What Not To Do In A Church Talk

It’s time to embark on a long-overdue project. In recent years, Church leaders have instructed us on how to bear (and not to bear) our testimonies in Sacrament meeting. We have been given detailed procedures regarding when and how to give priesthood blessings. The Church has completely revamped the missionary discussions, encouraging a more flexible lesson schedule and malleable pedagogical approach. But for some reason, no one in Salt Lake has yet felt the need to provide an instruction manual on how to give (and not give) talks in Church. Thus, it is out of my amazing sense of selflessness (or perhaps my interminable obsession with ark-steadying) that I’ve decided to single-handedly take on this project. (What’s that you say? “Aaron, you’re like Mother Theresa! You’re a modern-day Martin Luther!” Yeah, I get that a lot.)

After so many years of attending Church and listening to speaker after speaker, it’s not hard to recognize the reoccurring tired phrases and time-killing gimmicks that so many of us use. And while some of them are only mildly irritating, others are enough to make you want to run screaming from the building into on-coming traffic. To borrow the pompous Latin distinction, some of these oratorical indiscretions are truly malum in se (kind of like murder, adultery, pre-marital sex, wearing paisley). Others are only malum prohibitum (parking in a handicapped spot, driving over the speed limit, failing to wear a white shirt on Sunday), simply because I’ve declared them to be so. “What?” you exclaim. “Where does Aaron come off declaring what is prohibited and what isn’t?” For those confused souls who think I’m being presumptuous to unilaterally declare Church doctrine or make Church policy, I encourage you to just have faith and not question your permablogger. Trust me, these things deserve to be banned, never mind your adolescent authority issues.

So, without further ado, here are 7 common features of LDS talks that needed to be retired long ago. There may be others as well. You tell me if you think I’ve left anything out.

1. Starting off with a joke that isn’t funny

No one intends to aim for laughs and fail, of course, but it happens fairly often. Alas, it’s tricky to avoid this completely because you can’t always know in advance whether or not you’ll be funny. Funniness turns on so many things, like your mood, the audience’s mood, your comedic timing, what’s been said by the person just preceding you, the general tone set by the preceding speaker, etc. Even the funniest comedian flops once in awhile. But my rule of thumb is this: If you’ve planned your joke in advance, it’s less likely to work than if you think of it like 5 seconds before you begin. Words of Wisdom.

2. Talking about the circumstances in which you were assigned your talk.

This is particularly irritating when its done as if it’s just oh-so interesting. “But, Aaron,” you exclaim. “There is such an interesting set of circumstances in which this speaking assignment was given to me! I’m sure everyone wants to hear about it!” Um … I’m sorry, but no they don’t. Regardless of the circumstances under which the Bishop telephoned you, what you were doing when the phone rang, and how unbelievably fascinating you’re sure this all is, let me let you in on a little secret: No one cares.

3. Defining terms out of the dictionary.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’ve got no beef with defining terms, per se. In fact, defining terms is often crucial, and the failure to do so is the source of a lot of confused and boring semantic sideshows. But what I don’t need to know is that you got your definition from the Webster’s Fourth Collegiate International Unabridged Dictionary, rather than the Oxford Ninth National Interstellar Abridged Dictionary, and I don’t need you to take 10 minutes to pronounce the full name in slow motion (like we might want to go down to Borders and locate the precise dictionary you mention, in hopes of looking up the term and confirming that it was delivered accurately. Sounds like fun! Hell, I’ve got nothing better to do on a Friday night.) Next time somebody does this, I’m going to raise my hand from the audience and ask for the SSBN number, just for kicks. I promise.

4. Making some banal observation about how ironic it is that you, of all people, were assigned this topic.

Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Admit it, you all know this one by heart: “Hello, Brothers and Sisters. I’ve been asked to talk on _____, and it’s so funny/interesting/timely that I would be assigned this topic, given that it’s never been my strong suit, but I’m so grateful for the chance to give it, because preparing for this talk has really helped me learn a lot about … zzzzzzzzzzzz (As Renee Zellwegger might put it, “You had me snoozing at “Hello.”)

5. Using that word I hate.

You already know how I feel about this one.

6. Reading long block quotes from the Standard Works or the Ensign with minimal or no accompanying analysis.

Somebody really ought to put this habit in a bottle and peddle it as a Nyquil substitute. Seriously, we don’t come to Church just to hear the sound of your voice reading a book that we have on our shelf at home and can read ourselves when we get there. We actually want to hear you analyze and apply scriptural teachings, even if only in a superficial way! We’re sympathetic that this helps you eat up time at the pulpit, but remember, we have to sit through your talk too! I swear, this habit is almost as bad as showing a movie in Priesthood or Gospel Doctrine. Can you think of a single instance where plopping in a video has ever been an effective or engaging teaching tool in Church? Yeah, me neither.

