Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Talks That Work: Charles H. Hart, 1909

Talks That Work: Charles H. Hart, 1909

By: Ardis E. Parshall - January 04, 2009

As part of Keepa’s ongoing campaign – did you know it had become a campaign? – to improve Sacrament Meeting talks, I thought it might be useful to print short, successful talks from time to time, for us to consider how and why they work. If you don’t like to read long embedded quotations, consider skipping to the discussion of why the talk works, and then perhaps returning to that part of the talk if some point interests you.

This one was given at the October conference, 1909. Remember that at that date, men were called on to speak without notice. Some may have prepared some rough ideas for speaking “just in case,” but the ideal was for them to speak as the spirit directed them.

This particular talk was given in an “overflow” meeting on Temple Square – when there were too many conference-goers to fit into the Tabernacle and the Assembly Hall, they met in groups in the open air, under the trees. Because there was no loudspeaker or broadcasting technology, each group was addressed by different speakers.

Elder Charles H. Hart.

We are informed by the poet that “the groves were God’s first temples.” We are enjoying the privilege of standing under the shade of trees upon this historic square this afternoon, and listening to the music and the instructions of the elders.

My mind was impressed this morning with that part of the remarks of President Smith concerning the responsibility we are under of saving souls. At the A.Y.P. [Alaska-Yukon-Pacific] Exposition at Seattle, in the Alaskan building, there is a glass cage, surrounded by very strong iron bars. There is a treasure within that glass house that attracts the attention of passers-by at all hours of the day. They stand about the glass cage, longingly looking in upon the golden treasure, the gold bricks, and the gold nuggets within; but if all of those golden treasures were multiplied a thousand times, they would not equal the value of a human soul.

In visiting Arizona a few months ago, I was told the story of the search for the body of a man who was supposed to have been drowned in the Little Colorado River. His friends and neighbors turned out and searched day by day in those turbid waters to recover the remains, but without success up to the time of my visit.

Just before that I was in Summit County, and heard narrated the search for a poor old lady, who, in her declining years, had wandered off in the snows of winter, and the search was going on for her body, for it was believed that shortly after she had ben out in the snow and the cold she had perished. The search went on day after day in a systematic manner. Horsemen rode a few rods apart so that they might know that every rod had been carefully searched. And so the hunt went on from day to day; not in the hope of saving a human soul, but simply to administer to the comfort of loved ones in recovering the body.

A year or two ago a half dozen of my friends and associates went into a steam launch upon the Bear River, and as they were gliding swiftly, at the twilight of a summer’s day, suddenly the boat struck a submerged pile, and they were precipitated into the water, and two of them, the best swimmers, never reached the shore alive. In Logan the stores were closed; men in all vocations went from that town, from Smithfield, from Newton, Clarkston – went in large numbers, and dragged the river. Expert divers were summoned from a distance of a hundred miles to dive in the water to recover the bodies. Every known means of dragging the stream was put into effect. When darkness prevented the search to advantage, men rolled themselves in their blankets near the stream, in order to be at hand when daylight should come; and so the search went on day after day. I remember after the lapse of a day or two, the bishop of Wellsville telephoned to me to know if the bodies had been found, and he concluded by saying, “Wellsville stands ready to send one hundred men, if necessary, to participate in the search.” Not for the purpose, I say, of saving a human soul, or even of saving life, because life, of course, was long since extinct; but for the purpose, merely, of recovering the tenements of clay, to minister to the sentiment of their friends in giving them a Christian burial, instead of leaving the bodies [to] remain in a watery grave.

If we will make that sort of an effort, my friends, in order to recover mere bodies, mere tenements of clay, what should we do when a human life, or a human soul, is in peril? What price can we place upon a human soul? The Psalmist has given us some words bearing on that question. “they that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches; none of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give God a ransom for him.”

The Savior has also given us some idea of the value of a soul when He says, “For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”

I once saw a young man shortly after a drowning, in which he had endeavored to save those who had perished, and, as the tears streamed down his cheeks, the thought that was uppermost in his mind was whether he had done the very best he could to save his drowning companions. It was true that nothing had been left undone by him, but in his anxiety as to whether he had fulfilled his full duty that thought was uppermost in his mind.

As I understand it, there is a responsibility upon each one of us in reference to the welfare of his fellow man. Ezekiel, in the third chapter, discusses the question in this way:

Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the House of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me. When I say unto the wicked, ‘Thou shalt surely die’; and thou givest him not warning nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.

Again, when a righteous man doth turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die; because thou hast not given him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he hath done shall not be remembered; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Nevertheless, if thou warn the righteous man, that the righteous sin not, and he doth not sin, he shall surely live, because he is warned; also thou hast delivered thy soul.

So that here is a duty, not only to warn those who are in sin, but also to warn the righteous who may wander into sin, for we know full well that though a man today may be justified through the grace of Jesus Christ, his salvation is not sure, and he may fall from grace. Although he may be classified as a righteous man, still he ma fall. And there may be a responsibility upon someone within warning distance of him for not warning him of some false step that he has taken, some by and forbidden path that he has entered upon.

It is the sense of this responsibility that enables these missionaries, these with whom I have the honor of speaking this afternoon, to remain abroad, as they do, for so many long years, gratuitously giving the best years of their lives in order to warn others. Brother Ellsworth who shall follow me, has been out, I suppose, some eight or ten years now. Brother Bennion has been in the missionary field for a number of years and Brother Herrick is just entering upon what will probably be a long missionary career for him. They do it gratuitously, and for the love they have for their fellow-men, to discharge this responsibility; for they know that a soul is precious in the sight of God; that Mormonism is the science and art of life, and that it will have a saving effect upon those who will give heed to its teachings, just in proportion as they understand that great system of truth, and will put it into practice and into effect in their lives.

It is on account of a realization of the sense of the importance of saving souls that there is such joy at the return of the prodigal. I confess that I do not like to hear the story of the prodigal son presented with a view of impressing, perhaps, a license to sow wild oats, or anything of that sort, but I like to hear it presented for the forgiveness manifested by the father in taking back to him his wayward son.

I was impressed the other day with the thought of an aged sister who was about to make her will. She had forgotten at first that there was an additional consideration due one of her children, the wayward son. She said, “You know he and his father had some friction, and he wandered away from home, and it is my desire, if I can, to make up to him, in a small way, by showing a greater interest in him than in the other children.”

It was a realization of this principle of saving souls that gave joy to the shepherd in the parable of the lost sheep, in leaving the ninety and nine that were safe, and going after the one lost sheep, and in bringing it safely within the fold. I feel that the words of President Smith this morning were timely, and of great importance to us all, of doing all we can for the salvation, first of those of our own household, and then of all mankind.

May the Lord bless us, and enable us to put into practice these principles of warning and saving others, doing our full duty to them, that we ma not stand under condemnation, neither as to our children, nor as to our Father’s children in general. May the Lord bless us and help us to endure true and faithful to the end, I ask in the name of Jesus. Amen.

This is not the greatest talk ever given – it will not be included in any compilation of the Best Mormon Speeches – but it does work. It no doubt kept the interest of Elder Hart’s listeners; it made a valid gospel point; and because the talk appealed to each listener’s secret sense of heroism (don’t we all long to be heroes, if we had the chance?), his audience likely felt a motivation to watch for the opportunity of warning a neighbor.

But how does it work that way?

First, the speaker launches right into his topic with just the barest of introductions. There is no lame joke about how frightened he is to stand and speak, no cutsey story about how he met his wife and she didn’t like him at first, no complaint about not having been assigned a topic, or any of the other tedious openings that we hear every Sunday. Skip the irrelevancies that give your audience a chance to wander away mentally (or physically in the case of Elder Hart’s outdoor meeting).

Second, Elder Hart opened with a series of short incidents that probably caught the attention of his hearers. People respond to story-telling – so much so that I’m willing to bet that if Keepa readers only let their eyes skim down the talk, they were caught at one or more points by the obvious story-telling in this talk, and read a sentence or two even though they had intended only to jump to the discussion here.

