Presentation Skills for Firefighters – Part II

The theater of presenting (as some call it) is very important to making or breaking a presentation.


Part two of a three part series on presentation skills for firefighters:

In Part One, the fear of presenting before an audience and things you can do to lessen that fear were discussed. In part II, I will focus on personal qualities that will help to make your presentation more palatable to your audience, no matter who they are.

The theater of presenting (as some call it) is very important to making or breaking a presentation. Most of us have had experiences with teachers or instructors who were lacking in their personal presentation skills. I can recall back in college attending a chemistry class. The instructor spoke in a monotone voice and had no personality at all. Consequently, I had no interest in learning (as my final grade showed). The only good thing about that class was I caught up on a lot of sleep. That summer when I had to make up the chemistry class in order to graduate, I had a different instructor - one who cared about his subject and students. He made chemistry fun and his manner of presenting to the class was exemplary. He was animated and knew how to keep his class involved and awake. The results: I not only passed, but received an A. Because of the professor, I had a complete turn-around. He didn't teach anything different, he just taught differently.

So, what makes a presentation interesting? The answer in part is: the person who is presenting it. One of a presenter's most valuable tools is his voice. An oddity of speech is that it's easy for listeners to discern if someone is speaking poorly. For example, if someone is speaking too fast, too slow, too loud or too soft. This overall subject is called modulation and how you use it adds life to your presentation, stirs emotions and motivates people to action. Lack of modulation can give the impression that you have no real interest in your subject or the people who are listening to you. So, this is where the three "P's" come into effect: power, pitch, and pace.

First, lets talk about the volume of your voice - its loudness and softness. This is also referred to as "power." By varying your power, you change the expression of your voice. You want to speak just loud enough to be heard comfortably. You need to be heard in the back of the room, but not overpower the front.

The size of your audience is a factor you need to take into account. When speaking before a large crowd you need to be louder to be heard. This is usually due to the larger area of the room as well as more people. If you use a very loud voice with a small group or in a small room, you could overpower your listeners, which will surely have a negative effect.

The opposite effect is also true. If you speak too softly, then the audience will tune you out or become distracted or frustrated. The challenge of a large audience or a soft speaking voice can usually be offset by the use of a microphone and sound system. Amplification allows the speaker better volume control.

As a speaker, you also need to take into account any sudden or unplanned sounds. These could be things like a passing train, a crying child or a host of other noises that can disrupt your presentation. Such interference calls for an adjustment in the power of your voice. If you don't compensate for distractions, your audience may miss an important part of your presentation.

How can you determine if the power of your voice is adequate? Look at your audience. What is their reaction? You can usually tell by the expressions on their faces or the way they are holding their bodies, if they can hear you or not.

Another ingredient of power is also varying the power of your voice to help keep things interesting. This is a great way of building climaxes, and stressing main points. This also helps you show warmth and feeling in your presentation. When you want to make a point, you increase the power of your voice. If you want to draw your audience in, you lower the power of your voice. You can also use the power of your voice to stir anticipation in you audience. All these help to keep your audience involved and paying attention.

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