By Lt. Fran Hart

What do you think people are most afraid of? Flying? Death? Bugs? According to a survey done several years ago, the number one fear among adults is the fear of public speaking! Although most police officers would not consider themselves public speakers, it is the rare officer who is not called upon occasionally to speak in front of a group. It may be in front of a small gathering, such as a group of scouts, or it may be in front of several hundred members of a fraternal organization. Regardless of the size or makeup of the audience, there are several basic strategies any police officer can employ to reduce the anxiety of speaking in front of people and to make their presentations more effective.

1) DEVELOP A POSITIVE ATTITUDE – This may be the single most effective way to improve your presentations. If you are interested, excited and passionate about your topic, you can engender these feelings in your audience. Think of all the times you have been in an audience, listening to someone who never moves, who speaks in a monotone and who is generally uninspiring. It’s not a rewarding experience. So empathize with your audience and deliver your presentation with some passion and appeal. This is not to suggest that you need the fiery zest of a television preacher. But you can develop a style that is sincere, interesting and passionate such that your audience becomes involved and interested in what you have to say.

2) DON’T FEAR REJECTION – For most situations in life, the fear of rejection is not grounded in fact. It is a fear that many of us experience from time to time, bit it is a fear that can be overcome through a positive attitude. The audience wants you to succeed. They are not interested in seeing you fail. In fact, nearly every audience you speak to will be friendly and will be pulling for you to succeed. If you view your audience in this fashion, it makes for an incredible support team and will further bolster your positive attitude.

3) REHEARSE YOUR PRESENTATION – Unless you are incredibly gifted, you will need to spend some time rehearsing your presentation before you actually give it. Find a place to practice where you will not be disturbed. Rehearse in the same way that you will actually give the presentation. You must stand! Use the same gestures and inflections that you plan to use in the actual presentation. Time your presentation and adjust it to whatever the time limit is. Rehearsing gives you the opportunity to not only refine your presentation, but also to find new reasons to be excited about your presentation. It is a crucial step.

4) KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE – Your presentation will be most effective if the audience walks away feeling that the presentation was just for them. So it’s up to you to craft a presentation that is tailored to the specific group. To accomplish this, ask yourself several questions about the audience: Who are they? What is their age range? What interests them most? Why do they want to hear what I have to say? What will their attitude be? Finding the answers to these questions will help formulate a presentation that is geared specifically towards that group and will help you avoid a sameness that can creep into stock presentations. A presentation to a third grad D.A.R.E. graduation is necessarily different from a presentation before a community group upset with cars speeding through their neighborhood. So the approach to each must be implemented differently to address the needs and motivations of each group.

5) CHECK YOUR NON-VERBALS – Some experts believe that non-verbal communication makes up more than 90% of the message you’re trying to communicate. If you spend all your time on the content of the message without regard to the non-verbal components, you will lessen the chance that you message will come across the way you intended. One simple non-verbal tactic is to smile. A smile softens the barriers between you and your audience and contributes greatly to effective communication. Another tactic is to avoid the kind of body language that tends to create barriers, like folding your arms. You also need to avoid leaning on or standing behind the podium for an entire presentation. Walk around the room and get close to the audience. But don’t invade their comfort zone. Make eye contact with as many people as you can during the presentation, so they feel a sense of commonality with you. Finally, dress appropriately. Try to find out in advance how the audience will generally be dressed, then dress yourself one notch above. This helps create the impression that you are a professional and that you are a confident, knowledgeable presenter.

6) CREATE A GREAT OPENING – You should never memorize a presentation, but memorizing the opening and the close are good techniques that help make your presentation solid. The purpose of the opening is to gain the attention of your audience and draw their interest. Many presentations are won or lost during the opening, so it is worth preparing properly. Use the opening to briefly introduce yourself and to explain the main point of presentation. While humor is an important concept in many presentations, don’t use the opening for a joke unless you’re certain that you’re regarded as a good joke-teller. If you bomb with a joke, you may spend most of your remaining time recovering from the poor opening, rather than getting your message across. A safer approach is to use an appropriate quote. The library and the Internet are good sources for volumes of quotations that can be used in a variety of presentations. Use the opening to build a foundation for what is to follow. Explain where you are going with the presentation and then get on with it.

7) CREATE THE CLOSING REMARKS – many experts suggest that you should create the presentation’s close first and then work on the opening and body of the presentations afterwards. In this way, you crystallize the main point of your presentation and then you can build the opening and body of the presentation based upon this summary. Like the opening, the close should be concise and should highlight the main points of your presentation. It should also cause the audience to feel inspired and to consider any recommendations or answers you may have offered them during the presentation.

8) PREPARE YOURSELF AND YOUR SURROUNDSINGS – On the day of the presentation, get there early. Make sure all the equipment you need, if any, is ready and working. Things to check include the room temperature, the seating arrangements, the lighting and the sound system. Acquaint yourself with the person who can help you adjust any of these, if necessary. Get yourself a glass of water and place it nearby. Learn the locations of the restrooms and telephones. If you’re feeling jittery, there are a number of things you can do. Before you enter the room, find a quiet spot and visualize your success. Some stretching and deep breathing often helps dissipate some of the nervous energy. As people enter the room, introduce yourself to some of them. Shake hands and ask their names. This helps reduce barriers and makes the setting more personal.

These eight steps represent some basic strategies you can incorporate into your presentations. There are many other aspects of presenting that you can learn about through seminars, books and videotapes. You can also use the Internet as a resource for improving your presentations. How far you take it is up to you.

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