Giving a talk in sacrament meeting can be intimidating, especially if you’re trying to deliver something meaningful—or at least more original than:
“Good morning, brothers and sisters …”
“So, when Bishop called me the other day …”
“For those of you who don’t know me …”
“The Webster dictionary defines ‘faith’ as …”
*Insert joke about raising/lowering the podium based on the height of the speaker*
We’ve all been there—either as the person at the podium, wishing the microphone would malfunction so that we didn’t have to hear our own verbal patchwork of procrastination amplified for 10 to 15 minutes, or as the person in the congregation, settling into the elusive comforts of a 90-degree-angle church pew designed to keep us awake for said amount of time. It’s tough.
Whether or not you’re one of the lucky few who are comfortable with public speaking, the good news is: Any member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can be asked to give a talk, and most of us have, which means everyone listening is on your side. The congregation wants you to succeed!
So with that in mind, here are a few ways to make your sacrament meeting talk a good experience from podium to pew:
1. Incorporate a Relevant Story
Telling a story is one of the best ways to connect with your audience. It’s not just entertaining, it’s engaging. It gives listeners a chance to associate their own experiences with the principles being shared.
In teaching, the psychological concept behind this is called “apperception.” We are more likely to internalize new concepts if we can connect them to something we already know. That’s why Jesus taught so often using parables. Fishing and farming were familiar starting points, manageable metaphors that opened His disciples’ minds to profound eternal truths.
▶You may also like: What the parable of the sower can teach us about staying on the covenant path
Think of a story that relates to your assigned topic. It can be your own experience, a scene from a favorite book or movie, an account from your family history, or a story you’ve heard elsewhere. The key here is to keep it relevant. Sacrament meeting isn’t exactly open-mic story time, but stories are fantastic segues into gospel insights and doctrinal connections. If you’d like a blueprint, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s “Where Justice, Love, and Mercy Meet” is a masterful example of how this is done.
2. Ditch the Book Report
You may be wondering why you’ve been asked to speak on your assigned topic. Perhaps you don’t feel like an expert on “faith” or “repentance,” let alone a good enough example to be imparting wisdom to your entire ward or branch. But your personal experiences with the gospel of Jesus Christ are just that: yours. You have unique thoughts to share.
It’s all too easy to receive your assigned topic, collect a list of favorite quotes and scriptures, and regurgitate a book report–style version of a general conference talk. (Let’s have a little grace for the youth speakers here, because honestly, that’s exactly how many of us were taught to deliver our first talks.) While a secondhand review of prophetic teachings is always helpful, it’s not always impactful. The application is what makes it impactful.
Primary children are aces at this. The other week, one of my sister-in-law’s Primary students shared her testimony: She’s scared of the dark, but when she prays, she feels better and can fall asleep. That’s how she knows Jesus loves her. Sure, a scripture verse could emphasize the same principle, but personal perspective drives the point home. (Being an adorable five-year-old also helps.)
3. Branch Out
Sacrament meeting talks are often based on scripture references, quotes from prophets, and excerpts from general conference talks. It’s critical to keep sacrament meeting content centered on restored truth, so absolutely let these be your starting points. Then, to expand on their meaning, you can also integrate appropriate secular sources.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson provides excellent examples of how to use a variety of resources to convey the depth and importance of a single concept. When discussing the role of the gospel of Jesus Christ in developing sustainable societies, he referenced scriptures alongside sources like the Wall Street Journal, international scientific studies, and United Nations reports. Providing the congregation with multiple lenses of perspective gives the topic new dimension.
When I was younger, I invited my best friend to church. She wasn’t comfortable wearing a Sunday dress or singing hymns, but she perked up when, later in the meeting, the speaker used a quote from the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland in his talk about agency. Hearing a reference to one of her favorite stories made the gospel more approachable and interesting.
4. Keep It Simple
You might consider not writing your talk out word for word.
I know—I know. Don’t panic. Just try this:
- Jot down notes as you study and pray about your topic.
- Make a short list of scriptures, stories, and thoughts to share.
- Organize your ideas into a general framework.
- Give the Spirit some space to guide you on what to emphasize.
- Keep it simple, like a conversation with a friend.
5. Pace Yourself
If you do prefer to write your talk out, go for it! Just make sure you pace yourself while reading it. Give yourself room for natural inflection. Pause occasionally. Take your time.
People are indeed going to be on the edges of their seats, but probably because they’re waiting for you to gasp for air.
Of course, this example is hyperbolic, but it’s not far off from talks that some of us have given when we’ve been too nervous to remedy the monotony. For ideal delivery, practice reading your talk aloud beforehand. (Unfortunately, this does imply that you depart from unspoken talk-giving tradition and prepare your talk well before Saturday night.) If you want a great example of verbal pacing, watch any talk by Reyna I. Aburto. She’s fantastic at pulling listeners into the message simply by taking her time as she speaks.
6. “Always Remember” the Savior
Above all else, sacrament meeting is about the Savior. A Hinckley-esque dash of humor can be delightful, but you don’t have to be funny. A profound, Holland-ized story can be riveting, but you don’t have to be eloquent. No amount of humor or eloquence can give a sacrament meeting talk the same uplifting focus as an authentic testimony. Just talk about what you believe and why you’ve come to believe it.
While you prepare your talk, take comfort in the fact that you will not be the main feature of the hour; your talk will be overshadowed, rightfully so, by the chance to renew covenants. Sacrament meeting is our weekly opportunity to change, become better, and remember the “why” behind all our trying.
As Jesus taught the Nephites, “And this shall ye always do … in remembrance of my blood, which I have shed for you, that ye may witness unto the Father that ye do always remember me. And if ye do always remember me ye shall have my Spirit to be with you.”
The “always” promise includes moments when you feel you need all the help you can get—moments like standing behind a microphone or kneeling beside your bed. If your talk conveys anything resemblant to that sentiment, you’re golden.
Now, if you’re like most talk givers and are reading this on a Saturday night: