How to be a Gooder Speechist

I was sitting in church not long ago, pondering the words of the speaker, when suddenly an inspired thought struck me: I was in the wrong sacrament meeting!

I dashed out and found the right one, and then I sat down and REALLY got to thinkin’. It occurred to me that since we don’t have a paid clergy in the LDS Church, and since we rely on the regular members to give the sermons every Sunday, maybe there ought to be instructions on how to give those sermons. I mean, if we had a paid clergy, they would almost certainly have graduated from some kind of clergy school, with a degree in clergying, or whatever, and they would surely have learned how to give good sermons. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be worth paying. I mean, who wants a clergy that can’t even give a sermon? “Sit down, you lousy clergy!” is what we’d be yelling from our seats every week as they stuttered and stammered. “We’re not paying you!”

So anyway, here are some basic guidelines on how sacrament meeting talks should be done. The following tips should not be taken as official church policies.


1. If you are from Hawaii, you are entitled to force the congregation to scream “Aloha” at you. This is an official church policy. You preface it by saying, “I am from Hawaii, and over there, we greet each other by saying [this is the part where you yell really loud] ‘ALOHA!'” And then everyone will yell it back at you, partly because you told them to, but mostly because they think it’s kind of cool that they get to yell in church.

If you are from someplace other than Hawaii, you are NOT allowed to make the congregation yell whatever it is you would yell to each other back home. For example, you may NOT say: “I’m from south-central L.A., and back there we greet each other by saying ‘Yo, yo, homey, whassup?'” (Also, do not use the greeting they use in Payson, which is: “Durn it, I got all the way out here to church and forgot I left Bessy strapped to the milking machine.”) (Also, do not use the greeting they use in Butte, Mont., which is: “Hello, fellow Butters.”) (Note to myself: Do an entire column sometime full of nothing but greetings people use in other places. It’ll be a killer.)

2. Always begin your talk by saying, “When Brother So-and-So asked me to give this talk….” This is an official church policy. Every talk must begin with an amusing little story about how Brother So-and-So called you on the phone, and you thought, “Uh-oh — I know what HE wants!” The congregation will be ever-so-delighted to hear of your nervousness, for they, too, have perhaps received ominous phone calls from that pesky Brother So-and-So.

3. Remember the true purpose of giving a talk: to make people laugh. This is an official church policy. I have sacrament meeting in the step-down lounge of the Smith Family Living Center. The lounge is divided in half by a portable, paper-thin fake wall, and another sacrament meeting is held simultaneously on the other side of the wall. The wall is pretty much useless, as we can hear everything that goes on in the other meeting, and I imagine they can hear us too. It’s a good thing there’s no rivalry between us, or else we’d never be able to plot strategems against one another. Anyway, one week they got started on time, whereas my ward started five minutes late, as is our tradition. That meant that while we were taking the sacrament — you know, the QUIET part of the meeting — the ward behind us was already into their first speaker. And I don’t know what this guy was talking about — I couldn’t make out his exact words — but he was very animated, and had a great delivery, and he was absolutely KILLING the crowd. He was knockin’ ’em dead. And it wasn’t just one joke. It was one line after another, each laugh building on the last. Evidently, the fellow’s brain told him he was at open-mike night at Johnny B’s; I can picture him going to Johnny B’s on open-mike night and giving his sacrament meeting talk. (“Listen folks, I wanna tell you — you ever try that repentance thing? What’s the deal with that?”)

So remember that that’s what you’re really up there for. You want people to know how funny you are. Plan a few one-liners in advance. Heck, go ahead and tell an actual, honest-to-goodness joke, like the one about how the Pope, President Hinckley and Pauly Shore went fishing together. (Punchline: “It’s not holy water anymore!”)

4. Remember that each sacrament meeting talk must have at least one quote from, or reference to, the book “Believing Christ” by Stephen E. Robinson. It is merely an oversight that 1) the book is not scripture yet, and 2) Brother Robinson is not a general authority yet. Quote from it, refer to it, base your whole talk around it. Even if there’s no time to read any scriptures, make sure you get in some good “Believing Christ” quotes. One can never hear the Parable of the Bicycle too many times, after all, and I’m sure Brother Robinson is just THRILLED that his book has supplanted the use of scriptures in sacrament meeting talks.

5. When quoting general authorities, refrain from mentioning which specific general authority it was, or in which general conference he said it. Merely say, “One of the general authorities — I think it was one of the apostles — said….” That whole “apostle” thing makes the quote sound more credible, and will cause the congregation not to realize that you are actually paraphrasing something that someone read out of a book at a zone conference once, and that you have no idea who originally said it, let alone whether it was an apostle, or even a member of the church.

6. Mumble.

7. If you have a personal experience that demonstrates the principle you are discussing, and which caused you to develop greater faith in that principle, and which may inspire others to greater heights of personal righteousness, refrain from sharing it. (For guidance on what kind of stories you SHOULD share, refer back to No. 3.)

These tips, if used correctly, will make your talk sound like a majority of the other talks being given, and will prevent you from standing out too much and appearing “different.” It all reminds me of the time J. Golden Kimball, St. Francis of Assisi and Richard Simmons went camping…. (Punchline: “Assisi? I thought you said ‘a sissy’!”)

Once again, this column may make little sense to non-BYU students -- even LDS people probably won't appreciate it as much, though they'll understand the jokes, such as they are.

Using sacrament meeting as a time to be funny seems to be mostly a phenomenon among the young people. That is, in regular wards away from college, I haven't noticed it. But at BYU -- and, I would imagine, Ricks and other LDS schools -- it's an epidemic, and it drives some of us crazy. Maybe you wouldn't think that I, Eric D. Snider, would be bothered by people making jokes. But sacrament meeting doesn't really seem the time or place for prepared stand-up material. I mean, sure, if you're talking and some amusing way of phrasing something comes to mind, I don't have a problem with that. Or if an experience you want to share that RELATES TO THE SUBJECT happens to be funny, that seems OK. I'm not saying there shouldn't ever be humor in sacrament meeting. But to plan out joke after joke, and to have the jokes be only tangentially related to the matter at hand ... that seems inappropriate. But who am I? Nobody, that's who. Just some guy.

In the early days of the Garrens Comedy Troupe, when I was a freshman, I wrote a sketch where a guy who actually was a professional stand-up comedian had to give a talk in sacrament meeting. The point was to make fun of people who treat their sermons like stand-up routines by having a guy actually do it. My favorite part: When he took the microphone off the podium and started walking around the stage as he continued his monologue.

A BYU student who had written the previous week about the roommate column wrote again about this one. She was peeved about my response to her last letter, and when The Daily Universe printed an angry letter about me, she used that as an excuse to write an angry Letter to the Editor herself, talking about how rude I'd been last time, and mentioning, almost in passing, her displeasure with this current column:

I also found part of his article about sacrament talks very tasteless. Making people from Hawaii, South Central LA and Payson look stupid isn't funny. Students at BYU come from different backgrounds and cultures. We should be embracing our differences, not allowing them to be mocked by ignorant people like Eric Snider.

If by suggesting that saying "Aloha" in church is kind of silly I have made Hawaiians look stupid, then I am apparently more powerful than I thought.