Having finished partaking of bread and water in memory of the Savior's atoning sacrifice, a young man walks up to the podium. He pulls out notes copied by printer from information found on the LDS Church website. Nervously he clears his throat and prepares to face a group of people familiar to him, but often no more than acquaintances. He puts on a smile to cover true feelings of discomfort.
"Hello." he starts. "The Bishop wants me to talk about happiness. I first learned of the assignment Saturday morning soon after getting out of bed. The phone rang and woke me up. I climbed out of bed and started dressing when my mom called out that I had a call. 'who is it?' I begged. It seemed too early for it to be my girlfriend who was probably just getting up. 'You'll find out. Just pick up the phone.' I wish I hadn't," the young man says, turning to the far older man sitting between two other men. "You caught me at the only time to reach me." He turns back to the audience, "The minute I said hello and the Bishop said hello back, I knew what this meant. I'll get back at the Bishop," he chuckles in good nature. No one takes him seriously. That is part of the problem.
He clears his throat to start the rest of the talk. For a moment he looks out among the bored adults, screaming babies, inattentive busy children, and self-absorbed teenagers. It seems the only ones paying attention are his parents; siblings not caring. "I am going to base my talk on Elder _________ of the Seventy who gave this excellent talk about what Christ did for us." The young man proceeds to read paragraph after paragraph, interjecting a few short comments of his own. By the time he ends most in the meeting are taking a cat nap or reading the latest Church magazine or scriptures on mobile devices. He sits down and the next speaker gets up to more or less repeat the process.
It doesn't have to be this way. Although the example was from a young man, adults often follow this same pattern. Part of it is a general nervous reaction to getting up in front of a group to communicate. The American culture is extremely individualistic with only the most extroverted getting noticed. Exhibitionism is the norm for public presentations and lectures set aside for teachers. No matter. There are some suggestions anyone can follow to give a better Sacrament meeting talk that is engaging and less uncomfortable. Most who read this probably already know these tips, but hopefully it can be shared. Do in our own talks what 1 Timothy 4: 12 says, "but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity."
For convenience sake, the suggestions have been numbered. There is no particular order and often best combined. Always remember, even the most articulate and prepared speakers do not lose that butterfly in the stomach feeling. They learn to suppress it and go forward.
1. Be prepared. The Boy Scout motto is good for both men and women in any situation, particularly when called to do inconsistent tasks. It takes years to give a good talk, but that work can cut down on time needed when getting ready. All preparation means is study the Scriptures, read Church Magazines and past General Conference issues, and soak in life's experiences. Keep a journal of thoughts, observations, favorite quotes, good jokes, and of course events of daily life. It can be a storehouse for those who have a hard time finding things to use.
2. Have or work on getting a testimony of the Gospel. This is tied to the above suggestion because a person who is truly converted has already done much of the legwork. Relying on the Holy Spirit can be energizing. It is true those who are worthy and willing for revelation can, as Doctrine and Covenants 100: 6 promises, " . . . be given you in the very hour, yea, in the very moment, what ye shall say." Just don't expect this to happen if you haven't given any thought to what you would like to say if given the chance.
3. Get rid of the "I didn't want to give this talk," meme. Its devastating to the speaker and depressing for the listeners. This goes back to the old idea that if you don't have anything good to say then don't say anything at all. Perhaps you feel obligated to give a talk even if you don't like to for various reasons. You can still accept the assignment, but lose the expression of a bad attitude. Be honestly thankful to the Bishop for giving you the opportunity to climb out of your shell and do something that improves character. You have something unique to share. Own it!
4. Use lots of different quotes sparingly. Online resources are great for finding all of what you need to pepper your talk with other's words. Look in the back of General Conference editions of LDS Church magazines for topical guides. Who knows, there might even be an opening joke or two that can be an appropriate ice breaker. No matter what quotes are decided upon, never quote the same source more than once and at most two paragraphs at a time. As a rule of thumb; the use of three different sources are a minimum requirement. Paraphrasing, or quoting them in your own words, is perfectly acceptable and at times preferable. Just make sure to attribute who said what.
5. Never go without using the Scriptures as a main source of the topic. Everything else should back up what comes from these. In fact, if there is a change that needs to be made in how talks are done it should be how Scriptures are used. Reverse the trend of long quotes from one General Conference speaker and read longer sections of Scripture related to the point of the talk. Better yet, take a whole chapter or section of Scripture and expound on it, provided it stays on subject.
Much more can be suggested, but these are good starting points. There are sure to be comments by others to add to these. It is our responsibility to seek out and improve the natural talent God has given us, and verbose communication is human nature. We need to open up our hearts and minds with a willingness to improve this precious gift. Preparing for inspiration from the Holy Ghost enlightens the whole congregation.