A couple of Sundays ago after some consecutive bad speakers, I stole a sheet of paper from Crystal and made a point-by-point outline of some of the concepts that I would include in such a talk. Tonight I've knocked out eight items on a to-do list in front of me, and digitizing this sheet of paper is the last item on the list.
I'm putting the list to good use. I strongly believe that the Spirit you feel in a meeting is equally dependent on presentation as it is on content. I frequently tune out talks because they're being presented poorly. My mind can't help it; if a message's medium isn't working (in this case the speaker), then my brain has better things to think about, which it promptly gets to work doing. I'm assuming that any message you present in church will be of some importance, so why would you want me to ignore it?
Please, church speakers of the world, take the following tips in the spirit in which they're given. I want to hear and understand your message, and I want you and your audience to feel good about the way you present it. I'm not being mean, I just want what's best for everyone.
- Don't tell a "When The Bishop Called" story. I've never heard a good one, and I bet you haven't either. We know that you were called, we know that you had a feeling not to pick up the phone, we know that you didn't know what to talk about, we know that you're nervous, and we know that playfully threatening the bishop is fun. It's all been done. Write your own material.
- Slow down, look at your audience, look at your text as needed. I don't get a thing out of a breathless, page-long talk that you delivered in thirty seconds. I'm too dizzy! PRACTICE....SLOWING....DOWN. Especially if you know you're going to be nervous, and especially if you're a fast talker anyway. And it's completely ok to read a sentence from your notes, look at the audience, deliver that sentence thoughtfully, and then look back at your notes for the next sentence. At least this way I get to process the information, and you might look thoughtful.
- Don't apologize for your material. Present your message unabashedly, and if a story you want to use is told every six weeks or so in sacrament meeting, show a little respect for your audience and take a few minutes to say it another way. If you must use something that's overused, don't apologize, just present it better than usual and move on.
- Favor stories from your own life over stories from other sources. J. Golden Kimball was really cool, but I'd rather hear a story about you. You are a real, live person who I know (or could know) personally, and J. Golden and most of his ilk are dead. Telling your own story will allow you to build a relationship with your audience, let you give more detail, and help you avoid telling the same old story again (See rule #3).
- Use quotations in context. It's pretty tricky to misquote King Benjamin, but it's a lot easier, and a lot more common to quote him out of context.
- Vary your volume. It's ok to be quiet, and it's ok to be loud, as long as you do both appropriately.
- Bring or memorize a small amount of backup material. General Authorities frequently tout "Speaking by the Spirit." This is not making things up as you go. It's knowing your material and a little more so well that if you feel that a certain part of your talk needs to be dropped, you can do so and you'll have other material ready to fill the gap.
- When you use a quotation, pretend you're the person it came from and speak accordingly. When I quote Brigham Young, I stand up straight, look up a little, and speak in a booming voice. Brigham Young wasn't just a bunch of words, he was a large, visionary, opinionated man who was also a prophet of God. Don't short change him and others who provide your talk with meat.
- Quote, then explain. This is really important when you quote anyone who died before 1950 or so. Old English is hard, and your audience need help with what Paul just said in his epistle. Don't let them down.
- Don't be afraid to stray from your text a little. Decide that you'll say what the Spirit tells you to, even if it isn't written down. Don't rob your audience of what the Spirit just told you to say.
- If you find you're off topic, take a moment to find an appropriate place in your text to continue.
- Never apologize for silence or weeping. These are powerful, and apologizing trivializes them. If you wish, you may explain the silence or weeping. An explanation can magnify the strength because it helps the audience understand you.
- If your talk is instructional, have a few copies of your text or notes ready to give away.
- If you need a moment to gather your thoughts, thank your audience for their patience and don't apologize.
- Have a clear goal of what you want the audience to learn, think, or do from your talk. Make sure that this goal stays the same when you're writing the talk, and when you're delivering it.
- It's a good idea to memorize your talk, as this allows you to be more flexible. This takes lots of practice, and if you don't have time to practice giving it from memory 10 or more times, still practice it, but plan on using notes.
- If you're an expert on your topic, you might try standing and speaking without a written talk or notes. This is a skill that grows with practice, and atrophies quickly.
- It's ok to address the audience, and individuals in the audience, briefly.
- Create a summary sentence that you will deliver at the end of your talk. It should state your goal for the audience. This will let the audience set their own goals, and it will give your talk a sense of purpose.