When in Doubt, Speak from Experience

Last week I had the pleasure of being invited to speak at a conference on incident management. This two-conference covered a variety of topics ranging from preparedness, response, and recovery; and while there was a lot of discussion on mass shootings, the conference covered all hazards.  There were a number of great presenters providing interesting insight and information.  Of course one of the most interesting and effective ways of learning, in public safety and other industries, is through lessons learned of actual incidents and events.  We had some detailed reviews of various incidents, including the Dallas shooting, the Aurora theater shooting, and the San Bernardino shooting.  These had extraordinary detail and discussion, driven by presenters who worked those incidents.

There was one presenter, however, who enjoyed telling stories of incidents which he had no involvement in.  Generally, most people who do such a thing have the common sense of keeping it to brief illustrative points based on specific factual information.  If someone is taking a scholarly approach, we would see more detail, but based upon their research and interviews.  This particular presenter, we’ll call him Bart (name changed), took neither approach.  He was a retired Sherriff’s deputy from a county in California.  He clearly had enough credentials to get himself invited to things, but if this was his general pattern of presenting, I’m guessing he rarely gets invited back.

Aside from his presentations not at all addressing the topic, he liked to tell stories, speaking at length about incidents and locations he has never been involved in.  He even admitted to not having any involvement, and instead citing ‘something he read’ as his source.  This would be sketchy on the surface, but it was even more frustrating when he told stories of NYC 9/11 and recent events in the National Capital Region with myself and a colleague seated at the front table… myself having worked a variety of aspects of 9/11 and my colleague who presently works in the National Capital Region.

Bart presented twice, once the first day, and again on the second day.  While we casted a couple of corrections his way on the first day, we were mostly shocked that he would venture into such territory, providing information that was at best 80% fact.  During his presentation the second morning, we were much less forgiving.  His continued anecdotes about these areas and incidents were relentless, and his lack of facts in the telling of these stories was simply unprofessional.  We called him out on it several times and it was clear from body language and general lack of interest that the room fully understood what was going on.

My general rule of thumb is to speak from experience.  Don’t tell someone else’s story.  That’s not to say you can’t speak about an incident or event you weren’t involved in, just make sure you stick to the facts and be respectful that you have ventured into someone else’s territory.  If you were involved in an incident, you may be inclined to be a bit more casual about your manner because you lived it, but if you weren’t at the incident, keep it formal, cite your fact, associate it with your point, and move on.  Don’t be Bart.

Needless to say, I had several conversations with the conference organizer, who had no prior experience with Bart and was rather appalled at his presentations.

When in doubt, speak from experience.  Don’t be Bart.

© 2017 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Audience Analysis Worksheet

Go to this site to view the article posted about the audience analysis worksheet assembled by Andrew Dlugan with Six Minutes Speaking and Presentation Skills.  Andrew has a great website filled with plenty of tips on public speaking and presentations.  This worksheet is part of his recent Audience Analysis series.  This series and the worksheet are great reminders that in teaching and presenting we need to always be focused on our audience and their needs.  You should be able to run through this worksheet well in advance of the actual speaking engagement, and the data derived will help you to shape the format and content of your presentation and presentation style.

Presentations… Inspired

For those of you who may not know, I am, by trade, a trainer.  The emergency management stuff came after my early forays into training, and throughout my emergency management career I remained a trainer.  Obviously a big part of training is what we call ‘platform skills’ (aka being able to present).  I’ve been a trainer for over 17 years now and I’ve been sought after across the country for training and presentations – so I guess people like what I do.  I know, though, that I have a lot of room for improvement.  Through the years I’ve learned from many people – assimilating parts of their presentation style into mine, honing my skills.  I’ve learned to not be so stiff and to relax; I enjoy doing presentations and I learned that I’m a better presenter by simply showing the audience that I’m having a good time.  I try to always learn something from a speaker or presenter – and sometimes it’s not their content, but how they deliver it.

I’ve recently had the pleasure of reading material by Nancy Duarte.  Nancy is a communication expert who owns one of the most successful non-tech businesses in Silicon Valley.  Nancy has authored the books Slideology and Resonate, and just released a book for Harvard Business Review called Persuasive Presentations.  While I’ve not read Slideology, I can personally attest that Resonate was a great book – a great book made totally astounding in the ibook format.  Yes, ibook, not ebook.  If you are not familiar with ibooks, they are interactive books.  Resonate incorporated a great deal more content than could possibly be in the print version by including both internal and external links, video segments, and more.  Presentations, after all, are a multi-media experience – and she proves that point by the medium of the ibook.  Never fear – it’s not at all distracting, as the ibook format is a self guided experience.  Don’t want to watch a video?  Then you can skip it and continue reading.  Very user-friendly.  I believe the only means of getting it, however, is at the Apple Store.  Anyhow, Nancy’s approach to presentations is refreshing.  She has studied a history of great speeches, analyzed the patterns and flow of those speeches, and formulated methodologies to help bring you success by following those patterns.

As I mentioned, Nancy just put out a new book for Harvard Business Review called Persuasive Presentations.  I ordered it yesterday and I’m quite looking forward to receiving it.  It’s a paperback and Nancy explains that she has incorporated the best parts of her previous two books as well as some new content.  I find her material to be great for an experienced presenter as we continually seek to hone our skills.  While a new presenter or trainer might get a little overwhelmed, I still think they can learn a lot from her.

In case you’re wondering, I’m not being paid to advertise for Ms. Duarte – I’m just passing along some great resources.  I encourage you to check out her website.  She has some good info on there.  If you have 20 minutes to kill, sit through her TEDx presentation – it’ll give you a good overview of her philosophies.