There are more than 31,000 congregations (wards and branches) in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

That means roughly 62,000 members or more worldwide, none of whom are professional preachers, are preparing to deliver talks each Sunday, said author and Latter-day Saint Richard Nash, of Salt Lake City.

“I bet of those 62,000 speakers, 61,000 of them are really nervous,” he said with a smile.

But speaking in church doesn’t have to be a scary thing. It’s also possible to prepare a talk that won’t leave the congregation yawning or rubbing their eyes.

Nash’s new self-help book, “3 Keys to Help You Give a Better Talk,” draws upon a trio of fundamentals taught by President David O. McKay in 1905.

“These principles that David O. McKay shared can help everybody when they give a talk,” said Nash, who has served in various church leadership positions and worked as a speech writer. “I’ve found these three principles are the best speaking manual I’ve ever seen.”

Along with analyzing President McKay’s three principles, Nash’s book contains colorful examples and experiences, tips to help a speaker be less nervous, thoughts on the science of effective speaking and more.

“I hope the book is like a good talk,” he said. “It’s brief, parts of it are funny and it follows the Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf formula of 70% airplane and 30% principles.”

What are the 3 key principles?

Nash remembers sitting in a meeting as a brand new Latter-day Saint missionary when he first heard President McKay’s three principles.

Richard Nash, of Salt Lake City, Utah, is the author of “3 Keys to Help You Give a Better Talk.”
Richard Nash, of Salt Lake City, Utah, is the author of “3 Keys to Help You Give a Better Talk.” | Provided by Richard Nash

“I don’t remember who shared them, but I thought, ‘There’s some power here,’” he said. “Up until then, I had given talks and crashed and burned.”

Nash wrote the three principles in his Bible and started to practice them. The three key principles are as follows:

Have an objective. “When people who listen to you go home after church, what do you want them to say when they discuss what you talked about?” Nash said. “Your objective is the message you want your listeners to take away from your talk.”

Use examples. “The best thing you can do once you’ve stated your objective is to share examples that illustrate what you are talking about,” he said. “Usually that means telling personal stories.”

Nash suggests four ways to find stories for your talk:

  • Ask the Lord to help you think of the right experiences.
  • Look for simple, everyday experiences from your life instead of major, dramatic events.
  • Keep a journal.
  • Read the scriptures and liken them to yourself.

Emphasize application. “Ask yourself: What can people do because they heard your talk?” he said. “Emphasizing how your listeners can apply the principles you talk about will help them better live the gospel every day. Don’t trample on their agency,” Nash said, “but application means action.”

The 'Ten Commandments' of sacrament meeting talks

How not to begin a talk

Some speakers tend to open their remarks with a joke or explanation of how a church leader asked them to talk.

“I think we start that way because we’re nervous and we’re not sure what we ought to do. We clutch for anything that will connect us with the audience and help us feel comfortable,” Nash said. “That’s an example how not to begin a talk.”

Nash suggests two ideas for how to start your talk.

First, use your first few words to state your objective. The majority of speakers at last October’s general conference opened by stating their objective.

“They went right into what they were speaking about,” Nash said. “What I’ve found is when you talk about what you are there to talk about, you are less nervous, you don’t hem and haw, you don’t wander into your talk. ... Say what you are there to say. Jump into it.”

A woman gives a talk in a Latter-day Saint sacrament service.
A woman gives a talk in a Latter-day Saint sacrament service. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Second, consider starting with a story. A good story not only helps the speaker connect with the audience, but it allows the speaker feel less anxious and communicate in a more natural, comfortable way. Personal experiences are memorable and add credibility.

“When a speaker tells a story, you remember that longer than anything else,” Nash said. “Stories are also more conversational. When you preach, we tend to tune that out. When we converse, we’re more interesting.”

Scott Taylor: God speaks to us in many ways, including sacrament meeting messages

How to be less nervous

For some, public speaking can be a terrifying experience. Nash offered several tips for how reduce your anxiety when speaking in church.

  • Prepare early. “If ye are prepared ye shall not fear” (D&C 38:30).
  • Practice prayerfully.
  • Pick one person or a few people in the congregation and speak to them. “That will help you relax. You will see you are speaking to your friends who want you to succeed,” Nash said.
  • Smile. “Studies show it can reduce stress and spark dopamine, which decreases anxiety. Add in some eye contact with individual people, especially people you love, and you will feel more comfortable,” Nash said.

Finally, Nash emphasized saying what you are there to say.

“The best example might be Abraham Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address,” he said. “He didn’t stand up and say, ‘Boy, I was so nervous I wrote my talk on the back of an envelope on the way here.’ ... Lincoln stood up and said, ‘Fourscore and seven years ago.’ I don’t know if he was nervous, but ... it’s a fabulous talk because he said what he was there to say. And when we do that, when we’re on the Lord’s errand, we’re entitled to the Lord’s blessing.”

A boy gives a talk in a Latter-day Saint meetinghouse.
A boy gives a talk in a Latter-day Saint meetinghouse. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

How to avoid going ‘overtime’

It’s been said that people stop listening when the meeting continues passed it’s scheduled ending time.

Speakers are often given a specific length of time for their talk so each speaker has adequate time to deliver their remarks during the service. Speaking beyond one’s allotted time also means taking away from another speaker’s message.

“The best way to avoid going overtime when you speak is to be organized,” Nash said.

Writing a talk vs. speaking from notes

Should a speaker read their prepared talk word-for-word or do their best with a rough outline of notes?

Perhaps the only time Nash recommends reading your full talk is if you are speaking in general conference. Speaking from notes also enables a person to be more spiritually-guided in their remarks.

“It’s easier to connect emotionally when you don’t read your talk,” said Nash, who cites several examples in his book when church leaders have counseled members to use notes. “Again, when you use President McKay’s principles you are preaching less and sharing examples, telling stories. When you are talking about something that happened to you, you don’t need to read it, you can speak to it. ... It’s easy to give a talk when you are speaking from your heart.”

How to be a good listener in the congregation

Someone once asked President Spencer W. Kimball, “What do you do if you find yourself caught in a boring sacrament meeting?”

Richard Nash, of Salt Lake City, Utah, is the author of “3 Keys to Help You Give a Better Talk.”
Richard Nash, of Salt Lake City, Utah, is the author of “3 Keys to Help You Give a Better Talk.” | Provided by Richard Nash

“I don’t know; I’ve never been in one,” he said.

For those seated in the pews, Nash suggests bringing a notebook to church and taking notes.

“It’s easy to let your mind wander,” the author said. “But if I’m taking notes, I am more invested. I don’t close my eyes and my mind doesn’t wander. I’m looking for kernels of truth that will help me.”

He continued: “When we are paying attention ... great talks have the power to change our lives.”

Why Nash wrote the book

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Over the years as Nash has served in the church, he has attended meetings where he’s thought, “Oh, this person needs President McKay’s three principles.”

Finally, Nash made the decision to share them in a book.

“They are almost impossible to find online. They are intuitive. Once you learn them, you think, ‘Of course, this is a great way to speak in church,’” Nash said. “Since I’ve written the book I had some sweet emails, notes and phone calls from people who have said, ‘Thanks for helping me.’”

Find additional resources and learn more about Nash’s book at or purchase a copy at

Tips for living: 4 ways to prepare an inspiring, informative and concise talk in church
Tips for living: Giving a better sacrament meeting talk
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