Making Lemonade from Assigned GC Talks

Yesterday my wife mentioned that she had to give a talk today. That was the first I had heard of it. When I came home from watching the UFC fights, at about midnight, she was still up working on it. I felt bad for her, because I know how much she hates speaking, and she has vowed never to give another talk. But as agonizing as it is for her, she always does a wonderful job.

So this morning she gave her talk, and it was simply outstanding. I thought she hit it out of the park. I’m biased, of course, but our bishop agreed and told me how much he loved the talk. And after listening to it it occurred to me that there was a blog post to be had there. Because I’ve been a vocal critic of the practice of assigning General Conference talks for regurgitation as sacrament meetings talks, and yet this talk originated as just such an assignment. But it was really good, which suggests that it is indeed possible to give such a talk well. So I thought I would try to figure out how Sandy managed to take the lemons of an assigned GC talk and turn them into the lemonade of the talk she actually gave.

Her assigned topic was temptation. I’m not sure which article they gave her to use, but she didn’t like it, as it was focused on pornography, and she thinks the church’s pornography discourse is overblown. So she just went and found a different conference address on temptation and used that instead. And why not? The local leaders didn’t care; I’m not convinced they even noticed. The catcher calls the pitch, but the pitcher is the one who has to actually throw the ball, and so she ought to be able to waive off the pitch if it doesn’t work for her. Since the address she actually used was from President Monson, I think it would be pretty tough for anyone to fault her for throwing a change up.

Here was her opening:

I was asked to speak about TEMPTATION and gear it to the youth. I started thinking about this talk two weeks ago but of course I left it until yesterday to pull it all together. Unfortunately the Chicago Blues Fest is going on this weekend and Honeyboy Edwards was playing. He’s one of the last of the original Mississippi Delta blues guys who found their way up north to Chicago in the 1950s. He’ll be 95 years old in a couple of weeks. I’ve seen him a few times before but who knows how long I’ll get the chance! So I was very TEMPTED to go and procrastinate writing my talk even more. Actually I did succumb to the temptation and had a wonderful time. BUT succumbing to temptation doesn’t always result in consequences as unimportant as a really bad talk.

So she starts out by flashing her own personality and interests, together with a little charming Kristine Haglundian self deprecation. You’re not going to find a reference to Honeyboy Edwards in a General Conference talk; you’ve got to add your own personal touch.

Then she gives the gist of the conference address message she had chosen:

President Monson has spoken to us about some of the more serious temptations we will face. When I was doing research for this talk I came across Pres. Monson’s talk about Maka Fekes. You’ve probably heard this talk before but I’m going go ahead and relate it anyway because it makes things easy to remember.

President Monson told of visiting the Tongan islands while on assignment years ago. He visited a classroom at the Liahona High School. The kids were paying rapt attention to their instructor who was holding in his hand a strange looking fishing lure made of a round stone and large seashells. He learned the Tongan word for this lure is maka feke. It means “octopus lure.”

SHOW MAKA FEKE

Quoting President Monson:

“The teacher explained that Tongan fishermen glide over a reef, paddling their outrigger canoes with one hand and dangling the maka feke over the side with the other. An octopus dashes out from its rocky lair and seizes the lure, mistaking it for a much-desired meal. So determined is the grasp of the octopus and so firm is it’s instinct not to give up the precious prize that the fisherman can flip it right into the canoe.

It was easy for the teacher to point out to the wide-eyed youth that the evil one—even Satan—has fashioned maka fekes with which to ensnare unsuspecting persons.”

President Monson goes on to say:

“Today we are surrounded by the maka fekes with which Satan attempts to entice us and then ensnare us. Once grasped, such maka fekes are ever so difficult—and sometimes nearly impossible—to relinquish.“

Here’s the cool part. Sandy actually went on the internet to find what a maka feke looked like, and she actually made one to use as a model to show us all what it looked like. She even was able to get the right shell to use. I realize there is some sort of rule against the use of props in sacrament meeting, but this was a seriously cool one, and it really brought President Monson’s point to life.

