The Power of Personal Stories When Giving Talks

580-speaking-in-church

Today was ward conference, and as is typical in ward conference sacrament meeting, we had two speakers: the bishop and the stake president. Both of their talks were excellent, and they both happened to do the same thing in such a way that I thought there was a lesson there for good public speaking that I commented on at the beginning of my Sunday School class.

Without fanfare, the bishop began by telling a personal story. He explained that this was a story about how children sometimes don’t understand the weird things their parents do. As background to the story, he painted a word picture of the place he grew up. His was a very large family in a very Mormon neighborhood, the kind of place from which people rarely moved, so by the time you get to high school you have a lot of shared history. And he explained that typically in his mind he had two groups of friends: one was school friends with whom he interacted mostly in the school context, and the other was personal friends, with whom he interacted in the ward, in each others’ homes, on weekends, and so forth.

One day during dinner his father casually mentioned that Allen (name changed) had had his wisdom teeth out and so he had stopped by and given him a milkshake. This jarred the youthful version of the bishop, because Allen was a school friend of his; why in the world would his father have done such a thing? How did he even know this young man? His separate spheres were colliding in a way with which he definitely was not comfortable; in fact, he was mortified by his father’s actions, just randomly showing up at a fellow student’s house to give him a milkshake. This was very embarrassing for him personally, and he couldn’t understand it. He filed it away in his brain under “random stuff our parents do to embarrass us.”

Many years later he was at an event where he ran into Allen’s older brother. And this brother commented to the bishop about how much their family loved his dad, who had been their home teacher for some period of years. And all of a sudden the gaps in the story were filled in. When the milkshake gift occurred, Allen’s family wasn’t even in their ward, and his dad certainly was not his hometeacher at that time. But his dad had been the family’s hometeacher years before, and had maintained a loving relationship with the family for all of those years since, even without the formal calling. And all of a sudden the bishop understood his father’s actions, and he now filed the episode in his mind under examples of long-term, loving service.

From there the bishop went on to give the rest of his talk. When it was the stake president’s turn, he did something very similar, without any other introduction beginning right out of the gate with a personal story, riffing to some extent off of the bishop’s story. And the fact that both speakers had done the same thing made me realize there was a great lesson on effective public speaking here that I could share with my Gospel Doctrine class.

Too often when we begin a talk, we feel the need to dance around for a bit. We tell stories of how we received the assignment, we try to be self-deprecating about our (very limited) abilities as a public speaker, we try to frame the topic by reading from the dictionary, and on and on and on. What I loved about the talks today was that there was none of this dancing around–they went straight into the stories they were going to use to frame their talks.

Further, they did not tell the stories of some high church leader. We make a mistake when we assume people will care more about some high leader’s stories more than our own, I think. For one thing people are likely to have heard the high leader’s stories before, while our own are much more likely to be fresh. For another thing we know and presumably love and care about the people in our ward who give talks, so we have an inherent interest there in their personal stories.

For me, whenever someone tells a personal story over the pulpit, I inevitably perk up and pay close attention. I put the phone down and listen, because personal stories of people we know in the flesh are just inherently interesting to us (or at least they are to me). And when you give a talk, half the battle is getting the congregation’s attention right out of the box. And for me, there is no better way to do that than through the power of a personal story.

Comments

  1. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    The great stories that made me perk up and listen stick in my mind for years. The extremely odd stories that are used to convey some sort of analogy also stick in my mind for years. I could give examples, but I’m sure everyone knows a few of their own.

  2. “And for me, there is no better way to do that than through the power of a personal story.”

    Yes, yes, and yes! I also pay closer attention when someone shares an experience that teaches or reinforces a relevant point.

    We had a few missionary homecoming talks last year in our ward that were purely doctrinal–no stories from the trenches or experiences shared. Those talks were, in my opinion, wasted opportunities to share the joy/reality of missionary work.

  3. I loved this. Thanks.

  4. Several editors have changed my approach to academic writing along those same lines. I try to start all chapters with a vivid story to frame the rest of the discussion. Absolutely crucial when writing for a trade audience. It’s become a kind of fun puzzle to try to figure out just the right story. Good reminder.

