Tuesday, 15 May 2012

How I Write a Talk

It's not always easy to stand up here
I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. One of the (several) distinguishing characteristics of my church is that we have a lay ministry. Our Bishop works for a living, and in fact one member of the congregation is his boss! Funny.

We have a system whereby members of the congregation take it in turns to speak on a Sunday. The topics are assigned by the Bishop, and a time limit is usually set (often 15 minutes).

Writing a talk can be tricky. In a large ward (congregation), a person may not have the chance to speak more than once a year, if that. I have spoken three times in the past five years. My husband even less! He hasn't given a talk in two years, at least. I believe that records are kept as to who has spoken last, but we've moved house recently so any sort of recorded speaking assignment history is scrubbed out for us.

When I'm first given an assignment, I try to read up on the topic as much as possible. Often I am given a Conference talk to work from; my recent talk assignment was by Elder O. Vincent Haleck, entitled "Having the Vision to Do."

I read the talk several times, printed out a copy and underlined key points I wanted to bring out. I read it through a day later, taking notes of different thoughts that came to mind as I read. These initial thoughts didn't necessarily make it into my final draft, but they gave me a beginning.

I like to structure my talks into sections that flow from one point to the next. In general, a 15 minute talk would have about four different sections, with about 1 type-written page each (using a 14 point font for my own words and a 12 point font for any large quotations). I also have a short intro, usually containing my own personal thoughts and a large quotation from the source material, and a conclusion that reiterates the different points brought up and another quotation from the source material.

It is important to me to keep my quotes pertinent to the topic section, varied from different speakers and sources (such as the teacher's manuals or Daughters in my Kingdom), and to use plenty of scripture references. I use personal anecdotes sparingly, and use my own words to tie all of my quotes and scriptures together.

I am not a professional speaker, but I have a bit of experience acting and teaching, and I think there are similar elements in each presentation. I try to speak with emphasis (and often underline or highlight words in my printed copy of the talk) and come prepared with a tissue if I get the case of the weepies while I speak.

This recent talk didn't come together until the day before I presented it. I didn't have any time to memorise my words, so I couldn't look up at my audience as often as I would like. As a listener, I appreciate being able to see the eyes of the person speaking! I want to see their facial expressions and that is hard to do if they are reading directly off a page.

It goes without saying that preparing a talk should be accompanied with a lot of prayer and humility. I say humility because I had a personal agenda in mind when I started writing this talk, and it was like hitting my head against a brick wall! Every time I wanted to write MY  perspective, MY plans, my brain wouldn't cooperate. Once I backed off and let the Spirit guide the direction for the talk, everything slotted into place.

Many people prefer to "wing it" when they give talks. I simply can't do things that way. I am not a great orator without the written word in front of me as a guide. This is what works best for me, and I hope it gives you a little bit of help the next time you have to speak in front of a group of people.

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Here are two other blog posts that discuss preparing a talk:
Diapers and Divinity
A Latter-day Voice

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