By Linda Turley-Hansen
We Mormons tend to be a casual bunch, which, I’m guessing, is linked to the fact that our church is also our social world. Thus, it can be tough to speak or teach one another in a credible way. Sometimes, we forget where to divide casual from respectful and appropriate.
We know speaking in public is people’s number one fear. Perhaps not so much for Latter-day Saints who have been speaking and teaching since Primary, but, still, most of us are not professionals. I offer a few ideas for brush up.
Remember, the beginning of a talk sets the stage. It builds the expectations of the audience, establishes credibility. Spend time developing your opening. Give the audience a reason to listen rather than snooze. First impressions matter; plus, a good beginning allows you to get into the rhythm of your message.
Too many speakers start off with an apology or begin with a nervous giggle concerning the story of when or how the speaker was given his assignment. Both tactics lower listeners’ expectations, but listeners particularly dislike apologies of insecurity. Instantly, listeners brace for… Well, they brace for less.
Now, the world won’t end when you have a rough start; however, hours of preparation are immediately downgraded, and you find yourself behind in efforts to be a credible message giver.
The best introductions begin with a loving greeting to the audience and words of gratitude for the opportunity.
Pay serious attention to body language. “Perk up” might be a good thought; laid back just doesn’t work. It’s okay to use gestures, but keep hands off your body; no wiping, scratching or hair adjustments, please.
Then, always, an appropriate story pulls the audience right in. If not a story, then start with the most powerful, poignant element of your talk; begin with strength. Back up your power message with supportive details, using eye contact, then, as you’re wrapping up, refer to the high point again, and tie a bow around it. Lock it down. End with sincere testimony.
Notes are fine; but, don’t read your talk, if you can help it. Of course, reading is not always a no-no, especially if you’re new at speaking or doubt your memory (as I often do). But, stories are easy to remember. If you can tell it, don’t read it. If you read it, keep repeated eye contact with your audience.
Remember, children also are in your audience. Always add elements that speak directly to them.
In advance, time your talk (or your lesson), several times. To speak past your time is almost a sin and puts you out of integrity with other speakers and your audience. In my book, the time-crime is egregious and avoidable.
Most of all, be real, even if you break all the rules (except, never, ever keep chewing gum in your mouth during a talk.) Be pleasant, look into the eyes of your ward friends. Good luck. Improvements are worth it—for everyone.
Linda Turley-Hansen is an AZ syndicated columnist; AZ Hall of Fame TV anchor; firstname.lastname@example.org