  5. Sometimes telling personal stories can also backfire. Our bishop told a story at our ward conference today which was 20 minutes long about an experience at the boy scout jamboree where he and his fellow scout leaders were electrocuded and he nearly died. That was pretty much the whole of his talk aside from a brief testimony, and an introduction saying the talk was about overcoming hardship. It was a memorable story, but he simply failed to apply it to our ward or the gospel in any meaningful way.

  6. Jack Hughes says:

    “Personal” is key to a good, memorable story that connects with the audience. When people start rehashing those tired old stories from lesson manuals, 3rd-hand accounts, spiritual twinkies, faith-promoting rumors, etc, I quickly tune out. But I am going to walk out in a huff the next time I hear a retelling of the time Elder Packer sat next to Mick Jagger on a plane and called him to repentance for widespread corrupting of youth. And after hearing multiple versions of the story (different GA, different celebrity) any spiritual benefit from hearing it is lost. I would much rather speakers stick with their own lived experience.

  7. Jenny Evans says:

    I agree. My husband peppered his last talk with personal anecdotes, and he said he could look out in the congregation and see when people were getting bored, so he’d start another story and they’d perk right up.

    As long as the story is the frame for the gospel topic (not the other way around,) then I think personal stories are the best.

  8. Jack Hughes says:

    Also beware of the Paul H. Dunn factor. We had an elder serving in our ward recently who everyone seemed to fawn over, but whenever he spoke I was only convinced that he had a testimony of himself, his physical appearance and the sound of his own voice. He even knew exactly when to punctuate his emotion by getting choked up on cue. I was happy to see him go home.

  9. maustin66 says:

    When I was on my mission, we had Elder John Carmack of the 70 give us an afternoon workshop on public speaking. He gave us the best piece of advice I have ever heard: never tell a story where you are the hero. This, I think, is what tripped Paul Dunn up more than anything. He was always making himself out to be a hero. Nobody would have minded much if he told stories where he occasionally exaggerated what a loser bum he was.

  10. Our speakers in Sacrament Meeting today told very memorable, meaningful, and touching personal stories. You listen more when speakers tell stories.

  11. Jason K. says:

    Good thoughts, both in the OP and the comments. Thanks, all.

  12. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    “put the phone down and listen” is the new litmus test for a good talk.

  13. I remember reading somewhere here on the bloggernacle excellent advice for talks: make it unique to you (often done through a personal story) and mention Christ. Sounds like your Bishop/SP did that well.

  14. J. Stapley says:

    Definite pro tip.

  15. From: A Passion for Excellence by Tom Peters and Nancy Austin. “It turns out that human beings reason largely by means of stories, not by mounds of data. Stories are memorable, stories are about real people doing real things. Remember Ray Kroc’s visit to a McDonald’s franchise in Winnipeg? He finds a single fly. Even one fly doesn’t fit with QSC&V (Quality,Service, Cleanliness, and Value). Two weeks later the Winnipeg franchisee loses his franchise. You better believe that after this story made the rounds a whole lot of McDonald’s people found nearly mystical ways to eliminate flies – every fly – from their shops. . .”

  16. I agree on the personal stories approach. However, my struggle is thinking of personal stories that are unique and not just a reflection of a mundane life. Sometimes I hear someone speak and marvel at they way they can take the normal and ordinary and turn it into life lessons learned. Unfortunately I haven’t honed that talent, yet.

  17. Maria Griffin says:

    Thank you so much for this article. Might I add: don’t start out with an apology. False humility is such a waste of time, and even if one does feel inadequate, pointing that out to the congregation just makes everyone feel uncomfortable and really makes the talk about the speaker and not about the topic at hand. Also, do NOT read a conference talk or other Ensign article to me. I am very capable of reading myself, and I might as well stay home if the speaker is going to repeat a talk given by someone else. Certainly, quoting a General Authority is appropriate, but just a phrase or two to make a point, not the whole address. If you struggle to come up with pertinent personal stories, then might I suggest keeping a personal journal of day-to-day happenings, spiritual experiences, or just funny or inspirational family anecdotes. The audience wants to hear YOUR application of gospel principles. These are inspirational. Sometimes even telling how you got a principle wrong and then learned from it is very educational.

