Polishing Your Presentations

Most higher education administrators must on occasion give presentations of one form or another. From presentations to key officials to sharing the benefits of a successful program at a professional conference, the ability to impart knowledge to others can be an important skill for today’s higher education professionals with safety responsibilities. Yet, the fear of public speaking ranks as one of the biggest phobias, with many people citing it as greater than the fear of death.

Focusing on a few core points can improve the outcome of presentations, and thus, the very effectiveness of how much we can affect the lives of others in our work. Nowhere is this more important than in presentations relating to safety. Addressing the following core areas will go a long way towards this effective communications process.

Technical knowledge — Present on areas of your real expertise or, when put into a position to present on an area in which you do not feel competent, develop the requisite expertise before you present to avoid problems.

Properly cite sources — One way to present on short notice on a topic out of the presenter’s body of knowledge is to research the topic and cite properly the work of viable experts. Be honest with the audience and they will respect your work to research and present the findings of authorities in the field.

Audience knowledge — Be sure you understand whom your audience is when preparing your presentation. Whether training internal staff or presenting at a national conference, matching your presentation to the audience is crucial.

Audio-visual tools — Audio-visual tools can be a powerful enhancement when the presenter is competent with them and is prepared to use an alternate presentation method if the tool fails. For example, when using an LCD projector, have a printed copy of every slide close at hand in case the bulb blows during the presentation. You might store PowerPoint presentations on a jump drive in case your computer crashes, and be sure you can still talk about the issues in an interesting manner without visual aids.

Preparation — The rigorous, two-week Instructor Trainer Program at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center begins with trainees being forced to draw a slip of paper and present off the cuff for five minutes on a randomly selected topic. The exercise forever ingrains the discomfort of presenting without preparation. Prepare information, check all logistical issues ahead of time, and arrive at least one hour before the presentation to ensure that everything is as it should be.

Delivery — We get much of our information from non-verbal cues, tone of voice, and other means of communication besides the spoken words themselves. Practice presentations in a mirror, watching yourself as you present. A key to a good presentation can be keeping the body in almost constant motion. While presentations are best when the speaker is comfortable, moving the hands and the body can go a long way to keeping people focused on what you are saying. Varying vocal inflection is also helpful.

Watch other speakers — You can learn a lot by watching a skilled presenter, and even more by watching a bad one. Every time you are forced to sit through a presentation that makes you fight to remain awake or focused on the speaker’s message, determine what they are doing wrong and make a commitment to never do that yourself.

Focus on their hot buttons — Try to sell your information based on the needs of the audience. For example, when presenting to a board of trustees to implement a new and costly safety initiative, you might mention the reduction in civil liability because you know that is a concern for the board president; you might mention the prevention of emotional trauma for students because another trustee deeply cares about the welfare of students; and mentioning long term cost savings might gain you the support of a businessman on the board who is very focused on fiscal responsibility. Most presentations need to be multifaceted to have the most effect.

Professional development — The preceding tips can go a long way in helping to communicate your knowledge to others. If you regularly present, consider reading books, listening to audio programs, and watching videos on public speaking. Another excellent resource is membership in your local Toastmasters organization. Whatever your situation, learning to impart your valuable knowledge to others can improve your ability to make a difference in the world of higher education.

Michael Dorn serves as the executive director for Safe Havens International Inc., an IRS-approved, non-profit safety center. He has authored and co-authored more than 20 books on campus safety and can be reached through the Safe Havens Website at www.safehavensinternational.org.

About the Author

Michael S. Dorn has helped conduct security assessments for more than 6,000 K-12 schools, keynotes conferences internationally and has published 27 books including Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters. He can be reached at www.safehavensinternational.org.