Then she gives her own application of President Monson’s point:

So what are some of those maka fekes or Temptations?
I think of these as involving RESPECT.
There are those temptations involve respecting yourself – things that are detrimental to your health such as a taking illegal drugs, smoking and drinking alcohol. There are those that reflect poorly on your moral values such as dressing immodestly and partaking in entertainment that is suspect.
Then there are temptations that involve respecting others such as stealing, lying, cheating, anger, and using bad language.

Next she takes President Monson’s image and extends it with a little research of her own (extra credit for using the word “pooped” over the pulpit):

Now I did go a little further with President Monson’s analogy and learned that there is a story or legend to why the maka feke or octopus lure looks as it does.

Legend of the RAT and the OCTOPUS

According to the legend, there was once a rat on a canoe. A storm came up and the canoe started to break up. The rat was freaking out and looked for help or something to cling to. Then the rat noticed an octopus swimming nearby and he asked if the octopus could take him to land.

The octopus agreed and allowed the rat to sit on his head while he carefully swam towards land. Once they reached the beach, the rat jumped off and quickly ran up onto the dry land without a word of thanks. The octopus was upset that the rat was so ungrateful and scolded the rat. The rat told him to feel the top of his head. Turns out the rat had pooped on the octopus’ head! So from then on the octopus has been seeking revenge against the rat and that is why he is fooled by the lure.

Unlike the poor octopus we can Decide to resist and prepare for temptation before we are faced with it.

I’ll skip a section where she goes through Christ’s temptations in Matt. 4 as well as Joseph’s youthful temptations as a teen as recounted in JS-H.

She follows that up with a couple of personal stories of her own illustrating the point:

Now I know this is hard to believe but I wasn’t very cool when I was young. I never went to a party in Middle or High School. Even though I wasn’t raised Mormon I didn’t try drinking, smoking, or drugs. I was a loner and preferred to hang out in my room listening to the radio, and drawing and reading or out riding my horse. So I didn’t feel much peer pressure. I was also conscious of not upsetting my parents when it came to the activities I participated in or the music I listened to. I remember when I was about 13 being embarrassed when the Kink’s song Lola came on WLS thinking ‘Oh boy I hope they can’t figure out what this song is about because they will never let me listen to rock music ever again’. [And I REALLY wanted to buy the Led Zepplin III album but I stuck to my Jackson 5 albums. Which reminds me – someday you will be embarrassed that you listened to B96. Seriously my daughter is! Anyway I do still listen to rock music.] [She didn't actually give the bracketed portion over the pulpit.]

Even though eventually you may go to a school or place where there are more members of the church, that doesn’t mean you will be able to let your guard down. I had been going to NIU in DeKalb where I grew up. After I joined the church I worked for a semester or two and then went to BYU. I was in an English class and we had to do a group paper. I really hate group projects! I can’t remember what the paper was about or anything specific about it but we all pitched in to write parts of it. Well it came time for our last meeting and the girl who was the group leader told us she had somehow gotten a copy of a really good paper and was going to hand that in instead. I had a serious problem with that and didn’t want to have my name attached. I finally decided to go to the teacher and tell him what had happened. I really really didn’t want to be a tattle tale but I couldn’t figure out any other way. The teacher was understanding and thanked me for bringing it to his attention. It was a big weight off my shoulders.

She also illustrates the point by an insight from a field she is knowledgeable about–art:

Ok…we’re always reminded of the DON’Ts. Don’t do this don’t do that. It might seem like you don’t have any freedom. But in order to have freedom you have to have rules or perimeters. It’s like what an artist does. It seems like artists have no rules but they actually do. As an artist I have set up things that I will and won’t do so when I begin a series it is in keeping with the perimeters I have established. I have restricted the subject matter, the media, the scale and so forth to reinforce what I want to convey. I still have plenty of possibilities and it is always exciting.