  18. I learned this from a sister in my ward years ago. I realized I was always drawn in right away and riveted by her words. Then I realized I looked forward to her talks. It was because she always began immediately with a personal story. She and I served together in Cub Scouts and then years later, she was stake young women president and I served as her counselor. I saw how the young women responded so well to her whenever she addressed them whether at a youth conference or around the fire at girls camp. I pattern my speaking after what I learned from her example and an added bonus is that starting with a familiar (to me) story calms my nerves.

  19. A week ago my 14-year-old gave a talk and listed some of the questions he gets feom his friends, like “does your dad have more than one wife?” and “do you believe in magnets?” I was the next speaker so I started with “I’ve been asked to share our beliefs in magnets and would like to testify that they are real.”

    Personal stories are so much more compelling unless someone has it so rehearsed and have shared it so many times that you can now recite it as well as they do.

  20. In my ward the formula is to spend 5+ minutes introducing the family, telling the cute story of how the couple met at BYU, and what graduate program they (meaning the husband) are now studying at the local university. This is followed by a recitation of a conference talk or article at lds.org. Often, the only mention of Christ is at the end, immediately preceding the word “amen”. Talks often feel like a performance to an audience, rather than an expression of belief to a congregation.

    I agree that stories are best when you’re not the hero. A story can draw the listeners in, especially if they know the speaker personally. It’s important to remember the purpose is to illustrate a gospel principle, which usually means to keep the story short and eliminate exposition that may be interesting to the speaker, but not pertinent to the assigned topic.

    By the way, I was sitting on the plane across the aisle from Elder Packer when he challenged Mick Jagger to read the BoM. I tell that story every month in testimony meeting.

  21. Yikes! You commenters are a tough crowd. I’m pretty sure I never want to be asked to give a talk, if the kind of reaction I can expect is anything similar to what people are expressing here. It sounds like there are more ways to give a bad talk – one that doesn’t inspire you to look up from your iPhone – than ways to commit sin! Luckily, I’m sure you all never do either. :)

  22. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    Well, while sin is not decreasing in this world, people may be running out of ways to do it. However, nearly every week I witness a new way to give a bad talk.

  23. Thank you for this article. I agree, personal stories are the best, followed by doctrinal truths. I hate when the person’s name is in the program, the bishopric member presiding has told us the name of the speaker and they then get up and say “for those who don’t know, ,y name is…” And proceed to give us their family history.

  24. Michael Ashley says:

    When my son gave his first youth speaker talk, I told him not to say anything until the chapel was fully quiet, then they really paid attention. Years later the bishop gave him the full 35 minutes for his missionary return talk.

  25. “Put the phone down?” Gasp. Gasp. Well I’m old. What else can I say. My phone is hanging on the wall in my kitchen. I wouldn’t dream of taking it to Church on Sunday.

  26. Jack Hughes says:

    “Put…the phone…down!”
    I’m imagining Alec Baldwin (as his character in Glengarry Glen Ross) saying that from the pulpit. Now that would be the most memorable sacrament talk ever. He has my vote for bishop.

  27. Thank you for the tips. I recently have been called to YW and gave my first lesson yesterday. I did give 2 personal stories. My problem is how do you tell the personal stuff without crying or getting so emotional. Any tips?

  28. I’ve spent a lot of time serving in Primary, and always remind parents that the reason why kids give talks in Primary is to help prepare them for future talks and teaching in the Church. Please don’t make your kids read a story from the Friend (so, so boring for everyone, especially the kid) and help them prepare so they can be confident in what they are saying. Even a Sunbeam can give a personal talk–ask your kids questions about the topic and see what they have to say. Have them draw some pictures to illustrate their talk. This also helps kids learn that a testimony is not just a recitation, but a description of how God works in their lives.