7. Pretending you’re a General Authority.

You aren’t. Just stop it. You’re not fooling anyone. We know you don’t really talk that way in real life, and that your sing-song cadence is totally affected. In fact, we’re laughing at you behind your back. Spare yourself the humiliation, spare us the torture, and just be yourself. (And if you really are being yourself, then please — be somebody else).

So there it is. Seven deadly sins to avoid like the plague. But let’s face it … you won’t avoid them, will you? Next time you give a talk in Church, you’ll probably engage in one or more of these atrocious bad habits. Shame on you, in advance.

There’s been a lot of discussion about Church discipline of late, with Grant Palmer, Thomas Murphy and Simon Southerton each making the news. Many members are offended by their writings and actions. But surely their sins, real or imagined, don’t hold a candle to the abominations I’ve listed above. However one comes down on the propriety of tossing out the adulterers, the intellectually heterodox, or those prone to air their ecclesiastical grievances in the press, I hope we can all agree that my list of oratorical faux pas should be excommunicable offenses.


  1. Aaron, I’m surprised at you. You’re letting these grievous sinners off too easy. These offenses shouldn’t result in excommunication; they should result in the death penalty. I’m usually opposed to capital punishment, but in this case, bring on Brother Brigham’s patented blood atonement!

  2. What about the token acknowledgment of the musical number that the last speaker has to do? Sometimes the music sucks–but they have to act like it was the most spritually uplifting thing they’ve experienced in a long time. And what about when the last speaker thanks the person/people who did the music, as if they were doing the speaker a personal favor or something? Rather than have that malarky maybe we should just bring back clapping–or at the end of the meeting the person conducting could ask everyone to give a vote of thanks or something.

  3. I’ve always felt wierd NOT clapping after a musical performance. There’s some serious tension involved in that…

  4. Aaron,

    I’m totally in stride with you on every one of your points (even though I’ve been guilty of committing some of those sins myself). I am interested in your last point, however (Pretending you’re a General Authority). Can you expound a little more on this subject? I’m not sure I’ve wtinessed this one – or at least I didn’t realize it was happening. A little more clarity in describing this one would help us all avoid excommunication.

  5. I would like to submit a motion to ban any further readings (tearful or otherwise) of “Footsteps” or that “Get up and Win the Race” abomination. Anyone with me on this one?

  6. How to pretend you’re a GA: Pause in the middle of a sentence for…….no reason at all. Just like reading from a teleprompter!

  7. Floyd the Wonderdog says:

    Where do I start? I’ve seen so many public speaking faux pas that I’ve grown to expect them.

    Don’t read your talk out of the Ensign, New Era, or Especially for Mormons. If the Bishop wanted someone to read to the congregation, he would have found someone with a better voice.

    Don’t change the subject. The meeting is under the Bishop’s direction. If you were assigned a subject, stick to that subject. When I was a Bishop, I wondered if it would be acceptable to stand up, put my arm around the tangential speaker and ask him to either address the assigned topic or sit down. One single sister used her time to tell us how much she h@ted Utah Mormons. Six months later, she was married to one.

    Leave the jokes to a more appropriate setting. As an example of the subject I was addressing in one talk, I told a joke. The brother translating for the deaf literally fell off his chair. It was a couple of minutes before he could continue translating. Since then I have avoided jokes in my talks. I’ve been told that I’m a naturally funny guy (but looks aren’t everything), but Sacrament Meeting is not the place for a stand up routine.

    Listen to the spirit, but make sure that it is the spirit. Once I woke up at 2:30 a.m. Sunday morning with the Spirit giving me instructions for a complete re-write. It gave me a scripture and told me exactly how to present the subject. I wrote it up and went to my speaking assignment. The speaker just before me told how she had been prompted to use the same scripture and presented a different subject using that scripture as her text. When I stood I told the members of my experience and told them that they should go home today and study this scripture and determine why the Lord had directed both speakers to use it. Both of these talks were powerful. Not because we were polished speakers, but because the spirit was there teaching.

    On the flip side, I’ve seen members feel that they had a bully pulpit and proceed to call the ward and leadership to repentance. A spirit may have told them to do that, but it was the spirit of contention not the spirit of the Lord. Leave the calls to repentance to those who have the authority to do that. Address the subject and let the congregation’s conscience call them to repentance.

    Observe your time restrictions. I fight the urge to strangle the speaker who says, *I apologize to the Sunday School teachers for taking their time.* They then continue to babble on for an additional 10 to 15 minutes. If you are asked to speak for 10 minutes, time your talk and make sure that it is 10 minutes. As a High Councilor we are asked to speak for 20 minutes and to NEVER go over the meeting ending time. We are then instructed to prepare our talks so that they can be between 5 and 25 minutes, so that we can accommodate the time restrictions. Our Stake President recently sat in a meeting where the High Councilor was left 2 minutes to speak. Our SP has gone to great lengths to train the HC as speakers to destroy the stereotype of the *dry council speaker*. He has assigned topics that he feels the stake needs to hear. He has decided that from now on, the HC speaker will go first. I’ve seen speakers at a Stake Conference take almost all the time allotted to the General Authority visitor.

