"Lift up your heart and rejoice, for the hour of your mission is come; and your tongue shall be loosed, and you shall declare glad tidings of great joy unto this generation." — Doctrine and Covenants 31:3
Quoting this scripture, BYU communications professor Elaine Witt aimed to invoke courage into the audience as she described what some feel is "the single most dreaded task in the world," speaking in sacrament meeting.
For members of the Church, speaking in sacrament meeting is not an uncommon occurrence. Even young people are often asked to speak. It's part of the culture. "It doesn't have to be dry," said Sister Witt. "To begin with, don't describe the process of how you were asked to give a talk by the bishop and don't tell everyone the topic you've been asked to speak on."
For the process of developing a message, Sister Witt counseled class participants to remember that a ten-minute talk is a small window of time but it can change someone's life. A speaker should be perfectly prepared to deliver that message at that time to that audience, she explained. "Your overall mission should be a series of three steps: Make them hungry, feed them and then explain how to get more," said Sister Witt.
Developing a good talk begins when a priesthood leader asks you to speak, said Sister Witt. She outlined seven things to ask the priesthood leader that will help develop a better talk:
1. When am I speaking?
2. How long am I speaking? Pledge to speak within that time period. For preparation time, a good measure is to take one hour per minute. For a ten-minute talk, plan on about ten hours.
3. Ask questions to clarify the topic. What is the desired outcome? What do you want the congregation to know, feel and believe?
4. What is the theme of the meeting?
5. What topics are other speakers speaking on?
6. Who are the other speakers? Check with the other speakers to see what direction they are taking so content is not duplicated.
7. What order am I speaking in? She said most people go over time, so later speakers need to imagine they are a pair of Levis that will shrink to fit.
Sister Witt also added a bonus question to ask priesthood leaders: What music is planned for that day?
"It's not about you," said Sister Witt. "It's about your audience. You are bringing a gift. You are getting up to answer a silent prayer about how a person can get closer to God." The result of connecting with the congregation is demonstrated in Mosiah 5:2: "And they all cried with one voice, saying: Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually."
There is also an example from the scriptures about how the Savior prepared to talk, said Sister Witt. It is found in Mark 1:35, 38: "And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed. ... And he said unto them, Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also: for therefore came I forth."
From the Savior's example in Mark, Sister Witt listed five things to remember when preparing to speak:
1. The morning hours are valuable.
2. Solitude is essential.
3. Quiet is important.
4. Prayer is the foundation.
5. A clear mission motivates.
Use sources in a talk that will persuade the audience. To persuade them, the speaker will need to deliver the truth, said Sister Witt. Sources can be the scriptures, personal experiences, Church history, stories, conference reports, hymns, Church magazines and quotes from General Authorities.
The final five-step process for talk preparation comes into play when a person is ready to sit down and write the talk. "Each step begins with prayer," said Sister Witt. The five steps are:
1. Narrow your topic: you will be taken more seriously if you have a narrow topic.
2. Develop your mission: what is it you want your audience to know, believe, feel and do about the topic. Make sure you have a call to action.
3. Define your message: No matter how good you are, the audience will remember one sentence, but you get to choose the sentence. Give them something to hang their hats on. Make it true, powerful and repeatable.
4. Write the body: people sit down and just start writing everything that comes to mind. Use the scriptures, magazines, hymns and personal experiences.
5. Create an introduction and conclusion: Ask yourself if the parts of your talk support the mission. The audience is most likely to remember the introduction and conclusion, so make it count.
The Savior uses speakers to talk to people and change them. When people are asked to speak, they have the opportunity to change lives, said Sister Witt. "It's important to realize that people are coming to church to be filled. Deliver to them the bread of life and the living water." As a reference, she listed 3 Nephi 12:6, "And blessed are all they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled with the Holy Ghost."