Rx for Sacrament Talks

by Chris Crowe

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    Do your listeners suffer from advanced boredom when you give a talk? Here’s a prescription to cure that.

    It was a sweaty Sunday afternoon, and the chapel was stifling. My wife was wrestling with the kids to keep them reverent, and I was wrestling with my eyelids to keep them open. We were both losing.

    The speaker didn’t help me any in my fight against sacrament meeting slumber. He was a typical youth speaker, and he followed the pattern of most youth speakers in our ward—he read to us from the book Especially for Mormons.

    As he droned on, my wife and I both surrendered: she took the kids out to the foyer, and I decided to grab some shut-eye. I assumed sacrament sleep position number one: weight forward, elbows on knees, head down, face in hands, and soon I was dozing comfortably.

    Maybe I was too comfortable or maybe somebody poked me awake—it’s happened before. At any rate, my head slipped out of my hands and “thwap!” my forehead cracked the bench in front of me.

    I don’t normally have such headaches in sacrament meeting, but a dull speaker and a stuffy chapel almost always make me drowsy.

    Sometimes, though, it’s easy to listen to and learn from speakers no matter how uncomfortable the setting. It’s the speaker, not the conditions, that has a lullaby effect on me. So, what does it take to be a good speaker? Can anyone, including youth speakers, give interesting talks in church?

    I never gave much thought to why some speakers are more interesting than others until one of my own sacrament talks bombed. I had prepared what I considered a good talk about patriotism with plenty of quotations and scriptures, but they didn’t help much. I ended up putting more people to sleep than the sandman. I was so embarrassed that I vowed I would never give a boring talk again.

    I started paying close attention to what other speakers, interesting speakers, did in their talks. A few weeks after my sacrament meeting disaster, I went to a fireside featuring our stake presidency. Each man delivered inspiring, stimulating messages, and as I looked around the audience, not a single person looked bored.

    The second counselor spoke first. He talked about his childhood in a small Wyoming town and how he went out of his way to befriend a boy who had been rejected by all the other kids at school. He told us how, 20 years later, that friendless boy, now a successful man, came to him and thanked him for his kindness. He concluded his talk by quoting a scripture about the worth of souls and bearing his testimony of the gospel.

    Next the first counselor told of his great-grandmother, a woman who had personally known all the presidents of the Church since Brigham Young. He related his last visit with her and how she admonished him and his young family, in a firm but aged voice, to “Keep the faith!” He then read a scripture about enduring to the end and finished his address with his testimony of the importance of constantly striving to do good.

    Our stake president was the final speaker. He talked of the importance of showing love in families and told the story of the last time he saw his father alive. His parents were at the bus stop to bid him farewell as he left for his mission. In parting he shook his father’s hand, hugged and kissed his mother, and turned to board the waiting bus. As he stepped aboard the bus, the Spirit prompted him to return to his father and say good-bye again. We listened raptly as he told us that he stepped off the bus and went to his father to embrace and kiss him one final time. His father did not live to see him again.

    In concluding he bore testimony of the importance of showing love to one another in our families. We were all deeply touched and inspired by his message.

    After the meeting, I thought about what each of the fireside speakers had done to present an interesting, uplifting speech. They all used the scriptures to teach a gospel principle, they told a relevant inspiring anecdote or personal experience, and they bore their testimonies.

    In the next general conference, I noticed that many of the General Authorities used the same scripture-anecdote-testimony formula in their talks. Could that same formula be used by others with success?

    I decided to try the scripture-anecdote-testimony combination in my next speaking assignment to see if it might improve my effectiveness. I spoke about the temple and the joyous experience my family and I shared when we were sealed together. Next I explained the importance of temples and quoted a scripture to emphasize my point. Finally, I bore my testimony of temples and the eternal blessings they provide.

    The congregation didn’t stand and applaud my talk at the end of the meeting, but they didn’t fall asleep either. As a matter of fact, several people complimented me on my talk—something that was usually done only by my wife and the bishop. I felt good about the talk I had given.

    Anybody can give a talk in sacrament meeting, and most everybody does, sooner or later. Your turn will come soon (or again), and you can make it a successful, enjoyable experience for you and your listeners if you’ll include some of the same simple steps used by effective speakers.

    First, prayerfully select or consider your topic. Next search the standard works for one or two pertinent scriptures. Then review your own experiences (or those of others that you’ve read about) and select an uplifting anecdote to relate. Finally, plan to bear your testimony about the principle you discuss in your talk.

    If you include these four steps as you plan your next talk, and if you’re well prepared, you’ll deliver an effective, interesting talk in sacrament meeting.

    And I promise I won’t fall asleep.

    Photography by Jed Clark