The interest in – or at least recognition of – our church-wide need for training in public speaking, together with Kevin Barney’s post today on Reading at Church prompts me to offer this additional lesson from the 1966 “Lessons and Activities” book for small MIAs (MIAs with so few members that it made little sense to offer the full program of Beehives, Scouts, etc.). This activity was intended as a presentation to youth and adults of all ages, meeting together, and could easily be adapted to a youth or adult activity today – a bishop could use it as a 5th Sunday lesson in the joint Priesthood/Relief Society meeting, or it could be a combined YM/YW evening. It is illustrated with examples from general public speaking, but would work just as well for typical Sacrament meeting subjects as long as you substituted topical stories that were as unusual, uncertain, familiar, antagonistic, animate, and concrete as those in the original lesson.

Objective: The purpose of this lesson is to point up the important factor of using the unusual, uncertain, familiar, antagonistic, animate and concrete in a speech.


Six Hecklers (each of whom is assigned one of the factors of “interestingness”)


The leader briefly but glowingly introduces the speaker.

The speaker, without animation, begins a talk on a highly technical subject (perhaps atomic energy).

After he has talked for about two minutes in terms unfamiliar to the lay person, the six hecklers who have been planted in various places in the audience begin to make comments, such as “What is he talking about?” “Who said this was going to be interesting!” etc. The comments should be made loud enough to be disturbing.

The leader, acting embarrassed and upset, steps to the side of the speaker, stops him and says to the audience: “It appears that some of us are not interested in what our speaker is saying.”

Then calling the heckler by name who has been assigned “the unusual” says: “You seem not to be interested in what Brother _____ is telling us.”

1st Heckler: I suppose I don’t know enough about the subject to be interested. They say one of the ways to get attention is to tell something unusual, but the audience should be able to understand what is said.

Leader: Perhaps this is a timely interruption. We need to know what factors make an interesting talk. We need to be able to hold our audience without a rope. Let us write this on the chalkboard, “How to Hold Your Audience without a Rope.” No. 1 – The Unusual. Maybe you would like to give us an example of what you mean by “the unusual.”

1st Heckler: During the last world war, Brother Oscar A. Kirkham was sent to speak to a group of servicemen. When introduced he stood before the pulpit and began to sing a simple little song. He paused, smiled and started to sing again. By the time he was partly through the second time, a few of the boys had joined in. He said nothing, smiled and started to sing the song a third time, and this time the whole congregation joined in. Then he proceeded to talk about the glory of serving one’s country.

2nd Heckler: I like a speaker to introduce something that arouses my curiosity, such as the story of “The Black Door”: “An Arab Chief tells the story of a spy who had been captured and sentenced to death by a general of the Persian army. The general had fallen upon a strange and weird custom. He permitted the condemned person to make a choice. He could either face the firing squad or pass through the Black Door.

“As the moment of execution drew near, the general ordered the spy to be brought before him for a short, final interview, the primary purpose of which was to receive the answer of the doomed man to the query: ‘Which shall it be – the firing squad or the Black Door?’

“That was not an easy question, and the prisoner hesitated, but soon made it known that he much preferred the firing squad. Not long thereafter a volley of shots in the courtyard announced that the grim sentence had been fulfilled.

“The general, staring at his boots, turned to his aide and said, ‘You see how it is with men; they will always prefer the known way to the unknown. It is characteristic of people to be afraid of the undefined. And yet I gave him his choice.’

“‘What lies beyond the Black Door?’ asked the aide.

“‘Freedom,’ replied the general, ‘and I’ve known only a few men brave enough to take it.’” (From You Can Learn to Speak, pp. 9-10.)

So I would like to add “the uncertain” to the list.

3rd Heckler: I like a speaker to bring in something with which I am familiar. It makes me feel like we have something in common. For example, the president of the alumni of the local high school was asked to give a short talk at the dedication ceremonies of the school’s new gymnasium. His first impulse was to write a pretentious address and commit it to memory, but upon reflection decided to recall familiar happenings. this is what he said: “I can remember when I played basketball for this high school. Some of you old team mates in the audience played with me in the opera house. On cold nights like this one tonight, we had no heat in our dressing room … As we dressed and undressed before and after the games, we shivered and shook. But we were perfect gentlemen – that is, after the games were over. We always permitted the visiting team to shower first in the hot water that came from a monkey stove of limited capacity. When our turn came, only cold water remained. Most of us survived the games, but the memory of those showers still gives me a chilly feeling. This new and beautiful gymnasium changes all of this. And are we oldsters thrilled! We know our boys and girls now have the advantages required to achieve new heights of athletic glory.” (You Can Learn to Speak, pages 51-52.)

May we add “the familiar” to the factors of interestingness.

4th Heckler: I like the challenge of something antagonistic, like struggles, feuds, contest, floods and such. The listener’s ear is always turned to conflict whether in people or things. Physical struggles – fights, feuds, hunts, or contests, floods or devastating winds. Debates or disputes – all glue the listener’s ear to his mental arena. Sometimes a speaker must bring in the negative, the antagonistic, to make a positive point. (Add “the antagonistic” to the list.)

5th Heckler: My favorite speaker is the enthusiastic person. Listeners are attracted to people and things that abound with vitality and activity.

A recent survey indicated that a high I.Q. was not as important to the success of an executive as enthusiasm. A group of leading educators were asked to name the main qualifications for success in teaching. Not one of them mentioned I.Q. All agreed on “enthusiasm and ability to inspire.” It disclosed that even scientists do not have to possess exceptionally high I.Q.’s to be good scientists; they need enthusiasm and a driving interest in their field.

Leader: Enthusiasm and animation always capture our interest. Certainly every speaker or teacher should make use of the “animate” if he expects to win the interest of his listeners. (Add this quality to the list.)

6th Heckler: What the others have said is all true and important, but none of them has mentioned the factor of interestingness that I think is the most important. It is concreteness. To the average listener, the philosopher is more interesting than philosophy. Christ’s life is more interesting than Christian life in the abstract. Solomon’s temple is more fascinating than the theory of architecture.

There is a tale related in one of our MIA speech texts, You Can Learn to speak, which tells about a missionary who preached to the natives of the Fiji Islands. He told them that although their sins were as scarlet, belief in Jesus would make them white as snow. The natives were unmoved. blank, staring expressions remained upon their faces. The missionary was perplexed.

The next day he returned and said, “Although your sins be as red as blood, if you will live as Jesus tells you, they will become as white as the milk of the coconut.” The wide grins and nodding heads told the missionary that this time the natives understood.

Snow was an abstraction to the natives. They had never seen it or felt it, but the “milk of the coconut” was for them life-giving food. Whether a thing is concrete or abstract depends on the experience of each individual.

Every effective speaker is aware of the necessity of making himself understood through the use of “the concrete.”

Leader: I am sure we are all interested in knowing how to hold an audience without a rope. (Pointing to list of factors of interestingness.) These, according to the best authorities on public speaking, are factors of interestingness. It doesn’t mean that a single talk should include all of them, but every talk should include some of them, if you don’t want your audience to stop listening before you have finished speaking.

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