And she concludes with a simple restatement of the whole didactic point of her talk:

As members of the church you have the opportunity to be a good example for your friends. Don’t be afraid to speak up with kindness and let them know why you might not be able to go along. Don’t ever forget to be a good friend. You also have the Holy Ghost, prayer, family, teachers and leaders to help you make the right choices. We also know that we won’t be tempted beyond what we can bear:
 In Corinthians 10:13, we read:
There hath no temptation ataken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be btempted above that ye are able; but will with the ctemptation also make a way to descape, that ye may be able to ebear it.
I say this in the name of….

So I think the takeaway point is pretty simple. If you’re assigned a GC talk to use as the basis for your own talk, the key to making the talk interesting and engaging is not to follow the source slavishly, but to personalize it and truly make it your own.

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Comments

  1. Great point. Congratulations to Sandy.

  2. Nice work, Sandy. And a great way to take on that assignment. Thanks for sharing, Kevin.

  3. I absolutely agree that the key to giving a talk based on another’s talk is to use the text as a guide. Members need to be willing to use their own thoughts and insights when speaking. Bravo to Sandy for doing just that!

  4. I’ve always found that using a GC talk as a guide is pretty helpful. In my experience most members are much more comfortable having some source material, rather than just a topic, to base their talk on. But as you say, important to hear speaker’s own thoughts and insights also.
    Agree that speaking about pornography is very, very tricky, but curious to know what you mean by “she thinks the church’s pornography discourse is overblown”?

  5. I can’t wait to watch UFC 115 — I’ll be downloading it today. I’m hoping that it’s as good as UFC 114, which was the first really good UFC in a few months — UFC 113 was the worst that I can remember seeing.

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    TB, “overblown” was my word, not hers, but I think she had in mind the kinds of things often discussed in the Nacle. Go to Mormon Archipelago and search on “pornography” for all sorts of prior discussion.

  7. Sounds great. Except ending with that scripture, Corinthians 10:13:
    “There hath no temptation ataken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be btempted above that ye are able; but will with the ctemptation also make a way to descape, that ye may be able to ebear it.”

    This scripture needs explanation, especially when aimed at youth. We can put ourselves in all kinds of situations that we cannot get ourselves out of (escape). I could choose to do meth, then think, ‘Oh, God should deliver me from this temptation’. There are many addictive behaviors that can be overwhelming if not close to impossible to escape from.

    I believe we are able to escape and bear things when we are faithful, as the beginning of the scripture says. All too often this scripture is over trivialized and the youth think that means party on and repent later. (“Party on” there’s my late eighties teenage years shining through.)

  8. That’s awesome Kevin.

    The best talks for me, personally, are usually the ones that aren’t written out or scripted. I have seriously trouble listening to people read out loud. Which almost everyone in the entire church does (not that I blame them). Especially when they’re based on GC talks.

    But today in our ward half of the first talk wasn’t written out and the entire second talk was completely off the cuff–best Sacrament I’ve attended in awhile.

  9. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks, Susan M. Even though she wrote out the text, the only parts she read were the scriptures. (She introduced those by saying that someone in her immediate family memorizes the scriptures, but not her, and everyone looked at me and laughed.) So the verbiage in the OP is only approximately what she actually said over the pulpit.

  10. Melynna says:

    Very nice. I’m a teacher in Relief Society and recently got switched to the fourth Sunday/GC talk lesson. At first I felt much more tied down to the specifics of the talk than I had been with the lesson manual, but as I was preparing the talk I ended up using it mostly as inspiration for something more my own like Sandy did. It resulted in a much happier me and a much better lesson than it would have been (not that the original talk was bad; I’m just not good at regurgitation).

    Anyway, that was a long way to say that I think this is best done with lessons that are based on talks as well. No talk/lesson is any good unless the one giving/teaching it is engaged in it and that just doesn’t happen if you don’t make it your own.

