Thursday, May 13, 2004

How to prepare a talk

One of the things I love about the participatory nature of the Church is that we are given the opportunity at a young age to learn public speaking by giving talks in Primary. (Oh, you thought this was going to be about sacrament meeting talks? Nope.) I think learning to give a talk in Primary can be one of the most beneficial aspects of the Primary program. Some kids are uninhibited: they'll march right up to the podium, yank the microphone halfway down their throat, and belt out a talk. Others will freeze unless prompted by their parents -- and in some cases, the parents end up giving the talk for them.

We have five young boys; two of them have given talks in Primary. One of them was very shy about speaking in front of people, but we used a great method to prepare him to give his talk and he got right up and got through it on his own. My mother came up with this method when I was in Primary, and I think it will work for most young children. Here's how it works:

Fold a piece of unlined paper in half so that the short edges of the paper meet. Fold in half again in the same direction. Now fold in half the other way. When you unfold the paper, you will have eight squares (okay, they're really rectangles, but close enough) defined by the folds. (For older children, you can fold it so you end up with 12 or 16 squares.) Sitting with the child, talk about what she wants to say and draw a picture in each square to represent that part of the talk. It shouldn't be anything fancy, just one or two iconic images that can help the child remember that part of the talk. Make them big enough to fill up most of the square. (For older children who are beginning to read, you might add a word or three.)

Now go through the talk with the child several times, pointing at the pictures as you go along. Have the child repeat what you say. Then have her do it on her own, with help from you as she needs it. It's amazing how quickly children pick up on this, and how much they will remember. It is not essential that she memorize it word for word (though this works better for some children); the key is that she knows the concepts associated with each picture and can express them. Then have her practice several times in front of the family. Set up a music stand or a stool or something as a stand-in for the podium, and have the family sit and listen (Family Home Evening is a great time to do this).

On the day of the talk, go over it a few times right before leaving for church (and if Primary is after sacrament meeting, maybe right before the end of sacrament meeting). Go to the Primary sharing time where she will be giving the talk and stand in the back of the room, where she can see you. You can silently prompt from there if she gets stuck, and she will be reassured by your presence and praise, but will be on her own in front of the group.

I think most children will succeed with this approach, and they will learn some great skills: memorization, public speaking, outlining; and they will develop greater self-confidence. Hey, it worked for me: I love to give talks!


  1. We do something like this with our five-year-old daughter who's been giving talks for nearly a year and a half.

    In The Friend, they usually have picture stories where certain words are represented by images (like a heart instead of "love", an eye instead of "I", or picture of a book instead of "book").

    We sit down with her and she tells what to write. We type it into the computer. When that's done, we replace all the words that are easily represented by images. Then we keep going over the talk until she has it down. It worked well with her first Primary talk that we kept using this method.

    For the Primary presentation last year, instead of having each child recite a sentence or two already prepared, they had a select number of children write their own talks. Our daughter was the Sunbeam that was chosen. We used the above method and produced a "four page" talk for her. She did a great job.

    The funny thing is, that everyone in the congregation thought she was reading all four pieces of paper. So not only does it help give a good talk, it is mighty impressive to those listening.

  2. We do something quite similar. For our son's first primary talk as a Sunbeam, my wife made a small booklet of folded and stapled notecards, each page of which had a little "hieroglyph" that represented a sentence or so of the talk. It seems so much more beneficial than the whisper-repeat method, because the kid learns it him/herself, and learns concepts and content rather than just rote words. Plus they learn better speaking habits--eye contact, etc., because they just glance down and then look up and speak. When our son gave that first talk, we were amazed at what an independent, sentient being he all of the sudden seemed to be--and so was he.

  3. Great idea, gh. The folded paper routine bridges the gap between just reading (too rote) and just winging it (threatens brain freeze). I'll give it a field test next time my daughter's number comes up.

  4. For adults, I think this idea has great merit, but takes quite some faith. Too many of us seem to use pre-worded talks as a crutch. I know that I could really use this to great benefit in my seminary class, but that it may take a small leap of faith.

    It reminds me of the idea I'd read about, of using mindmaps to not only write, but also deliver talks. Despite using them to brainstorm ideas for talks, I've never actually used a mindmap at the podium.

    Of course, I don't see this ever being given the green light at General Conference. Imagine the correlation committee being handed a bunch of pictures prior to conference "here's my talk, let me know if you want me to make any changes" Not likely.



  5. My name is Ryan Jensen i am 13 years old i would say for a talk for example Like Psalms:91:1-2 and it says Jehovah you are my refuge my god in whom i will be trust do you know that scripture ? Yes. 

    Posted by Ryan Jensen

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    If you have a moment, why not hop over and take a look at my report on telescopes.