Reader Voices: How to open a church talk

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  • cambodia girl Phnom Penh, Cambodia
    Jan. 4, 2012 4:25 p.m.

    I agree with Brenden, If you treat your talk like you are giving a lesson in primary I think the message of the subject will be understood by most listening.

    The one thing I have learned by living in Cambodia, is that the Khmer saints never use a written out talk. They get up and speak from their hearts. I used to get up with everything printed out and worried if I would miss something that I had written down. Now I study the assigned topic and basically give a talk on what I know and understand about it. It has given my testimony a boost and I am trying to rely more on the Spirit than what I wrote.

    I have to admit that sometimes when I finish I cannot remember what I said, or why I said a particular thing. Hopefully the congregation will excuse me if it is not something they needed to hear.

  • Brenden Aiken, SC
    Jan. 4, 2012 11:26 a.m.

    An invitation to give a talk is an invitation to teach, not just fill out a meeting agenda or entertain. True, you want it to be as engaging as possible, so stories and jokes that help illustrate the point are great, but inserting them just as filler is counter productive. People who get up and filibuster half of their time on how they were asked to speak, when they last spoke, their feelings about it, what resources they looked in to prepare, etc are just telling me that they have nothing to tell me, and have put in minimal thought on their topic. Speakers who are really prepared seldom have enough time to deliver all their material, and must judiciously select which points they share, hopefully with the result that those who listen will want to learn more and go do some study & learning on their own.

  • Bill in Nebraska Maryville, MO
    Jan. 4, 2012 12:55 a.m.

    Texas Mormon: Maybe your friend didn't get anything out of it but others may have. There have been things taught on how to open a talk but it is still difficult for anyone to stand in front of a group of people and talk. There is nervousness and other things that keep people from being a good speaker.

    Again it is the attitude one takes to the meeting. Until one sits down and takes notes on the talks themselves or listens to them, only then do they actually learn anything. In fact, I don't even tell what my talk is about until I'm over half way through it. However, I can also give a talk in five minutes or take as long as necessary to give the same information. That is a God given talent to me. Others don't have that capability. You must see past the speakers weakness before you can gather in what they are saying. I have given bad talks and good ones. So what, it really is dependent upon the Holy Ghost.

    It is true that ranting about why you don't want to speak ruins the Spirit but it is just as easy to get back.

  • HarryL Sacramento, CA
    Jan. 3, 2012 2:25 p.m.

    During the later part of the 1970's I was ward historical clerk, which meant recording minutes of meetings which were later archived in Salt Lake. Before that calling I, like many I suppose, was prone to find some tendency to make valuations on the talks that I heard-- good, bad, great, boring, etc. This calling, however, required me to listen to the talks so I could record the most important points and in a way dispose of my predisposition to judge, and so on.

    I came away from that calling (still believing today) that there is no such thing as a lousy talk. I think there are some speakers who by their tone, preparation, and enthusiasm engage listeners 'better' than others, but I firmly believe that if we listen expectantly we will find something important in any talk that will help us with various aspects of our lives.

  • Texas Mormon SAN ANTONIO, TX
    Jan. 3, 2012 12:21 p.m.

    Bill here's the problem: The opening of a talk sets the tone for the rest of what you're going to say. Yes, you can recover later in the talk & those who have shown up willing and prepared to hang in there will do so. But why place a roadblock at the very beginning of your talk, inviting people to not listen? Why invite your listeners to not listen to you, which is what you do when you open a talk complaining about having to give the talk?

    This became clear to me when I invited a non-LDS friend to a meeting and the main speaker went on about how she didn't want to speak. My friend got nothing from the meeting and commented, "Wow. That was awkward." I think if the speaker had known that that was how her talk would be received, she would have liked a "do-over" and would have changed how she opened it. I think it's really important for people to understand how to open a talk. As w/ anything, you only get one chance to make a first impression.

  • Raeann Peck Salt Lake City, UT
    Jan. 3, 2012 12:39 a.m.

    One of the sweetest experiences I've had giving a talk came at a stake conference meeting. I'd worked hard to prepare for weeks. There were many pages of notes that finally were whittled down to what felt like a very nice talk. As I took a last minute shower, the clear, absolute knowledge came into my mind that I was to leave my written talk home, and that I would be directed in what God desired. I was nervous, and new to church activity, but willingly trusted that inspiration. As I stood to talk, I was guided moment by moment, and knew the companionable presence of the Lord's Spirit in a talk I could never have prepared, myself. God knew my desires and willing heart, and gave me more.

  • IQ92 hi, UT
    Jan. 2, 2012 9:47 p.m.

    Prof. Nielsen of the Brigham Young Academy wrote in Church and Public Speaking, 1896 (I recall): "We take it as a sign of the true church that people continue to attend in spite of the poor public speaking."

    I know in one Stake that High Councilor speeches are rated by the Bishop. Better speakers speak more often; administrative types are given more administrative assignments. Now that's active inspiration!

  • dotp POTEAU, OK
    Jan. 2, 2012 3:15 p.m.