    Make sure your examples are not offensive. Just this Sunday, a sister spoke who grew up in this ward and has moved back after marrying. She told how when she was in High School, she was the only righteous LDS youth; she said the other LDS youth in her High School did not keep the commandments. She then went on to tell how she was the only righteous youth at church too. I looked around the congregation and wondered how many people she was offending. The parents of the youth who also went to her High School? The bishop at that time, her YW leaders, parents of youth who grew up with her? Should I tell her that pride and self-righteousness are sins too?

  8. If it’s been five months, does it no longer count as poaching?

    Just yesterday a girl asked the whole congregation to stand up. As an introduction to herself, we were playing a game to see how well we knew her. She would ask a question about herself and everyone who didn’t know the answer had to sit down. The last person standing was the winner. And this was a sacrament talk. I was the only person in the congregation who never stood up in the first place.

  9. Why does almost everyone young and old feel the need to introduce themselves even though the bishopric member just did AND their name is in the program!

    “For those of you that don’t know me my name is…”

  10. Eric Russell — I agree, please don’t ask me to stand up or raise my hand in sacrament meeting ever!

    Also, please don’t tell me about how the bishop’s counsellor just assigned this talk to you yesterday, this morning, or how you forgot about it and prepared it on the way to church. This drives me crazy.

  11. Just to clarify, I am willing to raise my hand to sustain, etc. but not to satisfy someone’s statistical curiosity during their talk :)

  12. In addition to the above, I was also always taught not to announce the topic of my talk (maybe this should be a subrule to #2).

    I’m always pleasantly surprised (as happened just yesterday) when someone launches right in and I have to actually listen to what she’s saying to determine her topic.

  13. Julie in Austin says:

    Twelve comments and no one has mentioned long meandering stories with no points to them?

    Why, this reminds me of the time that we were driving through Mont a n a t o g e t t o m y b r o t h . . . .

  14. alamojag says:

    I’ll second Floyd’s discouragement of a standup routine. A couple of weeks ago, the main speaker gave a very interesting talk–but it was so intersperced with jokes that I’m not sure the reason I enjoyed it was because of the spirit, or because of the jokes. He is an intelligent, engaging speaker with a good command of the scriptures, but when he was through all I could remember of it was how good he was, and nothing about the topic.

  15. Aaron Brown says:

    Yikes! Eric, I had no idea Milennial Star had already covered this topic. Does it count as poaching if I didn’t know it had already been said elsewhere?

    Aaron B

  16. Definitions are my pet peeve. I don’t remember the dictionary being canonized, and I think we all know better than Webster the definitions of charity, repentance, pride, etc. in an LDS context.

  17. Speaking of making jokes, (I guess this isn’t Sacrament meeting but…) when President Hinckley came to Guatemala (my mission) and spoke to the missionaries Marjorie spoke first. The first thing she said was, “Do you ever wake up here and wonder, ‘what am I doing here?’?” The gringos were rolling in the isles. By the time it was translated the latins didn’t get it anyway. The best part about it was that Marjorie didn’t know exactly what she was saying.

  18. If this is supposed to be funny, it isn’t.

    I agree that many could use a public speaking class. But that’s what you get when you have lay congregation members giving talks. Many of these speakers are absolutely terrified to face such a large audience- I have met such and counseled them when they asked for comfort.

    Along with giving similar advice (though in much less jarring, cynical, and downright mean words), I informed them that the Church membership is full of charity and love and will easily forgive any errors made, and will be seeking the Spirit and hopefully feel something even if the speaker is less than ideal. When I read posts like this, it occurs to me that I am dead wrong about the charity of my fellow Latter-day Saints.

    A constructive, encouraging post about possible ways to deliver a great gospel sermon is one thing- I could go for that. The way it is approached in the bloggernacle, though, is mean, heartless, and completely disregards the sensitive feelings of those who are not as mighty with the word as Aaron Brown apparently is to make such smart-ass remarks.

    You’re a real wise guy.

  19. Perhaps the seven deadly heresies? For the record: I am now abandoning my quest to memorize the McConckie cannon and henceforth will dedicate commensurate time to the words of Aaron.

  20. All meant in the kindest possible way, of course! :)

  21. Jordan, I think you need to cool down a bit. The bloggernacle is funny, light hearted, etc. No one here is trying to be malicious, mean, heartless, etc. Aaron is simply poking fun at something that we’ve all thought about a time or two. But it is all in fun!!

  22. Keith,

    I understand that. I just don’t find it funny, personally.

    Then again, I have often been accused by family and friends alike of not having a sense of humor precisely because I always find it difficult to laugh at such things.

  23. Aaron Brown says:

    Jordan, you’re taking this WAAAAAAY too seriously. Stick around, and you’ll learn that it’s just my sense of humor to act like a snotty, abrasive, rude know-it-all. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but as long as it causes J.Stapely and Steve E. to worship the ground I walk on and obey my every whim out of star-struck admiration (which it does), then I say it’s worth it.