    The most memorable talks I’ve heard from kids were all based on personal stories. I still remember one from almost a decade ago by a girl who told a sweet story about ways she helped out her parents. My new favorite was one give in our ward a few weeks ago. There was a girl who was six and started her talk by saying “I want to talk about a time the prophet made a mistake” and then went on to talk about the lost 116 pages and how Joseph Smith repented and was able to receive revelation again. Seriously, my jaw dropped–it was awesome.

  29. Sally Smith says:

    Also,when you share personal stories to grsnd children they always ask for more.

  30. Jack Hughes, what you call the Paul H. Dunn factor I call “CES Voice.” We have quite a few of them on the high council and I can identify a CES speaker within the first 5 sentences of a talk every. single. time.

  31. Robert Williamson says:

    After reading “To Draw Closer to God” a collection of discourses by Henry B. Eyring, I am less critical of those who speak and teach in the Church. Chapter two titled, “Listen Together,” and chapter three, “Learning to Hear the Lord’s Voice,” are particularly enlightening. If we prepare our hearts, we can hear the Lord’s voice in the weakest and simplest of God’s children.

  32. Kevin, they were both wonderful talks and I found them very engaging and enlightening. Even better, when my wife asked me later how sacrament meeting in the old Ward was, I was able to share extensively from both talks. That is something I’ll admit I can’t always say about sacrament talks.

  33. KSTaylor says:

    Three things should be accomplished in the introduction of any talk. 1. Create ethos with the audience (how you relate to them or they relate to you) 2. Capture attention of audience and 3. Introduce topic. There are many ways to accomplish this, one of which is storytelling. Agreeing with Robert Wiiliamson, we can always learn if we are willing to listen even from the least professional of talks. After living in Germany in a mountain top experience, we found ourselves in Arkansas. The first Sunday was High Council day. The elderly man was difficult to listen to because of his total presentation, physically and verbally. But I persisted, and was so grateful I did. I learned at his humble feet one of the most profound truths of the gospel I had never heard before.. When we listen with the spirit, we learn from the speaker, however awkward, unskilled they are. We also help raise that speaker because his/her spirit will respond and they will say things the spirit teaches them in that moment, sometimes truths they have never known before themselves. That is the power of the spirit that we all should seek while giving or listening to talks.

  34. Nice job using a personal story to illustrate this for us!

  35. Nice job using a personal story to illustrate this for us!

  36. Here’s something my brother taught me as the key to give a powerful talk, testify of Christ, use personal stories, AND not just repeat a Conference talk – regardless of your assigned topic.

    When creating/giving your talk, answer this 1 question about your assigned topic/talk: How has living/using this gospel principle brought me closer to Christ? (Or how has it strengthened my testimony of Christ?)

    I have written a few talks with this question in mind. The talk process has been way more uplifting for me and I am reminded of experiences and tender mercies that I can share. And if my initial thought is, “Well, I’m not living this principle as well as I should.” Then as part of my talk preparation I try to live the principle more fully. This leads to my being able to share testimony and personal experiences about how my own life has changed.

  37. Oh my goodness! I teach a writing class to homeschoolers of different Christian denominations, and we talked about this very thing just yesterday. Anecdotal openers are a very effective way to catch the audience’s attention. I had a professor at BYU who taught me that sharing relevant personal stories is the best way for people to remember and understand what is being taught. After all, Christ taught this way.

  38. My mission president taught us a method of giving a good talk. Start with a scripture which teaches about the subject of the talk. Then us a personal experience which illustrates how you have applied that principal in your life. Conclude by testifying that you have received a witness of that principal (as opposed to reciting something that is not really related to the talk itself but sound more like a statement of loyalty); you should testify of what you have taught.

    I don’t really care for the idea of starting with a story about yourself. We go to church to learn of Christ, not each other nor to be entertained. Too often I have heard talks that are more focused on the speakers’ life than on the principals Jesus taught. As for the “first talk in a new ward”, I always interweave details about myself into the talk rather than start with a formal introduction of who I am, where I came from, and why I’m hear. Remember, it is about the gospel of Jesus and how I live it in my life, not about me.

