Polishing Your Presentations

Most school administrators give presentations of one form or another on occasion. From presentations at staff meetings to presenting about a successful program they have implemented at a professional conference, the ability to present one’s knowledge to others can be an important skill for today’s school officials who have safety responsibilities. Yet, we often hear that fear of public speaking ranks as one of the biggest phobias of American society, with many people ranking the fear of public speaking as greater than the fear of death itself.

There are a few areas that can heavily influence the outcome of presentations and, thus, the very effectiveness of how much we can affect the lives of others in our work. When it comes to presentations relating to safety, the importance of solid communications is paramount. Addressing the following core areas will go a long way towards this effective communications process.

Technical Knowledge

Honest men and women insist that presenters really do know what they are talking about. Stick to areas of your real expertise, or, when put into a position to present on an area you do not feel competent in, develop the requisite expertise to avoid problems before you present.

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, being sure to properly cite 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 the makeup of your audience while preparing your presentation. Whether addressing the school board to seek additional funding, training internal staff, or presenting at a national conference, matching your presentation to the audience is crucial to a good presentation.

Audio Visual Tools

Audio visual aids can be a powerful enhancement, as long as the presenter is competent with the visual aids and is prepared to use an alternate presentation method if the tool fails. If using an LCD projector, be sure to have a printed copy of every slide close at hand in case the bulb blows in the last 10 minutes of the presentation. Don’t succumb to the temptation of becoming overly reliant upon audio visual tools for your presentation. Be sure you can still talk about the issues at hand in an interesting manner.


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


We get much of our information from nonverbal cues, tone of voice, and other means of communication besides the spoken word. Practice presentations in a mirror, watching yourself as you present. While presentation styles are best when they are what the speaker is comfortable with, moving hands and the body can go a long way to keeping people focused on what you are saying. Changing voice tones is also helpful.

Watch Other Speakers

You can learn a lot by watching a very 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, try to figure out what they are doing wrong and make a commitment to never do that to others.

Focus On Their Hot Buttons

Try to sell your information based on the needs of the audience. For example, when presenting to a school board to implement a new safety initiative, you may include the prevention of emotional trauma for children, because a particular board member deeply cares about kids. Mentioning long-term cost savings might help you gain the support of a businessman on the board who ran on a platform of fiscal responsibility.

Professional Development

The preceding tips can go a long way to help communicate your important knowledge to others. If you must regularly present information to others, consider reading books, listening to audio programs, watching videos on public speaking, and joining a local Toastmaster’s organization. Whatever your situation, learning to impart your valuable knowledge to others can improve your ability to make a difference in the world of education.

Michael S. Dorn has been a full-time campus safety practitioner for 24 years and now serves as the senior public safety and emergency management analyst for Jane’s Consultancy. He can be reached at schoolsafety@hotmail.com.

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.