Years ago we lived in a ward with Deaf members. They required sign language interpreters during church meetings. Before that, we lived in wards with people who knew only Spanish or some other language. I remember people grumbling about the Spanish speakers, that they needed to learn English. There weren’t consistent language interpreters available for the Spanish speakers and on the weeks no one could translate the English spoken meeting into Spanish for them, they were out of luck.

The Deaf situation was different. There HAD to be interpreters for them. It wasn’t a matter of them needing to adjust to an English world and eventually picking up the language. It wasn’t going to change. They could not hear and that was permanent. That was the first ward we had ever been in that took language interpretation seriously. Hymns needed to be signed, prayers, announcements and talks needed to be signed. To be inclusive of the Deaf members was quite an exhaustive thing for the people called to be sign language interpreters. Sunday was a full day of work for them.

The Deaf members had to practice extreme patience with volunteer interpreters who were constantly playing catch up, learning new signs for English slang, etc.

The one thing that Rob and I learned from living in the Deaf ward was the importance of having talks written out ahead of time. Before moving to that ward we had always given Sunday talks from note cards or just from the tops of our heads, as the Spirit moved us. I had never written out a formal talk before and the first time I did, I struggled. It seemed foreign to purposely think about what I wanted to say and how to say it so it would be easy for the sign language interpreters to translate. I was worried the talk would be wooden and devoid of the spontaneity I thought was needed for the Spirit to be present. I hated being forced to stick to the written word and felt sorry for the speakers at General Conference who have to submit their talks well in advance of conference so the multitudes of language interpreters are prepared to translate their words to the listeners around the world.

The surprising thing is that being forced to write out my talks didn’t stifle the Spirit. In fact, the opposite happened. I was able to focus my thoughts and see the weaknesses in my premises before I stood up and attempted to let the Spirit fix my mistakes. I became a better public speaker and didn’t ramble on and on, trying to catch a thread of continuity to tie strings of ideas together on the fly. I stopped using big words and complicated analogies when a simpler way to express myself was available. The interesting thing was that my talks were so much better received. I started getting sincere compliments for my talks instead of the typical “thanks for participating in our meeting” kind of thanks.

Now whenever a speaker announces from the pulpit that they didn’t write out their talk and they prefer to pray and let the Spirit guide them, I settle in for a long, disjointed talk that I know at the most will have one or two coherent thoughts. The rest of it will be a hot mess.

For Rob and I, the discipline of writing out talks is an exercise in weeding out the ramblings and zeroing in on what really conveys the message. We are grateful to have been members in a ward where everyone wrote out talks and if you didn’t, you were considered thoughtless and inconsiderate. It has made us aware of the difficulties of language translation and the value of clear, uncluttered speaking. It has made a huge difference in our ability to enjoy church meeting talks and to walk away feeling we were spiritually fed, instead of just watching the clock and praying a meeting would mercifully end.