    You can rest assured that in real life, I would never be so tactless as to offer speaking advice in this manner.

    Aaron B

  24. Keith,

    One person’s fun is another person’s pain. It was fun for my brother to hold me down and drip spit onto my face, but it was a horrible experience for me. When we make fun of people doing the best they can, perhaps because they are not as talented as we imagine ourselves to be, we metaphorically spit on them. If you want to have fun, go bowling!

  25. Justin H says:

    Jordan, I’m not surprised at your comments here, given that you often stick up for those who you perceive as having been slighted. (In fact, as soon as I read this post, I suspected that you’d be here soon to say essentially what you’ve said.)

    It’s an admirable message you keep trying to get across. Maybe it would sink in better if you could figure out how to express it in such a way that wouldn’t force you to post disclaimers like this and, more eloquently (and persuasively) this.


  26. Hi Aaron,

    Did you notice who wrote the M* piece? Small world, huh?

    My personal favorite is when people start reading a story without any setup — they just start talking in the first person about “when I was divorced” or “losing my legs in the war” or “growing up in Mongolia, I used to….”

    Another is the introduction when a new family moves to the ward and speaks for the first time. Husband/wife speaker #1 talks about how they met, often with some kind of embarrassing story to … um … break the ice. A few years ago, I was attending a ward in Portland, Oregon, and the wife (speaker #1) spent several minutes talking about the “sweet and blessed opportunity” that they had to go to BYU, where they met and married in two weeks’ time, or whatever.

    It’s amazing, though, how interesting a talk can be when people try to put something of themselves into it — even if they’re not really articulate. People are interesting, and sincerity is disarming. I do a lot less teeth grinding and eyeball rolling during such talks.

    John W

  27. Another favorite:

    “Brigham Young once said a quote…”

    No, he just said something. Now we are quoting him.

  28. I think that, following Jordan’s lead, we should use the word “ass” in talks more often. I mean, if Brother Orrin Hatch can refer to the questions asked in a senate hearing by the senior senator from the great state of New York as “dumb-ass” questions, I think the word should move back into polite and religious discourse.
    (The best example occurred in our ward several years ago when a young man, relatively new to the church, was giving a talk about the ten commandments. Reading the list of things we shouldn’t covet, he about choked when he got to “nor his ass”, stopped, apologized for what he was about to say “but it says it right here” and then soldiered on. The most entertaining talk I’ve ever heard in church.)

    And now for something completely different:
    For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Fred. For those who do, try Mark.

    And that damnable story about the train switchman, the little boy and the bridge. If I hear that again, I will walk out.

  29. Aaron Brown says:

    Better yet, Mark B., tell the train switchman story yourself, except change the ending and have the train slam on its breaks and come to a full stop, with the conductor exiting the train and chastizing the little boy for playing on the tracks. Or, have the train jump the tracks and hit everybody. Then, try to articulate some strained moral from your story with a straight face and then sit down.

    Aaron B

    P.S. We are talking about the same story, aren’t we? I don’t remember the “bridge” playing a role.

  30. “And that damnable story about the train switchman, the little boy and the bridge. If I hear that again, I will walk out…”

    Ha! I heard that story for the first time yesterday from a member speaking about the Atonement. Is that a common LDS story? I’m an investigator and it was only my fourth time at church.

  31. I guess this can be a little addendum to #2: People who begin their talk with that faux- modesty act, joking/lamenting/pretending that being assigned to talk is the most horrible thing in the world and they don’t know why the Bishop called, blah blah blah. You’ve been assigned to talk so just shut up and talk. This always gets my blood up.

  32. Tony,
    Nice to see you on here. Though, if you’re doing research about Church doctrines I’m sorry you landed here because Aaron Brown is a true misfit who speaks no doctrine (though we like to humor him). If you want to know more about the people who occupy the church, welcome! (Jordan isn’t as mean as he sounds).

    Regarding your question: yes, it’s a pretty common story originating from a video put out by the Church sometime in the 70’s or 80’s. It’s a nice story, but overused a bit. For that reason I love Aaron’s suggestion of chastizing the boy. Brilliant!

  33. “it’s a pretty common story originating from a video put out by the Church sometime in the 70’s or 80’s.”

    Really? There was a video? (This from the guy who’d never heard of Johnny Lingo until a senior in High School…)

  34. Oh yeah. I haven’t seen it for years, but I’m pretty sure that’s what we’re all talking about here.

  35. Aaron Brown says:

    What? We have investigators here? I had no idea. I thought this was a “Members Only” site. At least I inferred that from the cool jackets that all us permabloggers get to wear.

    Tony, we’ll try to explore LDS doctrine for you in the near future. I promise. For now, we’re just trying to clean house by banishing the oratorially challenged to Outer Darkness. :)

    Aaron B

  36. Aaron,

    Yeah, I suspect it’s the same story. The switchman hears his kid walking down the tracks to bring him his dinner, the faulty lock in the swinging bridge, the switchman holding down the lever so the bridge will stay shut and the train go safely on its way, the “broken body of the little boy, and the muffled weeping of the father.”