    One of the reasons things seem to be trite in a talk is that we've heard it over and over and over again -- and we're STILL not doing it (whatever IT happens to be). I'm always a little nervous when giving a talk in Sacrament meeting because when you are at the pulpit you represent Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ so I want to do my absolute best for them. I use different openings for different subjects. I've also found it very helpful to STUDY the subject as thoroughly as possible so that I feel comfortable about the subject. Often the speaker ahead of me has also used similar information to some extent, so there are last minute things I can cut out of my talk -- unless of course I'm going first. Whichever way it is, I try to keep it interesting, informative, and pertinent to the subject. Whoever is giving a talk needs our full attention because there may be something they say that may be just for YOU to hear. It has happened to me many times. Do your best and enjoy the companionship of the Holy Spirit because He will be there.

  • bobbob1 West Jordan, Utah
    Jan. 2, 2012 1:34 p.m.

    Please don't ignore the opening or pass it off as unimportant. If you can create and memorize an opening it gets you past the "jitters". A simple story is a good way to start-off with someting you know. Elder Scott taught us that the most important of any Gospel dialogue is listening to more to what the spirit says - rather than what the speaker says. If one is bored with trite comments... I suggest that rather then close your eyes and sleep you pray for the spirit of revelation to bless you AND be thankful for the struggling speaker - for he/she is trying to magify their calling. If they are doing the best THEY can, shouldn't WE do the best WE can and susatain them? Hope so.
    Been on both sides.

  • Bill in Nebraska Maryville, MO
    Jan. 2, 2012 12:46 p.m.

    The only way to find a talk, any talk boring, insipid and trite is the attitude you bring to the meeting. It is all attitude. Sure is pretty petty when we hear almost without exception how the individual was cornered by the Bishopric of the Stake President or others. If you are paying that close attention to those words and fail to understand the rest of the talk then you have missed out more than the individual who is speaking.

    Generally most of those who have spoken a lot will begin differently than those who speak very little. I have my own way of beginning a talk and it is different each time. I just go with what I feel is important for the congregation. However, I take more information from the speakers than others. I know many in the congregation could probably say it better than those chosen to speak. However, over the years I have seen where those chosen to speak have learned more than those who are listening. That is what it is supposed to be like. It is the enlighten and uplift the congregation. It shouldn't matter how it is said but what is said.

  • m.g. scott LAYTON, UT
    Jan. 2, 2012 10:12 a.m.

    Just review how General Authorities open their talks at Conference. You certainly don't hear them say something like when President...... asked me to speak.... Be positive, like it's a privilege or honor to speak to you today. Texas Mormon is right, if you hate the talk and don't want to be there giving it, then we don't want to listen. I always try to find some interesting anecdote or story, news story, or some thing that applies to the talk and open with it or put it near the beginning. That has the ablility to capture the attention of the people. Notice how often the General Authorities use personal experiences in their life to make important points. Many will go back to missionary experiences of decades ago. President Monson still has stories about his time as a 23 year old Bishop. Most listeners respond to these personal things because they know they will hear something funny or interesting.

  • Gregg Weber SEATTLE, WA
    Jan. 1, 2012 11:39 p.m.

    The more time one spends on the opening, the less time available for the subject. How many times have you seen a speaker, or teacher look at the clock, ruffle some papers to get to the end, say something quickly and then end with "Amen"? Many times.
    After receiving a red light some time ago I doubt that I'll be given a chance to use one method I heard about.
    I will say this.
    I am saying this.
    I have said this.
    Therefore the message isn't among the papers shuffled aside. And with additions and different viewpoints to keep interest up during the 3 steps hopefully interest can be kept up and yawning down.
    This is better than reading the alphabet, spending much time on A to G, seeing the clock, quickly go through to O, looking at the clock, skipping to T and zooming through to Y. Forgetting the important Z that tied it all up.

  • Texas Mormon SAN ANTONIO, TX
    Jan. 1, 2012 5:21 p.m.

    I think the worst way to open a talk is to spend several minutes telling everyone how much you don't want to be giving a talk or how you tried to dodge the Bishopric, etc. I get it--you don't like public speaking. However by expressing that sentiment you basically cause us to lose interest in what you're saying due to the fact that you've told us how disinterested you are.

  • DonO Draper, UT
    Jan. 1, 2012 3:43 p.m.

    I hope the author is kidding about starting with a dictionary definition; that's as moth-eaten and as much of a tune-out as "When the bishop asked me to speak..." The best start is just to start, with perhaps a "good morning/afternoon" thrown in.

  • junkgeek Agua Dulce, TX
    Jan. 1, 2012 8:57 a.m.

    I open my talk with an anecdote about the topic itself. Methods of preparation, conversations with bishoprics are never mentioned.

    I also write my talks out completely and then at the pulpit, I feel a bit more ready to deviate from a section if I feel the need. (And I videorecord every church talk so that I can review my delivery for future benefit. No one knows I do this and they'd never find the camera anyway...)

  • Commonman HENDERSON, NV
    Jan. 1, 2012 8:40 a.m.

    I'm with your Dad. If you start with any of those other ways I'm going to have to resort to Henry Eyring Sr.'s tactic of giving myself a talk, on your chosen topic, in my head. As he said, "I've never heard a dull speaker." (paraphrased)