  39. Linda Strickland says:

    I read several comments about Paul H Dunn and I pray that none of his progenitors are reading this. I’m sure there were many facets to this man. However, he made some obvious choices that came back to haunt him in the end. I pray that his family has been able to move on and not leave the church because of his mistakes. I’m sure all of us have ancestors that didn’t always choose the right. When we speak… Is it kind?? Is it true?? And most of all is it really necessary!!

  40. Great article and comments…

    Something I’m reminded of is that whether we get something out of sacrament meeting or not does not have much to do with the talents of the speakers, but with the readiness of the listener to feel the spirit.

    Remembering a story may help us down the road in some way, but having our testimony built up and/or our desire to do the work of the Lord increased does not necessarily correlate to what is spoken.

    Related to that, the primary purpose of the meeting is the sacrament, not being entertained (or not) by a speaker, so even if someone does read For the Strength of Youth for the 50th time in the year, you are definitely still better off being at church partaking the sacrament than reading on your own somewhere else.

    There aren’t many good excuses for not paying attention during talks. We have made a baptismal covenant to “come together oft… to support one another”. Playing on a phone, or even “preparing” a lesson during the talks doesn’t support the person who is speaking. Being willing to actively listen to the speaker can correlate with being willing to be taught by the Spirit, conversely ignoring the speaker will usually correlate with shutting out the Spirit.

  41. thebomisthebomb says:

    You are right that personal stories are key and draw interest. When a speaker completes a talk with no personal story (or at least information) I am disappointed because I want to KNOW that speaker. They are a member of my ward family and I love them and want to know them better.

    Please put down your phone unless you are looking at scriptures. I cannot think of a more rude and disrespectful behavior to the speaker (and the Lord). Maybe I am hard core about this because I was an adult convert.. but no matter how boring the speaker we should be able to focus and pay attention and be courteous for 60 minutes per week. OK, off soapbox.

  42. Carole Keane says:

    Loved reading everyone’s comments regarding giving an effective talk. Isn’t it amusing how we have different ideas and thoughts about our Sunday Sacrament Meeting. Seeing as how we are sharing our thoughts on that subject, I will tell you mine.

    I go to church for more that one reason. First and foremost to receive the Sacrament and secondly to be spiritually fed by those who have prepared a talk on a specific topic. I appreciate different styles but always relate to those who tell of a personal experience tying their story with the talk they are giving. Illustrations and humor are two of the best tools one can use when trying to accentuate a point. It also gives us insight to that person and may create a bond and/or appreciation for that particular individual that wasn’t present before. I know that to be true for me.

    Most people who prepare a talk also prepare themselves spiritually and pray that it doesn’t fall on deaf ears. Many times the way we present our talk can waken those in the congregation that otherwise may have tuned out. Let the Holy Spirit be your guide!

  43. “Amen” to dangby’s comment.

    As far as structuring talks are concerned, we can’t go wrong when following the example of those who speak in general conference. Out of curiosity, I quickly glanced at the talks given in the Saturday morning session of last October Conference and noticed:
    1) Pres. Packer – began with a personal story;
    2) Elder Robbins – the same;
    3) Sister Esplin – the same;
    4) Elder Wong – framed his talk with a scripture reference;
    5) Elder Christofferson – began with a quote from Shakespeare’s The Life of King Henry V; and
    6) Pres. Uchtdorf – began with a personal story.
    All of these are great ways to begin and these and the other conference talks can serve as examples to help us with our own talk assignments in church.

    However, I was also reminded of the story about Pres. Spencer W. Kimball when he was asked by someone: ““What do you do when you find yourself in a boring sacrament meeting?” His answer: “I don’t know. I’ve never been in one” (See Donald L. Hallstrom, Ensign, May 2012, 15). As dangby mentions we are in sacrament meeting to partake of the sacrament and then we have the opportunity to learn from each other. Several years ago, as a bishopric counselor, it was my assignment to give out the sacrament meeting talk assignments. No matter how hard I tried to assist my ward members to understand that they didn’t need to reintroduce themselves, or that the conference talk I was giving them was to be used as a guide with the assigned topic–not be given as their talk, or whatever else I could think of to help–it didn’t stop some from doing those things anyway.