    I’m afraid too many people know that I’m too cynical to tell this story straight, so when I got to “so the switchman said ‘What the hell’ and let the lever go, the train derailed killing all the passengers and the little boy and the switchman” there’d be folks waiting for the punchline.

  37. quandmeme says:

    Brandishing a torch as if it were a sword

    Not so fast on the “don’t play general authority” one, that’s trickier than it seems. Now I know the feeling you express, my wife has a word for, the speaker is “shoulding” on the congregation. And I find it frustrating when commandments are taken out of perspective and delivered with myopic self-righteousness. “I am talking about missionary work today, so that means it is the most important thing in life and you must all do better or your chance at the celestial kingdom lost . . .” At the same time, though, when do we fulfill the command to “warn, expound, exhort, and teach, and invite all to come unto Christ,” if not at sacrament meeting? The way I read it those are the duties given to the teachers and the priest in the Aaronic priesthood. When the bishop presides at sacrament meetings it seems to that it is different from an impromptu meeting of like-minded believers because there is some authority there—namely the authority of the Aaronic priesthood to preach exhort and administer the “outward ordinances” of the sacrament. So, when in that capacity, the bishopric makes and assignment whether to an Aaronic priesthood holder, a mia maid, or stake patriarch, hasn’t that person been delegated the responsibility to act with the mandate of that Aaronic priesthood role?

    My point is that it is not the call to repentance that is out of place, but the misguided spirit with which it is wielded (when a torch is waved like a sword, rather than being guided, all are burned–most of all the one brandishing it). “Let [them] beware how they take my name in their lips.” I feel that we are to exhort and admonish, even “reproving betimes with sharpness,” but the key is clear, we must seek the same spirit and power by which the bishop extended the call. We must be sure that the admonition is of God and not of our own opinions or own feelings of guilt transformed into zeal.

    There is an extension of this that the fear of seeming to “play general authority” will squash our voice of warning. The best analogy is with priesthood blessings. Some Melchizedek Priesthood blessing are reduced to formal prayers when the mouthpiece declines to bless. “We ask thee to heal Rachel,” instead of, “Rachel, I bless you that you will be healed.” When we doubt the authority we are called to act in we shrink from the power of the act. Instead of manifesting “the power of godliness” our ceremonies and our sermons become empty rituals. I think that believing we are never called to admonish from the pulpit unless we are general authorities goes against the scriptural order and puts the artificial roadblock of a tradition of nice piety in the way of the spirit. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Certainly if we were impressed to “warn” or “exhort” we would do it in the spirit of humility that accompanies inspiration; that is another key to the matter.

  38. Steve Evans says:

    Nice comment quandmeme. I agree with you entirely; I just wish that the lines between heavy-handed/sluggish talks, and lukewarm/flighty ones were easier to discern.

  39. GreenEggz says:

    re: don’t pretend you’re a general authority.

    “Admonishing” like a general authority was not how I read Aaron’s original rule. It was affecting the voice pattern, or trying to mimic how the Spirit sounds without actually having the Spirit. Aaron might have borrowed my words from a post at M* about the “Utah sing-song” accent.

    Each of the Apostles has their own voice pattern and delivery. When someone tries to copy it, and doesn’t have the Spirit of an Apostle, it just feels oogie to hear it.

    Affecting, or imitating someone else’s voice pattern comes across as phony. Even affecting anything but your normal voice can come across as phony.

    If I can translate it to type, the Utah sing-song cadence is something like this:
    Blah-BLAH-bleh-bluh. Blah-BLAAAAH-bleh-bleh.

  40. I agree with Jordan. And unlike him, nobody can seriously accuse me of lacking a sense of humor.

    Public speaking is hard enough for the seasoned professional who invites criticism. But those giving talks in church do not choose their assignment, and they are not often operating within their comfort zone. In short, members are usually at their most vulnerable when speaking from the pulpit. On the other hand, there is no more comfortable or cowardly place from which to criticize than the safety of the crowd scattered among the pews.

    I understand that you’re trying to be funny. But like the speaker that starts out with a bum joke, you’ve missed the mark. Strangely, this business of criticizing the mode of speech (as opposed to the content) seems to be a recurring theme here at BCC. Indeed, whether one is scoffing at general authorities or members of our wards, there’s something feeble and a little contemptible about attacking those that fall within the scope of our fellowship at the moment when they’re least secure.

    To be sure, many people do have annoying and aggrevating speaking habits. But I’ve never heard a talk so bad that I still wasn’t grateful that it wasn’t me who was asked to speak.

  41. Tom Manney says:

    My rules:

    * Don’t speak of how pure and righteous we are and how wicked “the world” is. I know what you did last summer.

