When I was called to teach in Relief Society, I didn't realize that preparing church lessons would drastically change how I prepare my Sacrament meeting talks.
Giving talks in Sacrament has always been stressful for me—like it is for most people. Usually, I write out the entire talk and just read it to the congregation, because a great public speaker I am not. However, this past year I did discover that I'm a halfway decent Relief Society teacher (a calling I've always wanted to try and indeed do love). I've also discovered that preparing lessons and teaching have fundamentally altered how I prepare Sacrament talks in several simple but powerful ways that I feel have made me a more engaging Sacrament speaker:
Disclaimer: There are a lot of great ways to prepare talks—do what works for your. These are just a few things I've found that have helped me get better at speaking naturally and following the impressions of the Spirit.
Ask more questions.
One of my favorite parts of teaching is being able to hold a discussion based around carefully thought-out questions that prompt my Relief Society sisters to think. Talks aren't nearly so interactive as a lesson, but the practice of thinking about questions has drastically improved the quality of my talks, too. I find the questions I craft while preparing a lesson help me explore more material and make connections that I might not otherwise have made. Asking yourself questions about the materials and pondering on the answers has deepened the connections I make between gospel principles on the subject at hand.
Come back to it.
As I prepare to teach a lesson, I plan time to read through the materials at least three times. The first is just to familiarize myself with the subject and basic information in the manual. The second is to read more into the reference materials. The third is to start piecing together the quotes I like and make an outline of the points from each that I'd like to use.
I suppose I could do these steps all in one sitting, but giving myself time to think in between sittings—even just an hour or two—lets my mind come back to the material fresh and often with additional ideas and a new perspective on what I've already gone over.
Begin with a beginning.
As I prepare my lessons, I always look for a question or activity that will help introduce the topic gracefully. This helps ease my RS sisters into the lesson portion of our meeting and I feel helps the lesson actually get started faster because my students are more ready to listen and participate.
As with lessons, there are some ways not to start a sacrament talk—and a few really great go-to methods that help make the beginning a bit easier to get through and prepare your audience to listen. Starting with a plan to smoothly get things going makes a big difference in the overall tone of your time to speak.
Become friends with silence.
One mistake I was counseled to avoid when I started teaching was feeling as though every moment of class time had to have noise. Teachers often panic when they ask a question and the first five seconds after it's asked yield no immediate results. Give the Spirit time to work.
Since I've made friends with quiet, the pauses I experience while giving a talk aren't nearly so scary. They aren't as long as you feel they are, and it's not on you if someone gets distracted by the length of a pause.
(Fun fact about me: I once wrote a talk the same word-length as a 15-minute general conference address and gave the whole thing in half the time! The difference in delivery time came in large part because I don't pause enough when I speak. Listen for how powerful a pause can be the next time you hear a general authority speak.)
Leave room for the Spirit.
This is by far the biggest change I've made to my talk-giving preparations since becoming a teacher.
When I've given talks in the past, I would inevitably write out every single word of it for fear of running out of material early or getting tongue-tied in front of the congregation (a very real problem, even with everything written out). This is a great strategy that has worked for me in the past, but I found that I prepare my lessons differently: I write an outline, copy out powerful quotes or scriptures that support my points, and then go with the flow.
Doing the same for a talk can be scary, but I've found that speaking from an outline makes you sound more natural and engaging than reading from a pre-written script. This has helped my lessons and my talks to breathe and grow depending on which direction the Spirit guides me in the moment.
What talk tips do you have for novice or veteran Sacrament meeting speakers?