    What I learned from my assignment was that I needed to pay attention to what the ward members did say and to pray for them as they spoke. This helped me to better learn by the spirit and to gain gospel knowledge from the things being said (even if all they did was to just read the conference talk). Since my release from the bishopric does this mean I’ve never been bored in church during a talk or that I haven’t been caught preparing a lesson during the talks? Unfortunately I cannot say such. However, when boredom does seep in to my brain, I am more aware that I need a change of attitude rather than telling myself it’s the speaker’s fault.

  44. Kevin Barney says:

    The phone thing was a joke, btw.

  45. David Burt says:

    We should follow this great advice! Do as Elder Bednar traditionally does: Tell the congregation what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell then what you told them. That will keep your audience off their phones and keep their attention.

  46. The great stories…

  47. Yes – it is great to hear a good talk and personal inspiring stories are very entertaining but lets not forget that we don’t go to sacrament meeting or conference to be entertained but rather to be taught by the Spirit. Read the comment left by Chris!

    And lets not be hard on anyone who isn’t the best public speaker and criticize. I for one don’t particularly enjoy giving a talk and being the center of attention.

  48. Hedgehog says:

    “Do as Elder Bednar traditionally does: Tell the congregation what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell then what you told them. That will keep your audience off their phones and keep their attention.”
    Or conversely have them run screaming for the door. I for one cannot tolerate being told something over again. It recalls to mind the lesson my German lit teacher was dictating a model essay answer (in English). First she told us what she was going to say with her sentence. Then dictated the sentence. Then told us what she meany by it. For. Every. Sentence. Torture. My brain hurt. I was in a cold sweat and hyperventilating. And if the fire alarm hadn’t sounded, I’m convinced I’d have had to have been carted out foaming at the mouth, because at the time I just didn’t have the nerve to run.

  49. “it is great to hear a good talk and personal inspiring stories are very entertaining but lets not forget …”

    I’m fairly sure we all understand that entertainment is not the purpose of sacrament meeting. However, neither is boring each other or giving rote, meaningless repetitions.

    Coping mechanisms such as President Kimball’s quote and other strategies for dealing with speakers with social anxiety or inexperience (or whatever), are good, but these coping strategies, these reminders to be charitable and long-suffering and to bring the spirit with us to the meeting, are not prescriptive of how we should prepare and give talks. (Also, as far as I can tell from a few minutes’ research, the President Kimball quote may be apocryphal.)

    How to prepare and give talks? Forget the rote repetitions. If you are in the habit of starting a talk by telling about how you received the assignment, what your topic is, and (“for those of you who don’t know”) what your name is (we just heard your name from the bishopric! and if we can’t remember, we’ll check the program!), etc., it’s time to repent and learn how to prepare a talk from Moroni 8: “…after the manner of the workings of the Spirit, and by the power of the Holy Ghost…” and other scriptures. How did Jesus tend to teach? Yep, stories.

    He also tailored his message to each audience. General conference addresses are appropriate for the audience and technology, but they’re not a guide for sacrament meeting talks, unless of course your talk is being simultaneously translated into dozens of languages and broadcast throughout the world. Otherwise it needs an audience-specific pace and content.

    How to do that? Remember that your ward or branch is a fairly small audience and they need to relate to you personally, so whatever topic you’ve been assigned, remember to preach about Christ and the atonement; use appropriate short personal stories that illustrate gospel principles; be organized so even children and visual and tactile learners can follow you; stay within your allotted time; and most importantly, seek the spirit in your preparation and delivery since Heavenly Father knows what your ward or branch needs to hear even if you don’t. If you do this, the talk won’t be about you; it will be about the gospel and the spiritual needs of the congregation, and that’s when the spirit can fill our meetings and our words can bless the lives of those around us.

