I’ve been asked to participate in a fireside about how to give a church talk. I was invited because I teach composition and oratory classes and because I do a fair amount of public speaking around town, so my presentation will focus on process and structure, while others will handle other aspects, such as spiritual preparation. I thought I would approach it in much the same way I teach students to write a strong speech. I am not saying that this is the only way to give a talk in church, only making suggestions.
Here are some points I’m planning to make:
Preparation. I’m surprised how often people get up to speak without any notes at all — that they think they can have it all ‘up here’ (tapping the forehead) and just wing it. There are very few people who can do that well, but most of the time when someone gets up to speak without any papers for more than five minutes, it’s not that good. At least have an outline, some bullet points. If you want to write out the whole thing first, practice it a few times so it feels comfortable and you can sound more natural. (Another speaker will address preparation strategies more specifically.)
Time management. You should know how long your talk is going to run before you give it because you have timed yourself before you started. Stick to it. If the meeting is too short, it’s not your problem. If too long, you can skip one or more of your points.
Structure. Have an opening, a middle and a closing.
The opening will have more impact if you open with a strong, provocative statement or illustrative story, either of your own or from another source, rather than an explanation of how you were asked to speak or an irrelevant joke. You don’t need a disclaimer to show your humility. The listeners may find your talk easier to follow if you make a clear, central point and then list the big ideas you plan to cover, even numbering them.
The middle or body will probably consist of somewhere between three and five points you make about your topic. A way to think about these is PED: Point, Example, Discuss. State your point clearly, give and example and discuss that example. You can give more than one example for each point, of course. The examples can be scriptures, excerpts from conference talks, personal experiences, poems, hypothetical situations, movies, etc. A talk will be more interesting to more people if you vary the kinds of examples you use. Think about how much detail is really needed for each example in order for your listeners to get the point. As you move from point to point, you can help your listeners follow you by making transitions between points really obvious by showing the relationships between the points or even just numbering the points you are making
For the closing, you can just restate the main idea and bear your testimony about it. Other strategies would be to extend and expand the principle you’ve discussed further and in some cases to call your audience to action.
Save the strongest point or most dramatic examples for last. The statements that you really want people to remember can be repeated throughout your talk, especially in short, clear sentences. The purpose of your talk is to inspire others (I think), so think about how elements of your talk relate to that purpose; if something is likely to do otherwise, cut it, no matter how brilliant it is.
I ask my students to consider of the prior knowledge and expectations of the audience when drafting a speech. But the range of prior knowledge in sacrament meeting audiences is potentially vast. How can a speaker effectively deal with this?
Anything I should add?