These short stories were dramatic and emotional, without being sentimental. There is an innate wish, I’m sure, in nearly every human being to be a hero to some degree, and when we’re sitting safely at home, with no physical risk to ourselves, the idea that we could be heroes if only the opportunity would present itself is especially appealing. I have no doubt that many of Elder Hart’s listeners were nodding, thinking to themselves that they would have been among the searchers, and they no doubt would have been successful.

These stories were filled with visual detail, allowing each listener to see in his mind’s eye the crowds staring at the piles of gold, the men on horseback searching through the desert for a lost woman, the men camping by the side of Bear River so they could resume dragging and diving by the dawn’s early light. When you include a story in your talk, take a lesson from these: show your characters in action by describing the scene, as in these stories, rather than merely telling your audience that something happened. Use scraps of conversation, as some of these stories do – that draws an audience straight into your story.

The stories were a legitimate analogy of the gospel point Elder Hart wanted to make. Stories should always advance your main point, not be tacked on to fill up time.

Elder Hart used scripture in a very natural way. His first two scriptural statements sound to me as though he quoted or paraphrased them offhand, without interrupting the flow of his talk to look up such short statements. He no doubt read the longer extract from Ezekiel. Each of the scriptures advanced the flow of his talk, and it feels to me as though he knew those scriptures very intimately: there is no sense that he turned to some concordance and reeled off the first scripture listed there. He quoted from scripture in the same natural and purposeful way that he quoted his conversation with the bishop of Wellsville.

He stuck to one small point, too: We must warn our neighbors, because their souls are precious. This is, I think, the greatest key to good Sacrament Meeting talks in wards where speakers are assigned a broad topic. If you were assigned “missionary work” as a topic, for instance, you would do well to narrow your focus down to the single sub-topic of warning your neighbor, rather than wandering through all the possibilities of how missionaries are called, and what the word “missionary” means, and how missions help missionaries mature, and who the greatest missionaries in scripture were, and why we should all be member-missionaries, quoting ten scriptures you found in the Topical Guide, and, oh, yeah, by the way, the reason we need to be missionaries is because the souls of men are precious.

Do you agree that this is a successful, if not great, talk? How and why (or not)?



  1. I really like his metaphor about going for the dead bodies and going for lost souls. I have always been a fan of talks that incorporated real examples/stories. I think the talk works. And I find it interesting that they had overflow talks. How cool is that? That would never work with correlation now (no disrespect to correlation, I agree it’s needed).

    Comment by Michelle Glauser — January 4, 2009 @ 3:03 pm

  2. I think you hit the key point, Ardis — that the talk took a single point and held to it tenaciously. When I got to the end of the talk, I wasn’t left to wonder what the speaker’s point was (as happens to me all too often, even in the general conference addresses…though that may be more indicative of my listening/reading comprehension skills (or lack thereof) than of the speaker’s composition skills).

    Comment by Dane — January 4, 2009 @ 8:24 pm

  3. Charles H. Hart was a lawyer, and his Church talks were often laid out in a logical manner as if he were making a case in court.

    He was a General Authority of whom we know too little. His diaries are housed by BYU, but they are written in the obscure Taylor shorthand, a system based in consonants and no vowels. Consequently, his diaries may go untranslated.

    Thanks for posting this.

    Comment by S.Faux — January 4, 2009 @ 9:15 pm

  4. I love this talk. It might not be a classic, but it is classic. Thank you for sharing it.

    You are spot-on in your reasons, imo. When I speak, I don’t like to waste any time – mostly because I believe in the importance of what I am saying. Every second I spend not dealing with the topic is a second I spend wasting the listeners’ time – and I don’t have the right to steal or waste other people’s time.

