General Conference is a church-wide, bi-annual meeting held by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Conference is held on the weekends containing the first Sundays in April and in October. So, when the first of the month falls on a Sunday, General Conference includes the last Saturday of March or September. There have been some exceptions, one was in October, 2000 when NBC broadcast the Olympics and church station KSL was an NBC affiliate. The Summer Olympics were held later in the year than usual due to their being held in Australia and the necessity of having spring weather.
The April meeting is called the Annual General Conference, and includes annual statistical and financial reports not included in the October meeting, which is called the Semiannual General Conference. The conferences are identified by the number of years since the founding of the Church in 1830.
The conference includes four two hour sessions starting at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Mountain Standard Time on both Saturday and Sunday. Saturday night, a Priesthood session is held for the men of the Church. There are also annual Relief Society and Young Women conferences held for the women and young women of the Church. These are held a few weeks prior to General Conference (Young Women's in March, Relief Society's in September). General Conferences were historically held in the Tabernacle at Temple Square. Since 2000, however, sessions have been held in the the much more accommodating Conference Center adjacent to Temple Square. The conference center is a state-of-the-art facility and seats over 21,000 people.
Any member or visitor that has obtained a ticket is able to attend. Locally, General Conference is broadcast live on television or on the radio. Elsewhere, people can watch conference via satellite broadcast (often shown in Church meetinghouses) or on the internet. All of the talks given can later be read on the Church's website or in the Church magazines, the Ensign and the Liahona. Recordings of the sessions are also available on CDs and DVDs. May and November Ensigns are are composed of conference talks instead of the regular set of articles, which normally includes a First Presidency Message (shared personally with families by home teachers) and a Visiting Teaching Message message. Home teachers and visiting teachers on these occasions can draw from General Conference to prepare a message for their families.
General conference used to be a three-day event, and in April always included April 6th, the date of the restoration of the Church and anniversary of Christ's birth. However, During President Kimball's administration it was reduced to two days, Saturday and Sunday, and did not always include April 6th. Always including April 6th made the schedule awkward when the 6th was midweek. Changing the scheduling policy also enabled more people to attend the sessions, as weekday sessions generally conflicted with work and school obligations.
Many people listen to Saturday sessions on radio while camping, hunting, working around house and engaging in other activities.
The conference is presided over by the President of the Church. In the case of his absence, as in the case of sickness, one of his counselors in the First Presidency presides over the meeting. During a session of conference the leaders of the Church are presented to members and members are able to vote to sustain or support them. Speakers generally include members of the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the Quorums of the Seventy, the Presiding Bishopric, and the General Auxiliaries such as the Relief Society or Primary. Each session also includes a number of musical numbers, often provided by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
When a President of the Church passes away, the following conference is referred to as a solemn assembly. During this meeting the new president is announced and sustained by the membership.
Elder Paul V. Johnson of the Seventy said,
- Conferences have been part of the Church since the beginning of this dispensation. The first conference was held just two months after the Church was organized.... The Lord explained in a revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith ‘that when ye are assembled together ye shall instruct and edify each other, that ye may know ... how to act upon the points of my law and commandment.’ But knowing ‘how to act’ isn’t enough. The Lord in the next verse said, ‘Ye shall bind yourselves to act in all holiness before me.’ This willingness to take action on what we have learned opens the doors for marvelous blessings. (Paul V. Johnson, “The Blessings of General Conference,” Ensign, Nov. 2005, 50)
This is the purpose of General Conference to be able to hear the words of the prophet and those whom the Lord has called to lead His Church. Conference also provides a time for the members of the Church to receive guidance and revelation from God directed to that particular time. Elder Paul V. Johnson further exhorted members to,
- Decide now to make general conference a priority in your life. Decide to listen carefully and follow the teachings that are given. Listen to or read the talks more than once to better understand and follow the counsel. By doing these things, the gates of hell will not prevail against you, the powers of darkness will be dispersed from before you, and the heavens will shake for your good (Ibid.).
LDS Come from Far and Wide to Attend General Conference
Regardless of what country they live in, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who journey to Salt Lake City for the semiannual general conference meetings share similar reactions.
Hannah Walters and Jacqui Mount of Birmingham, England, planned for more than a year to attend Salt Lake City conference sessions in April 2009. The idea germinated at a Church youth outing where the young women talked to others who had previously made the journey. “It’s something that a lot of English people determine to do, at least one time in their lives,” explained Walters, who grew up as a member the Church.
Mount noted the surprise of being around so many people of like faith. “I’ve never been around so many Mormons before,” she admitted. “I was at a conference in Manchester of about 1,000 people, but to be with 21,000 — that was amazing!”
“When I walked into the Conference Center on Saturday morning and saw all the people and heard the organ, it really hit me that I was here. When the prophet walked in, the room fell silent and everyone stood up to honor him. I thought, ‘Oh, that’s what happens in the two minutes of silence we see at home before the broadcast starts.’”
For Cintia Garcia, an accounting professional from Jundai, São Paulo, Brazil, the response was similar. “Many people save a long time and sacrifice a lot to be here. We are happy and glad and amazed to see all of this,” Garcia reported. The Brazilian woman, a member of the Church for 15 years, planned her trip to conference for nearly 18 months. “It’s a very special experience for me,” she said. “Knowing everything I know, it is a dream for me to be here and listen to the prophets of God help us strengthen our testimonies and help us feel we are in the right way.”
Many millions of Mormons who are not able to attend in Salt Lake City participate via local television or satellite broadcast in more than 6,000 meetinghouses in 85 countries or on the Internet. The 179th Semiannual General Conference of the Church is being translated into 92 languages. 
- Audio of conference is available in more than 70 languages at www.GeneralConference.LDS.org, along with the text in 30 languages and video streams in American Sign Language, English, Portuguese, and Spanish.
- In April, 2009, the Church announced that General Conference addresses would be available on CD and DVD in Spanish within eight weeks after conference.
- Click here for a general conference activity booklet: My Conference Booklet