don't just speak on a subject. While preparing, ask yourself the following questions: What is the "take-away" here? What is the lesson I am teaching?
For example, rather than simply listing activities that everyone should and shouldn't do on Sunday, make it a goal to teach what the Sabbath is, how listeners can more fully keep it holy and how it will be a blessing. How will your talk enrich their lives? What are some practical ideas that have worked in your home to help keep the Sabbath holy? Give the audience something to take home.
These tips aren't designed to supersede following the Spirit. You may not know what the congregation needs to hear, but the Spirit does. Pray for guidance during preparation and delivery. This is not just a trite little saying; it really works. The Spirit will impress upon your mind the points that need to be emphasized, the lessons that need to be taught and sometimes even the words that should be used.
Speaking in sacrament meeting is a sacred responsibility. Usually there are at least several hundred people listening. Don't do the congregation the disservice of stretching four minutes of doctrine more than 10 minutes. If you are assigned 10 minutes, plan to use each moment teaching and testifying. Use these tips to streamline your talk and sharpen your thoughts, thereby blessing your fellow ward members.
David Hixon is a father of four and lives in Frisco, Texas.