Selecting a Safety Speaker or Trainer

Serving as a trainer, speaker, and conference keynoter for more than two decades has taught me a lot of about the value as well as the pitfalls of public speaking to affect improvements in safety. I have also had the good fortune to hear hundreds of other trainers, speakers, and keynoters in different fields, ranging from regional speakers to top keynoters whose excellent performances command fees of up to $20,000 for a one-hour keynote.

Unfortunately, there are many instances where organizations have regretted using some trainers and speakers they selected. Some presenters turned out to be boring, others have been recognized too late as frauds focused only on making money, and, in a few rare instances, people have died because the information provided turned out to be dangerously incorrect. It is important not to waste precious funds and invaluable staff time with a presenter who is not a good fit for the topic or the organization. There are a number of ways to avoid a mismatch between the presenter(s) and your organization’s needs.

Carefully consider what it is you are trying to accomplish. Whether the trainer is a paid professional, a free government expert, or someone in your own organization, define your goals before selecting a trainer. It is sadly common to see a mismatch between the presenter and the topic to be addressed or the needs of the organization. Even the most gifted presenters cannot address topics beyond their areas of expertise.

Scan the field of experts thoroughly. Conduct a thorough assessment of the presenters available for the topic. It is common for organizations to regret selecting a trainer they found with a quick Internet search or chose from slick marketing materials without careful evaluation. Some speakers spend incredible sums of money on marketing but are rarely booked a second time by clients. Be sure not to overlook talented and qualified government experts who may be available for free.

Use caution with media experts. Unscrupulous topical experts commonly spend substantial sums of money on listing services to create media exposure beyond their actual level of expertise. In addition, many media experts are chosen because they are willing to make alarmist statements and/or criticize government agencies and are more readily available for interview compared to the top experts in their field. While legitimate top professionals also often use listing services and serve as media experts, it is unwise to assume talking heads make great trainers and presenters.

Remember that cost is not always indicative of quality. Sometimes the top experts and best presenters are the most expensive, but this is not always the case. Weigh carefully the experience, reputation, and credentials of trainers and speakers before paying top dollar.

Evaluate credentials in relation to the topic. In a recent case, a number of people died in a campus tragedy because of the training provided by a safety expert who was operating out of his field of actual expertise. In addition to the deaths, the organization lost multiple litigations relating to the incident because the trainer was not really qualified in the specific field of emergency management in which he had provided training and expertise. Make sure your trainer has solid and tangible credentials in the specific topic you need addressed.

Check references and past evaluations. Take the time to review letters of recommendation and past evaluations from attendees, and then call at least a few references before selecting a speaker. Qualified safety presenters should have no trouble providing a number of recent references as well as past evaluations. Top presenters can usually provide references who have engaged their services on dozens of occasions. Even if your presenter is free, the staff time for attendees can add up to be quite costly, so make sure the presenter is worth the investment of the time dedicated by your staff.

Review the handout materials. The presenter should be able to provide sample handout materials that give you a good idea of what he or she will be covering, how much depth of coverage will be afforded, and how logically the information will be covered. Be especially careful of presenters unwilling to do this. Some speakers do not provide handout materials because they routinely plagiarize the work of others.

There are many qualified trainers and speakers who can help make your organization safer. A little extra time spent on up-front evaluation can prevent a tremendous waste of effort, resources, time, and money. In the safety arena, it can even save lives.

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