  11. Strong work from Sandy. Thanks for showing us the way.

  12. Loved the pitcher/change-up analogy, Kevin. I had never heard that one before in this context, but I’m definitely going to use it myself. Thanks!

  13. Peter LLC says:

    I have seriously trouble listening to people read out loud. Which almost everyone in the entire church does (not that I blame them). Especially when they’re based on GC talks.

    GC talks are written out and read over the pulpit, which suggests that 1) teleprompters are pretty cool and 2) preparation and delivery are more important than whether the remarks are delivered extemporaneously.

  14. or 3. meaningful and accurate spot translations in a world-wide, tuned in church are more important than how the remarks are delivered.

    Preparation need not come in the form of a written talk, I think written pages in front of can sometimes be a crutch we should all strive to avoid relying on. And I’m no exception…I write em out. But if you can preach by power and the spirit, accurately and authoritatively without wishing you had your notes handy, surely that best.
    Not totally knocking a written talk, but when your friends or family ask a question or the need arises, we often don’t have a pre-written talk with references we googled on hand. Better to be able to remember them off hand I think.

  15. Great post, Kevin. Thanks for sharing how it can be done!

    I’ve assigned many a conference talk as basis of a sacrament meeting talk, always with the suggestion that the conference talk should be a starting point. It’s then just a little disappointing when the resulting talk starts with, “I was asked to talk about Elder x’s last conference talk…”

    It’s great to have some good examples to point to.

    As for writing out sacrament meeting talks, I’m divided. Those who do it well, can be very effective (and within their time limit). Those who do not write it out inevitably take longer than they should and steal time from the concluding speaker (which may be a good or bad thing, depending…) There’s no reason inpiration can’t come while we prepare a talk and not just while we’re giving it.

    Again, super post, and super talk. Thanks.

  16. Peter LLC says:

    when your friends or family ask a question or the need arises, we often don’t have a pre-written talk with references we googled on hand. Better to be able to remember them off hand I think.

    No one is arguing that you should rely on notes in private conversations. I was reponding to a poster who noted she has “trouble listening to people read out loud” by pointing out that in the LDS context, there are plenty of “good” talks that are read out loud. Being written down doesn’t make a talk good or bad, preparation and delivery do.

    There’s no reason inpiration can’t come while we prepare a talk and not just while we’re giving it.

    Exactly.

  17. Wait…how are we not discussing more that Kevin Barney watched the UFC fights and hasn’t posted detailed analysis of Liddells’ strengths and weaknesses in staying in MMA???

    Great talk though. I agree with #2, people need to use these talks as a guide.

    If I have to listen to one more person read a block of text from a talk, I might scream.

    However, she used bits and pieces, and the most important thing, made it her own. Props to Sandy on a great talk.

  18. Dave P. says:

    There is no rule about using props in Sacrament meeting. Don’t let people try to tell you otherwise. It is NOT in the General Handbook of Instructions and it is NOT in the scriptures.

  19. Antonio Parr says:

    Kevin:

    Your wife is obviously an unusually gifted speaker, and, thanks to your post, I am lucky enough to have been there (at least vicariously). Great talk.

    Still, I fear that this taste of lemonade might convince others to perpetuate this inherently flawed practice of giving talks on somone else’s talks, which, for less erudite speakers, turns into an exercise of drudgery and sterility. My visceral response to someone saying “I have been asked to give a talk on a talk that someone gave last month” is severe, as it seems to downplay the value of ancient scripture, edifying art and literature, the life of the Master, and the reality of a living God who works through our individual lives and who is there to help us give our own individual talks.

  20. Kevin Barney says:

    Antonio Parr, I certainly agree that I don’t want to see the practice of assigning GC talks perpetuated.

  21. Props in sacrament – #18, but it is instruction being given to priesthood leadership by apostles in at least a few places of the world (recently).

