12 August 2006

After All We Can Do

Mormon culture is interesting: nowhere else could someone feel justified, and perhaps even comfortable, in speaking before a group of 100+ people with little or no preparation. Of course, when you believe in revelation, this becomes a little most understandable. Still, whenever I hear someone introduce their lack of preparation using the idea that the Spirit will guide them, my writer's heart groans inside and I hunker down for a disorganized mess of ideas. My qualm about the whole extemporaneous speaking thing is that people often skip over the condition upon which this blessing is predicated, as found in D&C 84:85:

Neither take ye thought beforehand what ye shall say; but treasure up in your minds continually the words of life, and it shall be given you in the very hour that portion that shall be meted unto every man. (emphasis added)
I worry that people think this promise means that they don't have to prepare when they are speaking, resulting in some of the worst talks I've ever heard. Look, it's simple: if you are speaking to an audience, you need to prepare. Flaunting a lack of preparation is awful, since it implies you don't care enough about your topic or audience to bother. But really, speaking is a very transient form of communication, and if your thoughts aren't clearly organized, it's impossible for your audience to follow. Preparation is crucial.

My interpretation of this promise is that you don't necessarily need to write out your talk word for word--recited talks are responsible for the other half of really bad talks--but you need to study your subject as thoroughly as if you were. It's much like relying on the Spirit when you take a test. The Spirit will guide your ability to recall what you know and to organize your thoughts, but it will only rarely bring knowledge to your mind that you did not put in, and then only if you really strove in your preparation. You need to understand the material for your talk so thoroughly that it becomes part of who you are, and then and only then, after having put your best into the subject, rely on the Spirit to guide your delivery.

In fact, the more I think of it, the more I see this principle in the gospel. We are saved by grace, but only after all we can do. In prayer, we don't expect God to give us an answer unless we have studied the matter out in our minds. God will not help us unless we are willing to put our whole selves into the attempt. (For the most part. I recognize there are exceptions.)

As for my talk writing process, I usually start out by looking up my topic in the Bible Dictionary, True to the Faith, and the most recent Conference Ensigns. I look up the scriptures referenced in those, bringing in other stories and scriptures as I find them. Since writing helps me organize my thoughts and receive inspiration, I'll usually then write out some version of my talk. However, I rarely ever actually read the talk. I recondense my written thoughts back into an outline of ideas and references--the key here is to organize the principles I've learned so that it's more than a tangled mass of doctrine. When I speak, I just try to explain the concepts I've written out, allowing for elaborations and tangents as prompted by the Spirit.

Oh, and I pack lots of tissues, since I usually cry through the whole thing. :P

1 comment:

Terrah said...

Liz: I like your insight about preparation in speaking, etc. I also really enjoy your blog; I discovered it through Ben's blog.

Keep writing! :)