    * Don’t assume everyone agrees with your politics; they don’t, but as soon as you bring it up all the curmudgeons like me will fixate on it like vultures on a dying bunny.

    * Don’t wear a tie or hairdo wider than your shoulders. Remember, fashion speaks louder than words.

    * If your talk comes up wildly short of the alotted time, better not show your face in Sunday School.

    * This one applies more to testimony meetings than talks, but for heaven’s sake, please remember your own kleenex so the bishop doesn’t have to send a deacon out to the supply closet in the middle of sacrament meeting because the absent-minded arthritic janitor forgot to replace the empty box on the podium. The box is always empty. Don’t even bother to reach for it. The box is always empty.

    * If you’re tall, and it takes the first counselor twenty seconds to raise the squeaky podium up to your altitude, don’t acknowledge the long wait with a smug grin. We get it. You’re gargantuan. Better have a damn good talk from a mighty big brain to match that behemoth cranium of yours, bucko.

    * And if you stare out into that sea of faces, a hundred pairs of beady eyes looking back at you with a mixture of hopeful anticipation and dread-filled boredom, and your mind goes completely blank, just remember: you’ll have your revenge next week.

  42. Tom Manney says:

    I disagree DKL. It’s never wrong to find the lighthearted side of things. And since many in the bloggernacle frequently express frustration with the boring nature of the 3-hour block and its utter predictability, I think it’s healthy to let off some steam and poke well-intentioned fun at the some of the more annoyingly predictable aspects of our church services.

    Chances are that most of the people who need to hear Aaron’s suggestions aren’t even reading this. We know they’ll never change. We know sacrament meeting will never change. But how many Sundays in a row do I have to listen to a cooler-than-thou fourteen-year-old read expressionlessly from a New Era talk? I have issues, DKL, and if I don’t vent, I’m liable to start making crackpot observations in Sunday School just to make Sis. Hansen gasp, and I know you don’t want that.

  43. Abner Doon says:

    I can’t stand it when a speaker (Polynesian or otherwise) stands up and says “Aloooooooooooo-ha!” Then you have the two or three people in the congregation who think it’s fun to shout in sacrament meeting and respond “Aloha!” back. Then the speaker says something about how that response was totally weak-sauce and says “Alooooooooooooooooo-HA!” even louder. Then, of course, you realize they’re going to keep doing this until the audience gives an appropriately hearty response, so you say “Alooooha!” and hope that was sufficient. I really, really hate that.

    Why in the world do they think we really want to shout Aloha in the middle of church? Yes, we know you’re friendly, and that’s a nice greeting and all, but PLEASE STOP THE MADNESS.

  44. Aaron Brown says:

    For the record (again), I would never make these criticisms — at least not in these blunt, callous terms — to someone in the real world, as part of a serious critique. To do so would probably be horribly inappropriate, tactless and mean. I’m intentionally being over-the-top here, while at the same time, hitting on some facets of LDS oratory that are extremely common and, frankly, that need to be retired. I know that some people think I go to far, and don’t get the joke. Whatever.

    GreenEggz’ comment is right on. Also, I guess I’ve now been outed as having borrowed ideas from M* not once, but TWICE, in the comments of this thread. Funny thing is, I rarely ever read M*. So is this an argument to read it more (so that I will unwittingly steal more of its material), or an argument to avoid it like the plague?

    Aaron B

  45. Aaron Brown says:

    What Abner said. Definitely. The “Aloha” travesty is hereby christened “Deadly Sin #8.”

    Aaron B

  46. alamojag says:


    You have hit one of my pet peves–the blessing that isn’t. If I wanted somebody to say a prayer for me, that is what I would ask for. I want a blessing, and I want the priesthood holder to have enough confidence in the ordinance to actually say “I bless you”. You don’t see this in other, similar ordinances like a setting apart: “Heavenly Father, please set brother alamojag apart as a Sunday School teacher.” No, at the most the avoidance of the speaker’s exercising his authority it would be “We set you apart.”

    End minor threadjack.

  47. The problem with this is the people who need to read them never will see them. Let’s figure a way to get a mass mailing out to every member of the church. I’ll pitch in twenty bucks.

  48. * If your talk comes up wildly short of the alotted time, better not show your face in Sunday School.

    Of course, if Sacrament meeting is the last hour in the block, feel free to pull-up short; you’ll be the coolest person in the ward.

  49. The all-time coolest talk I ever heard was in a BYU singles’ ward. The topic was chastity. To illustrate the need to ‘just say no’ to sex, the speaker used the Dr. Seuss classic: “Green Eggs and Ham.” It went like this: the green eggs and ham were the metaphor for sex, and we were supposed to resist the devil (Sam I Am) in his repeated offers to have sex in a box, with a fox, in the rain, on the train and so forth.