    If it hasn’t been given to you, I suppose you’re not beholden to it, right? But if some areas have been specifically told by apostles to avoid props, and visible object lessons, etc. in sacrament meeting, I don’t know why we should do what a guy on the internet says over instruction through a an Apostle.

    Your salvation certainly doesn’t depend on either… but why go against the grain?

  22. 19, on the other hand, using GC talks as a starting point for talks keeps people connected to modern prophets’ teaching. It is a shame if the talk is all the would-be speakers reference, but it’s a valid place to start.

  23. #19 — said differently, would those less erudite speakers access the ancient scripture and the art and literature? Or would they turn to Especially for Mormons?

  24. A great talk. Kudos to Sandy.

    On the main point of the OP, if assigned speakers don’t know how to prepare a talk, whatever topic or background material is given to them, then it’s up to the bishopric to teach them how. And if they don’t know how, they should get help from someone in the ward who knows how, and have him or her teach a lesson, or series of lessons, on how to prepare and give a talk.

    If the bishopric member hands a copy of a conference talk to a member and says, “We’d like you to talk about this” and if over and over again members just get up and say “I’m going to talk about Elder ______’s talk in general conference” and then proceed to read big sections of it, then the bishopric (as well as the speaker) needs to repent.

    Why should we bother trying to invite people to come to church if the “product” that they get there is mediocre?

    (That applies to the music, too. But that has been, and will again be, a subject for another post!)

  25. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    My bishop does like to have the messages given in General Conference become the focus for Sacrament Meeting talks, but it’s not so much that the conference talk be quoted as it is that the themes from conference are relevant for the members of our ward.

    When I invite someone to give a talk, I request a subject (if the spirit prompts or the Bishop has directed) and then advise that the subject was covered in a talk from (date of conference or Ensign) and invite them to either use it as a source of material or develop the topic from other sources based on their personal inspiration.

    I do call on members of the ward who are not exceptionally gifted at speaking even though some may complain about the product being “mediocre”. Aside from the ward being small and everyone must pitch in, there are those who need the spiritual experience of preparing and delivering the talk. I trust that those listening and feeling that the product is “mediocre” may find that the spirit helps them understand that this member needs to do this and listening with patience is bearing their fellow member’s burden.

  26. Mark B. says:

    I wasn’t suggesting that the “ungifted” be passed over. I just think that bishoprics need to take more seriously their responsibility to improve sacrament meetings by teaching people how to be better public speakers.

  27. #18 and #21
    We recently received instructions- no props in sacrament talks. I thought it was church-wide. Maybe not?

  28. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    #27 It was a letter from the FP, that also requested that speakers don’t invite members to turn to the scriptures with them during Sac Mtg. I don’t have a copy of it, but we took it as if it was an amendment to the CHOI. Old habits die hard, and when someone uses a prop, there is not usually any correction. The SP goofed one time as he started to say over the pulpit in our Sac Mtg, “if you would turn with me to….” he caught himself and said, “I’m going to read from…” That led to a few chuckles.

    I guess this doesn’t apply to General Conference because you still have speakers showing pictures with their talks and sometimes objects.

  29. According to Matsby, it is policy. http://www.myregisblog.com/2009/01/church-policy.html

  30. I enjoyed reading both the talk and the points about how to write a talk effectively. That pitcher-catcher analogy worked for me too.

    It’s a shame your wife hates giving talks as she’s clearly very good at putting a talk together.

  31. #28 et al.

    The whole “no props,” “no asking members to open their scriptures and follow along” meme has gone way too far. I’m surprised that the those who signed that letter (and others who promote it) feel it’s their duty to micromanage at such a level.

    I can’t really even believe it’s a topic of discussion here (or anywhere for that matter), let alone one which is so pharisaical as to dictate what we can and can’t do at such personal levels. Who have we become, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Pharisees (trademarked, just like the regular name)?

    May we all find those 613 laws, and 72 note cards, enjoyable.

