I must apologize in advance for this post. I was sick and lost my will to type so my keystrokes might not be a swift and smooth as usual. Also, because of my illness, I didn’t have enough time to properly research this topic so I hope you will pardon my lack of preparation.
I received a call last week from a member of my bishopric. Not knowing what he wanted and expecting the worst, I let the call go to voice mail. After listening to the vague message he left asking me to call him back, I went on with what I was doing and conveniently forgot to return his call. On Sunday however, he cornered me after priesthood opening exercises and I had nowhere to run. Then came the question that I dreaded all along, “Will you speak in sacrament in two weeks?”
The gauntlet had been laid before me. I, of course, reluctantly accepted and my mind immediately began to race. He said that the topic for the meeting would be Jesus Christ: Savior of the world. When he gave me this topic, a lot of things went through my mind, the least of which was what I would talk about and why. I couldn’t come up with one good, solid personal experience, so I decided to look it up in the topical guide. Anyway, the topic of this blog post is speaking in sacrament meeting… and here it is:
Sound familiar? Yeah, I thought so. Sounds like many an intro to talks given in sacrament meeting these days. Most of the previous story is true. I was, in fact, asked to give a talk in church following the previously stated series of events. The anxiety described, however, did not occur but was added to illustrate my point. I grow weary sometimes of how some people when chosen to speak in church, think that they must follow some understood uniform way of giving their talk.
Hey, I’m no speech expert. I just wish more people wouldn’t be afraid to put a little more of themselves into their talks and less of what they think others want or expect to hear. I think it’s a great opportunity for the ward to get to know the individual and I think it’s fantastic when people give a great talk using their personality to convey their personal view on a gospel topic. To say the least, it keeps my attention focused and my eyes open (usually).
For me these days, talking in church is kind of fun. Don’t get me wrong, I still am nervous when I get up there and have anxiety until I’m about five minutes into my talk, but it’s still fun nonetheless. I approach church assigned talks as a seldom opportunity to share a little piece of my personality. In my case, speaking assignments are few and far between averaging one talk every two or so years. Because of this span between talks, I think up topics, ideas, poems, quotes, and jokes that I’d like to use in my next talk and sit on them for future use. I especially take mental notes when I listen to the talks and testimonies of others. Then, when I am asked to speak, I usually have at least a page (double-spaced) of grade-A material rattling around in my head. When put to paper, this material usually ends up being a good five minutes of opening jokes and I end up looking like a stand up comedian up at the pulpit for the first half of my talk. Still, I think this is a good thing.
I always wish more people would start with a joke. If you’re not funny or can’t think one up, you have a great joke writer at your disposal on the candy aisle. Two words: Laffy Taffy. Yeah! The jokes on the wrapper are great for harmless openers, and the taffy is tantalizing for the taste buds to boot. They don’t necessarily need to be relevant to the gospel and are sure to garner a chuckle if not just for their sheer lameness. For example, “Why did the two elephants get thrown off the beach? Because they only had one pair of trunks!” But seriously folks, tell me you didn’t smile. I remember for my mission homecoming report I was still kind of stiff and couldn’t think of a solid opener. I just borrowed and oldie but goodie and said, “Good afternoon brothers and sisters, I just flew in fromBraziland boy, are my arms tired!” It gained a satisfactory amount of laughs if not some positive ‘har-umphs’. With a good opening joke you’ve got the crowd on your side and their attention as well. They’ll be asking themselves, “Who is this dude/chick?” “Is he/she new in the ward?” “Why is he/she so funny?” Or if you’re in that ever-tough situation of being in front of a singles ward congregation, “Is he/she marriage material?” Well folks, you better pay attention to find out the answers.
I can’t tell you how much I tune out if someone begins with the “When the bishop called last week and asked me to give a talk in sacrament meeting…” bit. It seems that people giving this particular opening think it’s funny or informative. It is neither. The only thing it accomplishes in a positive light is that it kills two minutes of the time allotted to the speaker in question. On the other hand, the following eight to 15 minutes of the talk will be torture for all because he or she lost the audience with this run-of-the-mill opening.
Another no-no is to flat-out state the topic up front. “The topic I was assigned is to talk about faith.” I find this declaration completely unnecessary if anything written beyond that sentence. Hey, keep us on the edges of our seats in suspense and eventually we’ll know that your talk is about faith; just like we found out that Bruce Willis was really dead at the end of the Sixth Sense – what a twist!
A further cliché to avoid would be the usage of “Bible dictionary defines…” in a talk. Go ahead; it’s fine to use the good, old dictionary but just incorporate it into those well-thought-out remarks instead of dictating it to us as if we were a wide-eyed contestant at a spelling bee or something. Can you use the topic in a sentence, please?
There are a few other overused and played openers I’ve heard circulating too often over the years. One such is when the speaker begins with an enthusiastic, “Aloha!” then gives a short pause and waits until the two or three people in the crowd who know how to respond half-heartedly repeat it back. Then the speaker belts, “ALOHA!” with more volume as if to say “I can’t hear you!” like we’re at a Quiet Riot concert and thus inciting the entire congregation to yell back, “ALOHA!” Are we in the islands yet? Pass the poi, mahalo. Maybe next time I speak I will get up to the pulpit and yell “Free Meal!” and see if the audience yells it back accordingly, or better yet, “TASTES GREAT!”
Another not-as-funny-as-you-think-it-is opener is when the speaker requests that the audience put their hands over their hearts like when repeating the pledge of allegiance and then quips, “There, now you can say that your hearts were touched today!” Hey-oh!
Above all, I wish more people would be themselves up there. It’s nerve-wracking, yes, but the speaker should remember that he or she is the only one on the spot and that the congregation is just glad that they’re not in his or her place. In essence, it’s taking one for the team, and the team is on the speaker’s side. This is why we should never feel the need to pre-apologize for a talk before it’s given. Everyone should be thanking and singing the praises of the speaker for representing. In fact, after the benediction, members of the congregation should carry the speaker out of the chapel on their shoulders like Rudy was carried off the football field.
Finally, one might worry about appearing stupid or silly in their remarks before the entire ward. Well, just remember this quote by a great man named Lowell Bennion:
Oh, and by the way, I’m giving a sacrament talk on March 11 in the Winder 8th ward if anyone would like to attend. Light refreshments will not be served.