    Comment by Ray — January 4, 2009 @ 11:25 pm

  5. I was in a stake conference once, where in the adult meeting a primary president was asked to speak for 8 minutes on ward correlation. We had a General Authority present, who had ensured the stake presidency understood that 8 minutes meant 8, and not 9. Anyway, she talked about her childhood fascination with mud pies and with many frilly jokes and anecdotes, ended her 20 minutes by explaining that ward correlation is like a mud pie, requiring all of the sticks, leaves, and mud to be successful. The first counselor in the stake presidency, who followed her, cut his comments to 2 minutes, in order to make up the time. While many laughed at her jokes, I sat there cringing, as I had been in those stake presidency meetings with the GA (I was stake clerk), and knew the direction he wished things to go.

    In a regional priesthood meeting in Atlanta in the late 1980s, Elder Marvin J. Ashton told the story to us about a stake conference, where a man was tasked to speak 10 minutes. He spoke his ten, poured himself some water from a pitcher on the stand, drank a little, and continued speaking and drinking for a total of 45 minutes. Afterward, Elder Ashton leaned over to him and asked him how many minutes did he get on a gallon of water. Sister Ashton nudged her husband and told him not to be rude. Elder Ashton responded that he wasn’t being rude, he was being bored!

    I recall in a stake priesthood leadership meeting several years ago of having Elder Holland wishing that our pulpits could be “on fire.” There are too many talks that go nowhere, that do not enlighten, that do not inspire.

    I’m convinced it is our lack of ability to teach/speak that will one day cause the collapse of our Church, as the bored and disinterested will wander off to churches where there is more inspirational talks, or at least, better entertainment.

    Comment by Rameumptom — January 5, 2009 @ 7:07 am

  6. #5 – Fwiw, I can’t remember the last time we had a “bad”, non-uplifting talk in our ward. Much of it is a function of our current and former bishop, who count the quality of the talks given as a personal responsibility of the calling. Not all of them are exceptional, but they are sincere and well-prepared and focused – and always address a spiritual topic, with a specific and explicit application to Christ.

    Comment by Ray — January 5, 2009 @ 7:41 am

  7. Well, I *can* remember specific talks in my ward in the past year that were downright bad — the one that tickled you, Ray, about men unzipping their pants and their brains falling out, and one where a woman repeatedly bore her testimony that the Church was not true, Joseph Smith was not a prophet, and God pretty much had no interest in human life. I can also remember two years ago when it was time for the meeting to close before I got a chance even to start my talk, and about the same time when I was a featured, advertised speaker for a special family history event being held by another stake, which ran more than half an hour PAST time to close before I was introduced. So I’m more sympathetic to Rameumptom’s frustration — but I’m not as pessimistic as he is. The Church isn’t going to collapse, and our speaking can get better if somebody gives us pointers on how to do it.

    I’m sure that most of us *intend* to give meaningful, interesting talks, and we almost all try, but many of us don’t know how to do it. Mostly that’s because we have few good models and tend to repeat the same mistakes we see in the models we do have, and because nobody has ever taught us how to plan a meaningful, interesting talk.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 5, 2009 @ 7:59 am

  8. #7 – Yeah, Ardis, that pants and brains talk . . .

    Amen to everything else you said.

    Comment by Ray — January 5, 2009 @ 10:16 am

  9. Ardis, I like your summation about sticking to one main point. I remember a few years ago attending a CLE where a (state) Supreme Court justice addressed the topic of in-court oral argument. “Like it or not, our society has a very short attention span these days. You have to stick to your point, and make it snappy!” she said.

    I cringed when she said that, silenty bemoaning the effects of all that TV, hyperactive “news” shows, [insert favorite ill of modern society], etc., etc., on reading and listening skills.

    Since that time, though, I’ve come to realize that “sticking to one point” doesn’t necessarily mean compromising the value of your presentation; good writers and good speakers know that to be good, you have to keep your audience interested and wanting more.

    Comment by Hunter — January 5, 2009 @ 10:46 am

  10. That talk by Elder Hart was exceptional. What kept me on the edge of my seat was the hope that I would find out what happened in the end, in each of the situations reported in the beginning. Then, finally, to realize the point of the whole talk–how very much more important it is to aid in the salvation of souls, than the very important task of bringing comfort to the families of those who lost their lives–had a profound effect on me.

