Suppose I started out this article by saying I really didn’t want to be here and I really didn’t want to be writing this and I really don’t want you to read it and I don’t know what I’m going to say and…
Yeah, why would anyone want to read further?
In sacrament meeting, we hear openings like this fairly often. The speaker starts out with their story of how the bishopric staked out their home and work to finally track them down to ask them to give a talk that the speaker didn’t want to give. But they got shackled into it anyway and here they are, up behind the podium doing what they don’t want to do…talk to you.
That’s one of the lousiest openers to public speaking that one could give. Ouch!
Yes, I realize having a lay ministry and lay speakers in meetings makes for public speaking opportunities for those that might never have had such a chance. Hopefully these tips can help a person be more at ease with it, be more confident with it, and even feel better as they get better with it.
Opener = Sparkler
The talk may often be on a subject. Whether the subject was given or selected by the speaker. So open with…a side-channel that is not exactly the subject, but extra points if this opening sparkler does have a passing relation later.
Examples of an opening sparkler
- Quotation by somebody else (general authority, Mark Twain, JK Rowling…doesn’t matter as long as it’s good)
- Scripture right off the bat
- Story – stories can be extra good
- Your personal story is fine. It’s done all the time, but your story is unique. Just work it toward your goals (your message, humor, spiritual, etc.)
- Inflection – we have a very monotone inflection in much of our meetings, whether we get this culturally or not, it’s there. Adding a mild inflection does wake people up…slightly.
Ever visit a church that has a professional ministry?
To be a professional minister in the world where one gets paid for a living, it actually takes a lot of work and dedication. Professional ministers often go to dedicated schools that help them learn skills and such. One of these is public speaking.
Some non-LDS churches I’ve visited on occasion have some very talented speakers (they’ve also embraced PowerPoint and video presentations quite well). Many of these ministers also sing exceptionally well and they’ll break into song too. But back to just the talking portion.
I’ve watched non-LDS ministers as they use their hand/arm gestures, their body language, their speaking skills, their changing-up of the content and pace, their voice inflections, their methods of moving on stage (when not behind a podium). They’ve pretty much learned many of the same types of public speaking skills as I have, and they’re wonderful at it.
You can also search YouTube for good examples or watch some great TED talks for these types of skills.
Back to sacrament meeting
- Tell them what you’re about to say
- Tell them what you’re saying
- Tell them what you just said
This mantra is very common in public speaking. In your opener, you don’t spill all the beans, but you give previews of the good stuff. Then in the middle, you give the good stuff. Then at the end, you relive the good stuff.
Humor early, spirit later
Humor is not the easiest in public, but if you have some good stuff, here’s, not how, but when…
Watch general conference, some speakers are excellent at this. If you have some good laughter medicine, go with it early. Once people laugh, they may be inclined to laugh again, so you can do a follow up or two. But don’t turn it into a standup comedy routine as people will get uncomfortable. So during your talk, after the laughs, bring it down. Bring in the special parts. Bring in the spirit. Leave with the solemn gems that they’ll love. The combination of laughing then feeling is a wonderful and powerful set of emotions that humans do enjoy and relate to, and it helps them remember the message.
Don’t have things that stop you dead in the talk. Know your material very well. A well-practiced-public speaker will average 1 hour for every 1 minute they are on stage. For sacrament meeting we’re not figuring on ultra-paid-professional level, but set aside some time early to go over it and go over it again.
If you have scriptures to pull up, have them pre-printed for you or have it well book-marked in your scriptures. Don’t’ take time looking it up. Just say the reference out loud for those that want to mark it, then carry on with the message.
Nope, don’t bother looking people in the eye. You can if you want, but you don’t have to. If you’re not looking them in the eye, then you’ll look at three spots on the back wall about 8 feet high slightly above everybody.
- Talk to your left a a 45 degree angle (10 o’clock position) but looking at the left wall just above where the people site.
- Talk to the center (12 o’clock position) slightly above everybody looking at the back wall
- Talk to the right at a 45 degree angle (2 o’clock position) again looking at the wall about 8 feet above the ground. The clock is often in this location so you can check on it.
- Be knowledgeable
- Be brief
- Be seated
If you go short on your time, everybody but maybe the speaker after you is happy. If you go long on time, nobody is happy.
If you’re not talking first, then you may not know how much time you’ll have. So break up your talk into “modules.” Then if you have extra time, use more modules. If you’re short on time, skip a section or two. Practice this before hand at least once. And time yourself at least twice.
Example of Modules
- Opener sparkler story (can’t skip)
- Part from conference talk
- Your comments
- Story #2
- Side lesson of story #2
- Thoughtful quote
Maybe story #2 is the expendable part. You’ll decide ahead of time so if the time comes, it’s very easy to skip it if needed.
Bringing it together
Prepare well ahead of time. Even a week or two before lightly if you have that much notice. Open your talk with a sparkler or attention-getter. You’re excited to be there and digging into the subject. You’ve got your plan of what to say and you do the light-hearted fun earlier. You give eye contact to the back walls, you are mindful of the clock and ready to axe modules if needed. Then as you tie up the end of your talk and bring in the spiritual component, you get extra points if your closing has a relation to your opening sparkler. Which people will remember.
They will remember your humor, your message, your engagement, and never know that you didn’t want to be there or what sneaky ancient ninja tactic the bishopric used to track them down.