  32. It sounds like your wife gave a wonderful, wonderful talk. Thanks for insights for the rest of us. I’m listening to Gram Parsons right now to honor her. (Also because I adore it.)

  33. Antonio Parr says:

    re: Props:

    1. There were 2 props used during talks presented in the most recent General Conference

    2. Members aren’t allowed to use props when they give their talks.

    Pure torture for the member who is assigned to give a talk on one of the two prop-talks . . .

    Food for thought:

    1. Does a General Conference prop-talk create a limited exception to the no-prop rule as applied to the person assigned to talk about the prop-talk?

    2. If a speaker holds up the Ensign General Conference issue during an assigned prop-talk, is this a violation of the no-prop rule, or does the Ensign-as-prop create a double negative, canceling out the use of the first prop?

    3. Is it possible that the mere act of describing a prop creates inappropriate mental images of a prop, and thus violates the no-prop-rule (i.e., the way that lusting in one’s heart is the equivalent of adultery)?

    4. And what does the temporal proximity of the no-prop rule and the Prop 8 campaign teach us about props? Is it possible that this timing is not a mere coincidence?

    Etc.

  34. Dave P. says:

    #21

    Call be a rebel but I do not, do NOT blindly listen to everything the president of the church and the members of the Quorom of the Twelve say until I know full well from pondering, prayer, and/or their own mouths why such policy dictates are so important and even then I’m free to disagree with them. I rely very heavily on inspiration when writing talks and if I’m inspired to use a prop, I will.

    This is something that’s just bugged me because practically all of the sacrament meeting talks I remember most used props. I see the object used as the prop and remember the talk.

  35. StillConfused says:

    My pet peeve with talks is when they start with “I was asked to speak on..”

  36. ByTheRules says:

    The advangages of having a GC talk reviewed in sacrament meeting include:

    1. Allowing the message to be customized to the local congregation. This may include supporting anecdotes that make sense in the local culture, but not necessarily across all cultures. This may improve and/or polish the message delivered in General Conference.

    2. (#25) Addresses local needs through repetition and emphasis.

    3. (#22) Conference material delivered by the spirit is theoretically as important as canonized scripture.

    Additional rambling thoughts:
    + Some people may decline to speak in sacrament meeting if not for a fleshed out skeleton to start from. Public speaking is the #1 phobia in America.

    + I endorse the don’t follow along with the scripture reading. If I am in the congregation, I find that I will read the context, and if interesting will begin an impromptu topical scripture study and lose track of the speaker. If I am reading, there is no way to keep the flow going with the extreme variability in scripture finding rates among the congregation. You WILL lose people trying to find the scripture from 5 minutes ago.

    + Props in sacrament meeting were turning many into sharing times. The guidelines / policy satisfactorily addressed an appropriate concern.

  37. I am the FHC Director in our Branch and I do the Sacrament Program each week. The last time I gave a talk in Sacrament it was on Family History (what else) and I put pictures of the people I spoke about in the program. Kind of a sneaky was to have a prop but it worked for me!

  38. *way* not was. ugh.

  39. Antonio Parr says:

    36. Sacrament Talks given by common, rank-and-file members speaking by the spirit are also “theoretically as important as canonized scripture”. And canonized scripture is as important as, well, canonized scripture. And the life of Christ is the most important of all canonized scripture.

    Why do I have to hear the parable of the pickle in Sacrament Meeting after just having seen, read and heard in my car the parable of the pickle, when I have the option of hearing Sister-so-and-so share with me how the Lord is interacting with ~her~ life. There is something almost fickle about focusing excessively on thoughts and inspiration that are but weeks/month old at the exclusion of ancient scripture that has passed the tests of time. No Psalms. No Proverbs. No Parables. No writings of Paul. Just talks given a month ago that will, come next General Conference, be forgotten and rendered almost obsolete when replaced by the next batch of General Conference addresses.

    This approach lacks balance and texture, and hopefully will soon enough become a relic of the past.

    (FYI – I love General Conference.)

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