    It was concise, as well. Some of my favorite parts of the Book of Mormon are those where the writers could overcome their natural wordiness and get to the point: Omni 1:26, for example, and most of the chapters of Moroni.

    Comment by Fern RL — January 5, 2009 @ 12:06 pm

  11. As the stake sunday school president I was invited to speak on high counsel Sunday. The high counselor made it clear that I was was to finish at 15 before the hour. The youth speaker went nearly 20 minutes and finished at 17 before the hour. I finished at 15 before the hour as requested.

    Comment by Steve Jones — January 5, 2009 @ 2:19 pm

  12. That’s awesome, Steve Jones. But what did you say in your 2 minutes, by the way?

    Comment by Hunter — January 5, 2009 @ 2:29 pm

  13. I’m with Fern — I actually think that was an outstanding talk. Maybe not lyric or poetic, but certainly compelling, powerful, and very much to the point.

    Most of all, he opens with several true, emotionally compelling anecdotes, which waken our sympathies and fill us with admiration for those seeking to recover the bodies those who had drowned — and then puts us right in their position, but with a chance to do an even greater good. It is emotionally powerful without being manipulative or kitschy.

    And it was blessedly short. I think one of the great losses of the consolidated schedule is the disappearance of 2 1/2 minute talks (these were given during Sunday School opening exercises, and were typically given by teenagers). In fact, it’s precisely the members who get up to the pulpit and say, “I really don’t have that much to say” that I worry the most about, because they are the ones who tend to go on and on feeling that somehow longer == better.

    As I’ve written elsewhere, one of my former bishops, Lou Hampton (for whom I was a counselor), would take all the sacrament meeting speakers aside and explain just how long they should speak, when (on the clock) they should end by, and let them know that he would let them know if they were going over time. And he did, even to high council speakers (as he put it, “I’m still the presiding authority.”). I miss those days. ..bruce..

    Comment by bfwebster — January 5, 2009 @ 2:38 pm

  14. This is a great discussion — thanks, and keep it up.

    The old Instructor used to publish a couple of 2-1/2 minute talks in almost every issue, to serve as models for other wards. You wouldn’t dare have just stood there and plagiarized such a printed talk, I think, because everybody would have known where it came from. That’s in contrast to today, where rehashing a conference talk is considered good form in many places.

    We can do better!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 5, 2009 @ 2:47 pm

  15. #13 – Bruce, I love your last paragraph. It really is about leadership in many ways.

    Our current and most recent bishops both have stressed to each speaker that, other than the sacrament itself, their talks will be the main factors in whether or not those in attendance will fill the spirit and grow from the meeting. They do it lovingly and gently, but they lay the burden on the speakers directly (including the youth speakers) and expect them to measure up.

    It makes a difference, and it has been wonderful to see the impact.

    Comment by Ray — January 5, 2009 @ 7:12 pm

  16. #11 Imagine that, a youth speaker with more than a two minute talk! Was it any good?

    Comment by Eric Boysen — January 5, 2009 @ 9:31 pm

  17. #7: Pessimistic? Ardis, I would prefer the term “realistic.” 😉

    The reality is, most units do have some good speakers. Sadly, many bishops somehow think they need to have every member in the ward speak at least once a year, whether they are the type to actually prepare for it, or not. I would prefer the bishops figure out who their best dozen speakers are an primarily rely on them for talks. For others who are interested in speaking, I would then have them attend a teaching class, based upon Teaching, No Greater Call.

    I am convinced that a one hour in-service meeting once a quarter doesn’t do the trick. If teaching is as important as the Church says it is (and I believe it is), then we should put our efforts towards improving it in our units.


    Comment by Rameumptom — January 6, 2009 @ 9:25 am

  18. I just re-read #15 and can’t believe all the grammatical and spelling mistakes. Chalk it up to whatever you want, dear lady, but please pardon me for it.

    Comment by Ray — January 6, 2009 @ 9:53 am

  19. For you, Ray, all is forgiven. Always. :)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 6, 2009 @ 10:09 am

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