How to Prepare a Church Talk or Lesson

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I’ve had a couple people ask me lately about how to get ready for a big speaking assignment at church– a sacrament meeting talk, fireside, full lesson, etc.  I can only assume they are asking me since I always have too much to say about everything.

Anyway, in response to a recent email, I typed up my own personal preparation routine, and then I thought, “I wonder if this would be helpful to anyone else?”  So then I decided I might as well just stick it up on my blog because maybe someday a random person will Google “How to Prepare a Talk” and voila, it can be an answer to prayer.

I’m nothing if not magnanimous.

My only disclaimer is this:  It might be a really cruddy list for someone else, but it works for me.

This is how I prepare for a large speaking assignment.  Sort of.  It always changes from occasion to occasion depending on how I’m feeling about it, but this is a good general overview:

  1. Get my topic and ask the person who assigned the topic if there’s anything in particular they’d like me to focus on.  (Sometimes they have a wish-list agenda they didn’t communicate originally.)
  2. Read everything I can get my hands on about that topic.  And by everything, I mostly mean an exhaustive search on lds.org.  I print out talks and articles and mark up favorite quotes and ideas that help me begin to decide on the parts I want to focus on.  (Don’t go overboard, especially if the assignment is for 10-15 minutes or less.  Choose a tight focus and don’t even try to cover it all.)
  3. Keep the topic in mind when I do my personal scripture study and any additional reading of the Ensign, church manuals, etc.  Look for stuff that applies.
  4. Pray about it and think about it a lot.
  5. Write an outline, very skeletal, that identifies my main points and puts them in a semi-logical flow/order.
  6. Take all those highlighted quotes and scriptures and examples I’ve thought of and plug them into the outline where they best belong.
  7. Keep a notepad by my bed so that when I think of random phrases or experiences or thoughts that apply, I can jot them down.  Plug those things into the outline too.
  8. Sometimes, that’s all I do, and I take all my quotes and notes in a labeled easy-to-find way and just teach using my outline and hop from one point to the next.  If I’m feeling extra nervous, or I’m really worried about time-management, I write out more word-for-word what I want to say for each point on the outline.
  9. I pray a lot more after this point for the Spirit to help me edit appropriately.  I usually have more material than I can possibly use, so I rely a lot on promptings of what to include and what to leave out.  If I’m struggling with the outline/order, I pray about that too, and I’ve gotten promptings or “visions” about how to organize everything.
  10. Trust the Spirit even when you’re nervous as heck.  He knows how to do it right.  :)

The hardest part (for me) is keeping it within the time limit you’ve been given.  Watch the clock carefully, pace yourself the best you can, and don’t be afraid to let stuff go.  In real life, you’ll never have enough time to do all the things your heart wants to do, and when it comes to giving a talk or lesson, you’ll never have enough time to say all your heart wants to say.  Focus on teaching meaningfully what you do have time to say, and don’t rush and cram to get in more material than is realistic.  And don’t assume that no one will mind if you just take a little extra time.  It’s tempting, but not polite.  You’re welcome.

Feel free to add your own tips (or questions) in the comments below, just in case the random Googler is severely disappointed by my advice.