Steve’s recent Big List of things we used to do differently has had me thinking about why some of us are nostalgic for the way things used to be. Some of it is just because we’re old and doddering; some of it is simply because things worked better the way we used to do them. Hence the inauguration of an occasional series of posts about the way we used to do things – not from rosy memory, but from the actual handbooks and lesson manuals we used to use.

In those paradisiacal days – No, wait, that’s rosy memory. Let’s try again –

In the days when the Young Men/Young Women organizations were known as Mutual Improvement Associations (MIA), every fully functioning ward had a speech director who helped the youth learn how to give effective talks. As one manual from 1969 says:

No Latter-day Saint boy or girl – no Latter-day Saint man or woman – can escape sometime being invited to

Offer a prayer
Bear his testimony
Introduce someone to a class or group
Make an announcement or report
Tell a class of his experience
Defend his beliefs, his principles, his point of view
Express his own conviction, his personal feelings, for or against a question
Make a short talk in some auxiliary class, a priesthood quorum, some opening exercise
Speak in Sacrament meeting, in a ward or stake conference, or at a youth conference or a fireside

We did not take it for granted that everyone would magically know how to do such things without training, any more than we assume most children will learn to read without being taught or will be good basketball players without coaching. One of the responsibilities of MIA was to teach Latter-day Saints to be effective speakers.

The Mutual Manual for 1966-67 suggests how that teaching was done, with its three formal lessons on public speaking:

Techniques of Organizing a Short Talk, with the stated objective “to provide an evening of MIA activity which will be a pleasant social experience and give some practical helps in the techniques of organizing a short talk.” Class members learned that short talks consisted of the Introduction, the Body of the Talk, and the Conclusion. Each part was defined and discussed. As an activity, sample short talks were cut into a dozen small sections and “scrambled”; class members put them back into proper order and discussed why such an organization was effective.

Presenting the Short Talk, with the stated objective “To develop a better understanding of some of the basic techniques of presenting short talks and to provide a simple, practical classroom experience in speech delivery.” Class members discussed the effect of attitude, gesture and voice on public speaking, learning how a relaxed attitude, body movement, and a natural speaking voice add to the effectiveness of a talk. Having been asked to learn the text of one of the “scrambled” talks discussed the previous week, each class member had a turn in front of the class to do these things: Stand silently before the group for one minute, trying out different ways of standing and holding his arms, and getting over natural stage fright; another two or three minutes silently rehearsing his talk to himself while he experimented with gestures, and again calming his stage fright; and finally, speaking his talk out loud, using a natural voice and the attitude and gestures he had just experimented with. Since everyone was giving one or the other of the same two talks, and would have his own turn before the group, presumably there was group support and an emphasis on the techniques of delivering the talks, with little concentration on the content of the talks.

Oh Yes You Are a Good Speaker! Class Speech Clinic. The speech director prepared pages with magazine illustrations and a short introductory statement, distributed to class members who then gave three-minute impromptu speeches with those illustrations as a launching point.

In addition to these three class lessons, the MIA had a small booklet (“The Best Red Book in MIA”), with 24 pages of tips on organizing a talk, making an outline, and controlling anxiety. My favorite paragraphs:

What is the Church striving for in providing opportunities for its youth to speak? Is it flowery language? Sophisticated reasoning? A repetition by rote of the words and writings of others? No, it is the honest, personal self-expression of the individual.

The reading of talks and reading of printed articles; the preparation by well-meaning parents and teachers of talks for youth, forces unfamiliar words upon them and confuses their reasoning. The experience of giving an “adult-prepared” talk accomplishes next to nothing in their development.

For those of us without the advantage of a ward speech director and the opportunity to practice speaking before small groups, I recommend a series of posts written a few months ago by Ivan Wolfe at Millennial Star. Here is Part 5, which has links to all the earlier parts. He covers both preparing talks and delivering them – so far as I can tell, Ivan falls short as a speech director only in that he doesn’t offer to come to your ward and critique a dry run of your next Sacrament meeting talk. :)

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