“Ten Tips for Terrific Talks,” Ensign, Dec. 1993, 62–63
Debbie’s turn to speak in sacrament meeting had come. As the youth speaker, she walked to the pulpit, arranged her books and papers, and literally proceeded to faint.
There are countless ways to approach a speaking assignment. Reactions like Debbie’s can be prevented if speakers will overcome most of their fear before standing up to speak. Here are some ideas to help you prepare and deliver your message better.
Prepare. The most important preparation comes from the Spirit, and prayer especially should have a high priority. Remember that sacrament meeting talks should center on Christ and gospel-related topics. In regular, daily prayers you can ask for help with your talk.
Brainstorm. Review all the ideas that have surfaced during your few days of carrying the subject around in your head. You might have jotted down story titles or descriptions, bits of quotes or scriptures you have remembered, personal experiences, examples, key questions, articles, poems, or hymns.
Let ideas incubate. If you have several weeks to prepare, ponder the subject for a few days. As you drive, jog, or walk, consider how your topic can be made relevant to Church members. Sift through your memory for ideas and record them, even if briefly, when they come to mind.
Research. Continue gathering material for your subject by using indexes, the scriptures with the Topical Guide, and the Church magazines. You can also search the indexes of priesthood and Relief Society study guides as well as other books on your shelf.
Expand research. Now is a good time to ask family and friends if they have any good ideas to share.
Sift and order. Concentrate on refining. You may have far more material than you can use in one talk, but you have probably already started to mentally sift through the ideas that appeal to you most.
List broad headings that summarize the various groups of ideas. Don’t worry about scratching out and moving ideas at this stage.
Now rearrange these headings in a logical sequence. Decide which material you won’t have time to include. Prioritize so that you don’t spend 90 percent of your allotted time approaching the subject, leaving only a few minutes to speak on the heart of the topic.
Prepare an outline. List a heading followed by the items or ideas that come under it. Arrange the talk so you will be able to say some things in your own words and look at the audience frequently.
Plan a creative beginning and end. Decide how best to interest the congregation from the start. Create readiness to listen by starting with a story, an interesting quote, or a question that will arouse curiosity.
Now look at your ending. Don’t finish with a “whimper” by not knowing exactly how you will conclude. Plan a summary of your message, perhaps linking back to your opening thought.
The final stage. Time yourself in a practice run. You may be inspired with new ideas or be prompted to use quotes or ideas you previously discarded.
You are now familiar with your talk. Consequently, you will be able to make eye-to-eye contact with the congregation as you speak, whether you are reading a quote or just glancing at your notes occasionally. You’ll be able to speak naturally and with expression in your voice.
Practice makes perfect. The more times you prepare for talks in this way, the easier it becomes. You will probably personalize the method suggested here. Don’t wait to be asked to speak, though. Simply choose a few topics and prepare some great talks you can condense onto small cards and keep in the back of your scriptures for emergencies. You’ll do a wonderful job!—John F. Cary, Norwich, Norfolk, England