Chances are, if you’re a Latter-day Saint, you’ve had this happen to you before: it’s a Tuesday night like any other. Our family has just finished dinner, and we’re clearing the table when the phone rings. It’s the bishop. The conversation lasts less than two minutes, but the worry we feel coming away from that phone call will haunt us for the next week: we’ve been asked to give a talk in sacrament meeting.
We prepare as best we can, prayerfully researching everywhere on the topic we’ve been given, from the Bible Dictionary to conference talks to even just Google. But when the moment comes to stand up in front of our fellow ward members, including family and friends, we freeze up. We don’t know what to do to get this carefully prepared talk rolling. What do we say?
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As most of us can attest, it’s likely we’ll fall back on one (or more) of these almost infamous talk starters:
1. The "you don’t know me."
This opener usually goes like this: “For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Brother Brown and I’ve lived in this ward for 40 years."
2. The "I don’t want to be up here."
This starter entails admitting we didn’t want to give a talk in the first place, usually by saying something like, “When the Bishop called me, I have to admit, I didn’t want to say yes.”
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3. The "this is for me, not you."
Talks that open with this usually start: “While I was writing my talk, I learned so much. I think it’s more for me than for you.”
4. The topic-teller.
We just come right out and say it:“Today I’ve been asked to speak on faith.”
5. The definer.
Who hasn’t done this? “The dictionary defines faith as…”
None of these is bad; speaking in sacrament meeting is difficult enough as it is without us judging one another! But the opening of a talk sets the tone for the rest of what you're going to say. Help your listeners stay engaged—and feel like a talk-giving pro—by trying one of these talk-starter alternatives:
1. Share a personal story.
This is a wonderful way to engage the audience—who doesn’t like a good story? Talk about a time you had an experience with the topic you’ve been assigned. Explain how you gained your testimony of this principle. If you don’t have a story of your own, you can also share one of a close friend or family member (but ask permission first!). Bonus: this is a great way to engage younger listeners as well as adults.
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2. Tell a relevant joke or humorous story.
Jokes and the like should be used carefully in talks (sacrament is a sacred meeting), but using humor is okay, as long as it doesn’t distract from the doctrine. A short (and relevant!) anecdote really helps break the ice. President Monson is a great example of this; he tells amazing stories—even during general conference talks—which have light-hearted moments of laughter, but also a moral to learn from.
3. Start with a powerful quote.
It doesn’t matter if this is from a conference talk, a scripture, or even pop culture. If you’re struggling with how to best put your subject, look for someone else who’s talked about it, too, and said something profound. Short, catchy phrases are easy to remember, and a good quote can really help people focus on the subject at hand throughout the rest of your discourse.
4. Share an allegory or object lesson.
The Great Teacher Himself taught by sharing allegorical stories. Borrow a story from the Bible if you topic permits; search online or ask around for other more modern examples of object lessons that can help make your talk interesting and memorable straight out of the gate. (Elder Bednar is particularly good at sharing parables—study his talks for awesome examples, or check out Object Lessons Made Easy from Deseret Book.)
5. Comment on the meeting.
This is a good final fallback if you’re too nervous to start with any of the above ideas. (This is something you’ll also hear happen at conference from time to time, so there’s no shame here!) It’s always nice to hear sincere appreciation expressed. Thank the chorister and organist for the music. Mention something you learned from previous speakers. Even just share how glad you are to be in this ward.
Speaking in sacrament is almost no one’s favorite assignment—but the Lord can use you like Moses or Enoch to inspire others. Regardless of how you start your talk, it’s most important that you trust in the Spirit as you deliver your message. It will speak to the hearts of those listening and make weak things become strong unto you.
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