  50. Perhaps the Pres. Kimball quote is “apocryphal.” If so, you’ll have to take that up with Elder Hallstrom. In case it was missed, I did site the quote and will do so again–fully this time since I cut a little bit out in my earlier post: (See Donald L. Hallstrom, “Converted to His Gospel through His Church,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2012, 15). My original source for the quote came from lds.org: https://www.lds.org/youth/article/how-to-never-have-a-boring-church-class-again?lang=eng.

    I don’t like to quote general authorities without having sources. Something else, we should all think about when writing talks. Don’t use second or third-hand quotes from Pres. Packer (or any other general authority) that you heard from your home teacher who heard it from his bother-in-law (I’m being a bit facetious, but I think the point is clear). If we are going to quote from the words of our leaders, let’s be sure we can tell people where we got the quotes from and that they are from reliable sources.

  51. It was easy enough to trace the quote back to a report of a Gene R. Cook address to the BYU Religion Department in 1990. Couldn’t tell before that.

    You bring up another point, Chris: general authority quotes. There are few better ways to lose the attention of a congregation than to read an extended series of quotes, and it’s not because people don’t want to listen or don’t want to participate in the spirit of the meeting; it’s because the written and the spoken word involve different skill sets.

    One of the strengths of church membership, particularly in smaller wards and branches, is the frequency with which youth are assigned to speak. Speaking regularly in front of a congregation can help with issues of anxiety, timing, etc., and when combined with practical instruction, can provide valuable life skills, but no one is born knowing how to speak, and no one is born knowing how to present a topic to an audience or congregation. Some people are naturally talented in this regard, but talented or not, it’s possible to learn the skills associated with public speaking, and teach them to our children or others under our stewardship.

    Here’s one practical method for learning public speaking skills, a free course from the University of Washington:

    https://www.coursera.org/learn/public-speaking

  52. Heathcliffe says:

    Some excellent advice here – thank you all.
    I often wonder if I have a mild form of ADD for I really have to work hard at listening to anyone for more than a short period.
    My biggest bugbear is when people go over time. You see that Brother Dynamic, who always gives excellent talks, is due to be the final speaker. You also note, with dismay, that Brother Boring who has been asked to bear a brief testimony, is still on his feet after twenty-five minutes. You are slowly losing the will to live. Eventually, he draws breath and the bishop says “amen” in a loud voice and, with some reluctance, Brother Boring returns to his seat. Brother Dynamic then has six minutes to present a Readers Digest version of his masterly sermon.
    I think that too many bishoprics over-schedule their sacrament meetings. It has been my experience that the best services tend to have just a couple of speakers and perhaps a little more music than usual. If it finishes a little early, so what?

  53. Almost without exception, any talk would be greatly improved if the speaker would resist the temptation to talk about how he was asked to give the talk and how he felt about it being asked. Very boring and a waste of precious time that could be better used.

  54. Wendy beer says:

    We all have personal stories that fit in with the topic given. The older you get, the more stories you have to tell. What annoys me is that speakers READ their talks from copious sheets of paper, of their tablets. When it comes to telling a story they may have, they read that too! It’s THEIR story, why read it?!!!!

  55. DeNile Williams says:

    I thought it very interesting and profitable reading through some of the comments on giving talks. I picked up some pointers for myself to use in the future that will be helpful. Actually, I am anxious to be asked to give a talk to see if I can put into practice these new skills

  56. My recent teacher training involved the RS presidency strongly discouraging us from telling or soliciting stories because they “distract from the doctrine” and are “boring.” I wanted to send them a Conference Ensign with all the GA’s stories highlighted, or better yet the New Testament with all Christ’s parables in pink. The idea that I should be discouraging comments disturbed me. We were instructed to focus on the doctrine, which was clarified to mean: whatever the manual/GA said rather than our own words. I didn’t understand how this could result in anything but boredom. I just figured this young presidency had heard a couple inappropriate stories and tangents and over-corrected.
    ____

    Wendy beer, whenever I try to look up from my copious sheets of paper, nerves take over and I begin to trip over my words, mix up the chronology of MY stories, and leave out critical details. And this is AFTER I take meds for performance anxiety. I assume most people will cut me slack for reading given that nobody’s paying me to be there and there’s no teleprompter.