    We were muffling our laughter (I really think she didn’t realize how funny this was), and wondering how on earth she was going to allow us to multiply and replenish the earth after marriage. Fortunately, she inserted a marriage ceremony in the story just before the nameless creature samples the Green Eggs and Ham. (The marriage ceremony didn’t rhyme.) After that, the nameless creature enjoyed Green Eggs and Ham in all the twisted circumstances described by Dr. Seuss.


  50. How about when the speaker declares that ______ doctrine/principle is the “most important” or “most fundamental” or “the most powerful.”

    If they are referencing the atonement then I cheer, but nine times out of ten the speaker will proceed to preach the word of wisdom or family home evening, or something else other than Christ.

    Makes me want to chuck a hymn book at the pulpit.

  51. GreenEggz says:

    Aaron B.: I think a couple of the posters are correct in that we do have to measure our words in the bloggernacle. As this is a _public_ forum, this is the “real world” and online comments do come back to haunt us. I wish I could go back and soften some of the comments I’ve made on blogs.

    “Make your words soft and tender, for someday you may have to eat them” seems good advice.

    I foresee anti’s pulling stuff off the bloggernacle and beating us over the head with it like they do with stuff from Journal of Discourses. Of course, I don’t _think_ we have anyone speaking with church authority here, like in the JD. But they’ll say “See what rank-and-file Mormons believe/say!” I’ve already been to one Mormon blog that attracted anti comments to whatever the author wrote.

    Context is everything. I think that discussions of shortcomings we see in the church or among church members should be framed with 1) what you did or are doing to solve or help the situation; or 2) a request to others to offer their advice or solutions. General carping without anything uplifting doesn’t help, and just reinforces others who have the same negative attitude. It may be reassuring to others that someone else has similar feelings, but in the end, you’re both dragged down unless you find the counter-point or the answer to lift you up.

    Solutions to boring sacrament talks might be:

    1) write an interesting lively talk that you’d like to give, show it to the Bishop, and let him know you’re available to give it. Criticism by those unwilling/unable to do a better job is cheap.

    2) Join a Toastmasters club, and invite some members to go with you. (Choose the boring ones.)

    3) Suggest to the leaders that they have the YM and YW practice talking at the lecturn in the chapel at times outside of sacrament meeting. Maybe as a group, or give the youth who is assigned for the next week a chance to practice with just the YM or YW president present. That way they can know how far from the microphone to speak and how loud to speak. I remember my first talk as a new convert, and the first time blessing the sacrament. I wish I could have practiced those things in the chapel privately or with just one other person to give me feedback.

  52. Aaron Brown says:

    Ian — I can’t believe I forgot the “this is one of the most important aspects of the Gospel” cliche. It’s one of my all time biggest pet peeves! I hereby deem it my Deadly Sin #9.

    Aaron B

  53. Aaron Brown says:

    GreenEggz — I hear and sympathize with a lot of what you’re saying. I’m just not sure it applies all that strongly to my post. I thought it was pretty clear from context that I was being both completely over-the-top, and somewhat tongue-in-cheek. There’s a reason why I compared myself unabashedly with Mother Theresa and Martin Luther in the first paragraph. I was hoping to signal to my readers that what followed was going to be similarly outlandish. I had hoped that advocating excommunication for oratorical sins would serve the same function.

    Aaron B

  54. anonymous says:

    How about this one? Aloha. And then the expectant wait while everyone awkwardly alohas back. Let’s just not do this anymore.

  55. Seth Rogers says:

    The main reason I dislike the practice of telling everyone how the Second Counselor called you last night and you haven’t had time to prepare, isn’t because it’s boring.

    It’s because it is tasteless and rude to the Bishopric.

  56. On the off chance my bishop loses his mind and asks me to give a talk, I’d love to do this. I didn’t comment at the time, but it’s one of the funniest things I’ve read in the ‘nacle, ever.

  57. I appreciate the sensitivity of some in the bloggernacle community, but if we can’t joke around here, where can we do it folks? The fact of the matter is, Aaron (quite effectively) used humor to illustrate a very important point–We have some oratorical deficiencies in our community, and that’s doubly a problem because of the lay preaching nature of our services.

    I think it’s interesting that we are discussing this topic right after talking about how to retain members in the “church growth zero” thread. Some suggested that the lack of interesting meetings contributed to the inactivity problem. If Aaron is using some well placed humor to shed light on the problem–more power to him.

    Now, before I offend more people, let me just say that in every other “duty” we have as church members, we are supported in some training capacity. The Aaronic Priesthood boys have weekly lessons on fulfilling their priesthood duties. We have teacher training classes, stake training meetings for RS, employment etc. But there is no mechanism to support and help us become better orators. This is pretty ironic, considering that we will all have MULTIPLE chances to speak in Sacrament Meeting during our lives. (Not to mention leading meetings, etc.) I put a lot of thought into this during my last calling as teacher training coordinator. We were focusing on new members, and helping them get ready for teaching callings, but I kept thinking that maybe I should do something about some basic public speaking skills. Maybe a special FHE, an enrichment night, a special 1 or 2 week teacher training course…I don’t know, but I think that giving the duty to the teacher trainer is a natural fit, and would be an easy way to incorporate some support into the church system.

