Presentation Skills for Firefighters – Part III

May 30, 2003
One of the most important aspects of putting a presentation together is getting organized. Planning ahead, knowing yourself and your topic and then practice, practice, practice, are important parts of any presentation.
Part III of a 3 part series on presentation skills for firefighters.

In the first two parts, fear of presenting and personal qualities were discussed. Now in Part III, planning your program and what should be included will be touched on. One of the most important aspects of putting a presentation together is getting organized. Planning ahead, knowing yourself and your topic and then practice, practice, practice, are important parts of any presentation.

When planning your program you need to map your program out. One of the easiest ways to start this process is by setting up an outline or an agenda to keep you on track. You also need to be aware of the estimated time that will be needed or allotted. This will help you to mold your presentation to fit the needs of the audience as well as whom ever you are presenting for.

When mapping your program out, you usually have a topic. Next you need a main theme. This is the central idea that you want to convey to your audience. Once this is set up, you then add principal and supporting ideas. These can come from various forms of research either in publications or on the Internet. Once you have these ideas written down you need to start setting things up in a logical progression. This will be important when actually presenting your program because you want to try to avoid skipping around from subject to subject. All this will do is make the presentation choppy and hard for the audience to follow.

When preparing your presentation, it is also important to identify who your audience is. By doing this, it helps you formulate your objectives to best meet the needs of that audience. An example of this is teaching, "Testing smoke detectors". Even though the information is primarily the same, you would have different objectives for different age groups.

Next, prepare an introduction. This is a crucial part of any presentation. Just because the audience is there, doesn't mean they are ready to listen. Most people have many things running through their minds, so a presenter needs something that is going to reach out, grab their attention, and then keep it. It will show them that what you are about to discuss is of real value to them. The introduction can take on several forms. It can be in the form of a question or questions. Perhaps it could be a real life experience.

Another form could be by taking a recent news item and conforming it to fit your subject. Or you could use a famous quotation or statement by a recognized authority. What ever be the case, you need something that will arouse interest in the subject and show the audience that their problems, needs, or questions are related to the subject that is about to be discussed.

Another important aspect of any introduction is HOW you say it. Because of this, word choice is of vital importance. Therefore the need for preparation is paramount. You may have the introduction written down or perhaps you can memorize it. This may also help you deliver the introduction in an unhurried manner, which will help you to gain the composure needed to give the rest of your presentation. If you write it down however, try to maintain eye contact with the audience as you are giving your introduction. This will help you to gain their trust.

When presenting the main part of your presentation it is again important to work from an outline form. Reading from a manuscript can be very tedious and is usually not exciting for the listener. Whereas when presenting from an outline it is easier to use pitch power and pace with your voice (see part II) and this helps to keep the listeners involved and paying attention.

The final part of your presentation is your conclusion. Remember, what is said last is often remembered longest so it is important to have an effective conclusion. Your conclusion should be directly related to the main theme of your presentation. Your conclusion should also help stimulate and motivate your audience to some action on the basis of the information you presented. It should also reemphasize the main points of your presentation. When finishing your conclusion your voice should have a note of finality to it and it should be delivered with earnestness and conviction. On a side note, don't point out to your audience that this is the conclusion or summary. Many people will actually tune you out at that point.

One other key element to any presentation is practice. The more you practice, the more you will be familiar with your presentation and the easier it will be to flow smoothly. By practicing it will allow you to only have to look at your notes or outline briefly, mainly to keep you on track. Practice can take on several forms. I t could be rehearsing in your head, in front of a mirror, in front of family and friends or in front of a camcorder. Family and friends can give you feedback as well as it will help you control nervousness. A mirror lets you see your facial expressions. A camcorder lets you see how you actually look and sound, so each has its own particular advantage.

Another aspect of practicing in front of friends or family or a camcorder, allows you to see if you have any bad habits or annoying traits. These could be things like jingling change in your pocket, constant clicking of a pen, or often-repeated words like "uh," "you know," or "um." These all act as distractions to your audience and before you know it the audience is concentrating on how many times you said these things, rather than concentrating on what you are saying. The best cure for these things is practice, practice, practice.

One other consideration when preparing any type of presentation is having a back-up plan. Inevitably things always go wrong. If you are using power point, the computer will crash. If you are using slides or overhead, the bulb will burn out or perhaps you forgot your flip charts. Whatever be the case, it is important to have plan B. A back up plan will help you deal with the problem quickly and also help alleviate some pre-presentation nervousness. It can be as simple as having your power point presentation printed out on handouts or making sure there is an extra bulb in the area.

So when preparing to do any kind of presentation it's important to plan ahead, be organized and practice, practice, practice. This can be accomplished by use of an outline that has an introduction, main points and a conclusion. Always remember to tell the audience what you are going to tell them, then tell them, and then tell them what you told them. So, whether you are the a line firefighter, the departments public educator, or Chief of Department, if you combine these things with controlling your fear (part I) and using pitch power and pace (part II) to project your voice, it will help you to have a successful presentation.


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