One (from his biography) is that Elder Maxwell used to write draft after draft of his conference talks, working to get them right. The other is that I heard (I can't remember where) is that Elder Nelson memorizes his conference talks. I can't tell if that is true (I don't know enough about the placement of the telepromters in the conference center to be sure), but it wouldn't surprise me. Both these examples stress for me the care which these brethren give their conference speaking assignments, and they encourage me to give care to my speaking assignments, too.
Our youth speakers are also really great. I remember years ago one of my older sons used to congratulate himself if he spoke for two minutes. Most of our youth talks are 5 – 7 minutes with pretty fair development of their topics. Youth topics tend to lean toward For The Strength Of Youth, Duty To God, Young Women’s Personal Progress Values and True To The Faith topics. But most of the youth seem to have mastered the ability to combine scriptures, quotations of general authorities and their own experience. They draw heavily on their seminary scripture mastery verses as appropriate, as well.
I know there are some who do not like to speak in sacrament meeting. I know this because I’m married to one of them. When I was in a position to assign speakers for sacrament meeting, I purposely shielded my lovely wife mostly to save us both from her pre-talk nervousness. (That said, my wife is also a great speaker; she prepares carefully and prayerfully, and, although nervous, she does a great job. Most recently she spoke in our Stake Conference general session a couple of months ago and was awesome. But that doesn’t mean she liked it.)
I enjoy speaking just as I enjoy teaching. So I’m happy when an assignment comes my way. I prefer to have two weeks (at least) to prepare, though our present ward’s pattern seems to be a week or less. Personally I think longer is better.
If I have a topic or a conference talk, I start there. I’ll read the talk a few times. I have a file of my father’s old high council talks (he was a high councilor for over 20 years and many of his talks and supporting material are organized by subject matter in a file he gave me late in his life). I often consult those. (I would rarely directly use one of my father’s talks because he and I have very different speaking styles, but reading his talks can give me some great ideas.)
I like to give myself a number of days to “cook” on the ideas for my talk. I’ll make a few notes, keep reading the conference talk, look for related scriptures and think of my own life experience as it relates to the talk.
In my view, an idea talk has a number of key elements:
1. Doctrinal foundationAs I think about my subject, I’ll try and group my thoughts and material into those five categories. The doctrinal foundations hopefully reveal themselves in the scriptures and the teachings of the living prophets. My personal experience and testimony hopefully help bring relevance to the talk and hopefully make it interesting to listen to.
2. Scriptural anchors
3. Teachings of the living prophets
4. Personal experience
5. Personal testimony
I like to write my talks word-for-word. (I type them; if I wrote them by hand, no one, including me, would be able to read them.) I write my talks out because I like to play with the language as I write. I like to make use of alliteration, parallel-language lists,simile & methaphor, and sometimes even rhyme to highlight a thought. By writing it out, I can do my best in the creation of the message and crafting of the words. (Not all of those devices make it past the drafting stages; the point of the talk, after all, is not to demonstrate my verbal skills but to bear witness of gospel truth.)
Ideally, I’ll have written a draft or two (or three) a week before I’m to give the talk. I then spend the next week memorizing the talk. Yep, memorizing. I do not memorize scriptures or quotations – those I will always read for two reasons: First, I don’t want to goof up a quotation or a scripture. Second, demonstrating that I am reading those portions sets them apart from the rest of my talk, the part that’s mine. I want everyone to be completely clear when I’m speaking for myself.
When I memorize, it gives me a chance to check the timing and to continue to play with the language of the talk. I try first to commit the flow of the talk to memory, and then the actual words. I practice my talk three or four times a day (often on my long commute to work) the week before I speak.
When I actually deliver the talk, I take only my printed talk to the podium. No scriptures, no other computer printouts or books or magazines. Just my printed talk. My goal is to speak to the audience maintaining eye contact except when I’m reading a scripture or quoting someone. I will often deviate from my memorized text. When I do it’s because I have more or less time than I expected, or because I feel prompted to leave a story out or to put a new one in. (I usually over prepare to minimize what is brand new when I speak, but sometimes there’s new stuff.)
I’m a firm believer that inspiration can strike any time, but that’s just as likely (even more likely) to come during my preparation as during my delivery. If the brethren can prepare their talks in advance for General Conference, I can certainly do the same for sacrament meeting.
Update: Just in case you're looking for more on this topic, I blogged about 18 months ago on things I've learned about giving talks from the Seventy in General Conference, here.