  58. Floyd the Wonderdog says:

    Re comment #50: Great!!! I will be speaking on the atonement on the 14th. So I can state categorically that this is the most important aspect of the gospel.

    I found that my greatest obstacle to adequate public speaking to be that the type of presentation that makes a good talk is not the type that makes a good scholarly paper. I have been trained to write quite differently than I speak (either conversationally or publicly). So, my written talks initially sounded more suitable for a symposium. I didn’t like the way they sounded to me when I gave them, so I began reading my talks aloud to myself several times before presenting them to check the word flow, etc. If I’m getting bored with the length of a quote, I can be assured that the congregation will too. I like to think of my talks now as just that, talks between friends (with me doing all the talking). That helps quite a bit towards making a connection with the congregation.

    Sharing PERTINENT personal stories are a great way to make a point and keep attention.

    Vaseline on your front teeth will keep your lips from sticking to your teeth when you get dry mouth. No, really, it’s not a joke.

  59. This happens at more than just Mormon meetings, but I will tell you that as soon as I hear someone say, “…so, please bear with me,” I immediately excuse myself to go find the bathroom.

  60. I thought I posted a couple days ago. I haven’t given a talk in 8 years. Don’t know how I have slipped through the cracks. I gave more talks as a child in Sacrament meeting, than I have as an adult. When I’m up there someday I will be nervous and inexperienced.
    I think those that speak a lot, should try to get really good at it. They will have a lot of chances to practice.
    But I really can’t do much practicing. I substituted in primary last week. I used my previous experiences to know what might be the hardest part (that the lesson doesn’t take that long to discuss with 5 year olds) and made sure I had plenty of activities somehow connected to the lesson to keep them busy and focused. If I didn’t have a 5 year old at home, and if I had never taught a primary class before I would not have done the fabulous job I did.

  61. judybrooks says:

    Just to let you know, I’ve NEVER committed ANY of those seven deadly sins. So, I guess it’s NO excommunication for me!

    I’m headed straight for the C. Kingdom!

  62. alamojag says:


    So, never spoken in church, huh?

  63. The story I hate is “I found my friend”……it never happened, so stop prefacing it with “This is a true story that happened in the Orlando Florida 1st Ward”, or Utah, or the Virgin Islands, or New York, or the 20 other places that the story has been attributed to.

    It’s a faith promoting RUMOR and nothing more, and I refuse delivery of the moral of this story.

    And this goes for the boy on the train tracks, the little girl rescued from a ditch/pond/river/swimming pool by her dead grandmother dressed in white, and the “I’ll send you an Angel” film strip where the little boy is called out of school just in time to see his mother die of cancer (remember that one?)…..enough already, I beg you!

  64. This happens at more than just Mormon meetings, but I will tell you that as soon as I hear someone say, “…so, please bear with me,” I immediately excuse myself to go find the bathroom.

    I opened my recent talk with that line, telling how I hadn’t given a talk in almost ten years. I think it helped calm me down, as I was a bit nervous.

  65. a random John says:

    I am guilty on several counts. But my jokes ARE funny and sometimes the circumstances under which you were a topic are applicable. That said, a member of our ward recently spoke for 20 minutes, 15 on how he was given the topic and why he was the wrong person to talk about it and then 5 minutes on the topic. He had me convinced about 10 minutes into it that he was in fact the wrong person to be giving that talk. It was very uncomfortable to watch this person beat a dead horse for so long and with so little mercy.

    You should probably add the “catch phrase” as a sin. In my parent’s ward there is a gentleman who constantly repeats the same phrase throughout his talks. Last time we visited he spoke. I told my wife that I was going to count on my fingers how many times he said it. Good thing I was counting on my fingers in binary. Yes I am a geek. All the same I had to use two hands.

    Perhaps there should be a class in EQ or RS once or twice a year on how to give an OK talk. Or maybe assign a few people in the ward as “script doctors” or ghost writers that can help people write talks and give some delivery suggestions.

  66. Okay, what really makes me nauseous is when it’s five minutes before the meeting is supposed to end and the speaker says, “now I want to get into the topic I was assigned” pulls out a pile of papers and the scriptures. The hubris that whatever they have to say is so important the meeting can go over twenty minutes really chaps my hide.

    I get seriously ticked off when people talk too long.

  67. Did someone say “Aloha”?

  68. i relaize i’m roughly 20 some days short on this, but i am still going to comment and say, I HATE IT when the speaker is talking and gets really serious and starts talking about how little sins will lead us to bigger sins, like breaking the WoW or the law of chastity. Then a small pause. Follwed by a rushed, “Not that any of us here have those problems.”

    Nope. You’re right. EVERY LAST PERSON in that congregation (especially in singles’ wards) is a virgin, has never had a beer, and wouldn’t dream of smoking a cigarette. Every last person. Because church is full of perfect people.

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