How Do Apostles Prepare Their Conference Talks?

Inspired by an article from Mormon Channel.

When the prophets, apostles, and leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints congregate every six months to speak to the world, members and nonmembers are invited to tune in and hear their inspired counsel. With so many ears to hear, hearts to listen, and minds to enlighten, Church leaders turn to the Spirit for revelation regarding their topics.

In 2011, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland described the process of choosing, preparing, and sharing topics in general conference.

"Perhaps you already know (but if you don't you should) that with rare exception, no man or woman who speaks here is assigned a topic. Each is to fast and pray, study and seek, start and stop and start again until he or she is confident that for this conference, at this time, his or hers is the topic the Lord wishes that speaker to present regardless of personal wishes or private preferences. Every man and woman you have heard during the past 10 hours of general conference has tried to be true to that prompting. Each has wept, worried, and earnestly sought the Lord’s direction to guide his or her thoughts and expression."

For those congregated in the Conference Center, church buildings, or homes, we may easily forget the experience from the other side of the pulpit. Most viewers don't see how much effort goes into even one conference talk or the pressure of speaking as the Lord would speak.

In a discussion with Sheri Dew on the Mormon Channel in March 2016, Elder Dallin H. Oaks described the feeling of responsibility he experiences in speaking as a prophet, seer, and revelator for the Lord.

"[It's] an immense responsibility," Elder Oaks told the Mormon Channel. "It’s probably the single greatest worry that I have, because I know that there are many people out there who take so very seriously the things that I say, and I've just got to be 100 percent sure that what I'm saying is what the Lord wants me to say. And that's a very, very heavy burden. I approach that, in the case of general conference talks, by just praying fervently that I will know what I'm supposed to speak about at the next conference."

Elder Oaks continued, describing the preparation process for a single general conference address.

"I begin that process six months in advance, and usually by two to four months ahead of the April or October conference, I know the subject I'm supposed to speak about. It's indelibly impressed upon my mind, and then I have that confirmed because thoughts begin to flow on that subject—sources come to my attention . . . sometimes I receive a letter from a member that gives me an important insight on the subject—and then I begin writing drafts."

Referring to himself as "a compulsive editor of everything that comes under [his] eyes," he writes an average of 12 drafts per conference talk. "I've never given a talk in general conference where I had less than eight distinct drafts, . . . and I've had as many as 15 when I was speaking on an extraordinarily difficult subject. And that takes, of course, a couple of months, and a very good, patient secretary."

In his drafting process, he reads his talk to his wife, Kristen, and shares it with other General Authorities to get other points of view. He said, "[Inevitably] they will say, 'You've said this, but you might be understood as saying that. Don't you think you better clarify?' . . . I get good help along the way."

Elder Oaks and Elder Holland were not the only Church leaders to refer to the long, intense process of preparing a message for general conference.

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In the October 2013 General Conference, Elder Robert D. Hales said the following about choosing relevant topics:

"These conferences are always under the direction of the Lord, guided by His Spirit. We are not assigned specific topics. Over weeks and months, often through sleepless nights, we wait upon the Lord. Through fasting, praying, studying, and pondering, we learn the message that He wants us to give.
"Some might ask, 'Why doesn’t the inspiration come more easily and quickly?' The Lord taught Oliver Cowdery, 'You must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right.' Conference messages come to us after prayerful preparation, through the Holy Ghost."

In the April 2016 General Conference, President Henry B. Eyring said, "The music, the talks, and the testimonies have been prepared by servants of God who have sought diligently for the Holy Ghost to guide them in their preparation. They have prayed longer and more humbly as the days of the conference have approached."

The scriptures also describe the spiritual process of determining topics to share in meetings. In Doctrine and Covenants 46:2, the Lord says, "[It] always has been given to the elders of my church from the beginning, and ever shall be, to conduct all meetings as they are directed and guided by the Holy Spirit."

Whichever topic the prophets, apostles, and Church leaders prepare and address over the pulpit, Elder Holland shared their first and most important responsibility:

"We testify to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people that God not only lives but also that He speaks. . . . [For] our time and in our day the counsel you have heard is, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, 'the will of the Lord, . . . the word of the Lord, . . . the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.'"

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