Mark Twain was the most renowned speaker of his time and delivered hundreds, if not thousands, of speeches throughout his life. Back in his time people came out in large numbers to be entertained by the great traveling orators, but that is not what people are looking for today when they attend a training class or presentation. They want good relevant content, new knowledge to work with, and brevity. They want Trainers who are great communicators, and not a public speaker.

The problem I found was that most of the presentation resources available to an educator or trainer are books and workshops on public speaking. They focus on becoming a polished orator that can entertain a group of people for a relatively short period of time. They are all about impressing people, and it can be easy for anyone wanting to deliver a successful presentation to follow them. We need our educators and trainers to become communicators instead. A Trainer has a different focus than a public speaker. They want to teach, impact, and change their audience in a meaningful way that will help them fulfill their daily duties.

I read dozens of books on public speaking while researching materials for my book “Police Instructor: Deliver Dynamic Presentations, Create The Police Instructor Handbook - 5 Star RatingEngaging Slides, & Increase Active Learning,” and I was surprised how much they copied each other. It was like someone photo copied the same book and placed a variety of different covers on them, and then found a sucker (turns out that includes me), to buy each one. Very few new ideas came out of that block of research – very few. The books usually start by focusing on the message. The speaker’s message, that is. Public speaking focuses on what the speaker has to offer, but the Trainer puts the people they want to impact before the message. They find out what the people need before offering them something that they don’t. Only then can a Trainer know what message should be presented.

Public speaking programs focus on changing the way you gesture with your hands, walk across the stage, and instruct you on facial expressions you have never used or needed. They offer unique (but mostly irrelevant) catch-phrases that grab the attention of your audience – temporarily – allowing you to complete the message you have chosen for them.  The process can be as conceited as the cast of Jersey Shore.

“Whoever I have babies with has to be Italian. I want my kids last name to have a  vowel on it… and be tanned, obviously… I’m a f**king good person!” ~Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, Jersey Shore Reality TV Show

Trainer vs. Public Speaker

I attended an academy graduation last year where I heard two prepared speeches, and another impromptu talk. The results may surprise you. One of the prepared speeches was delivered by a school administrator and the other by a federal law enforcement officer – both had me looking for items to stick in my ears. They were doing their best impersonation of a public speaker instead of being a Trainer.

They surely meant well as they thanked everyone in the room, and I mean everyone. They each read their speech word for word which forced them into a monotone state that would put anyone to sleep. The educator looked up from his speech several times but always stared at the same point on the wall. He never scanned the crowd or made eye contact with anyone. He repeated the same motion with his right hand, as if conducting a symphony orchestra.  There was no emotion in his voice that might connect him to the graduating cadets or audience, and every line in his speech was an old cliché.

My fellow law enforcer was even worse. He looked up once during his speech and lost his place momentarily. I could see the frantic look on his face as he searched for the correct spot.  That was the last time I saw his face until he was done with his eight minute recitation. He grabbed the lectern with both hands as if it was going to fall down without his help. I am positive he put great effort into his speech, but the sentiment was completely lost as he rambled through without ever pausing between sentences, paragraphs, or points. There was no indication when one point ended and the next began. His big mistake was leaving his experiences and beliefs out of his speech.  He never talked about anything he had intimate experience with – and it showed.

After the first minute the audience started leaning their heads back and rolling their eyes. The cadets managed to keep their composure with the educator, but even they started to grimace with their law CLIP0001_17enforcement counterpart. Why do people chain themselves to a speech by reading it word for word or attempting to memorize it? I asked the officer. He said he used a system for his speech that he ordered on a public speaking web site. I hope he got a good bargain. It was an ineffective method of delivery and boring to boot.

The best speech of the graduation came from one of the academy commanders. He was there to introduce the speakers and hand out certificates, but something popped into his head that he wanted to share. He walked away from the lectern and approached the cadets in the front row. You could see in their faces that they were completely engaged as he talked to them. He walked back and forth across the stage, and looked at each cadet as he gave them heartfelt advice from decades of police experience.

Within one minute, the commander brought laughter to the entire audience and nearly made the graduates cry. He did not wing it, he knew his material well. How? He spoke about his experiences as a law enforcer and gave advice that had been etched into his conscience. The commander was having a conversation. He focused on an idea and let the words come naturally – he did not need a speech. He was passionate about his message and wanted to share his lesson with the audience. He was a Trainer – not a public speaker.

While he did not have formal training or credentials qualifying him as a great speaker, he had confidence in his experience.  His knowledge came from real life encounters, and reality is what interests people most.

“Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.” ~C.S. Lewis

Guiding Principles of a Trainer

Trainers don’t picture people naked, or stare at a spot on the wall, or follow any other dumb advice from a public speaking book that fails to focus on the audience. They make natural eye contact and the audience connects with them. The Trainer won’t concentrate their energy on techniques that make them appear polished and better than their audience; they will instead concentrate on impacting their listeners by creating an atmosphere of change through learning. They are more concerned with providing wisdom and value to their students and less worried about how awesome they are as an orator. They find and follow the guiding principles that will make them a great law enforcement Trainer:

  • Cops, Cadets, & Students learn better when they are given the opportunity to talk and not forced to only listen.123inservice class props
  • Cops, Cadets, & Students learn better when you present information as if you were having a conversation with a friend instead of lecturing a class.
  • Cops, Cadets, & Students learn better when you use pictures and images on your slides and not just text and bullet points.
  • Cops, Cadets, & Students learn better when they write down information instead of just hearing it.
  • Cops, Cadets, & Students learn better when they are given small chunks of wisdom instead of an iceberg of information.
  • Cops, Cadets, & Students learn better when they are moving around and not constantly sitting.
  • Cops, Cadets, & Students learn better when they are shown how the knowledge being taught will be of value to them.
  • Cops, Cadets, & Students learn better when they are challenged to think critically, be creative, and communicate with others.
  • Cops, Cadets, & Students learn better when you incorporate a variety of techniques and create an atmosphere of active learning.

As a police instructor, you must be eager to share your wisdom with the audience you serve.  To be effective there is no getting around this principle.  Training is not simply transferring your knowledge—it’s about your students being able to apply their new knowledge and skills to get better results as a cop. You must look deep into the topic and make it your personal desire to help each student see the value in your presentation.  You must share the gold nuggets of wisdom that you have accumulated throughout your career that can save the life of another.

You don’t need to look polished and perfect to be a great Trainer, but you do need to be passionate about improving your craft. Passion is far more important, in my opinion, than perfection. The focus of our law enforcement educators and trainers should not be on becoming great public speakers. Take the tidbits of good information offered by public speaking books and programs – add them to your trainer’s toolkit – and then never stop looking for new and innovative methods to prepare worthy guardians to watch over our society.sideview

“Just as police officers are the barbed-wire that protects the sheep from the wolves, police instructors are the posts that provide them with a foundation of strength.” ~Richard Neil

Richard H. Neil Sr. is the author of “Police Instructor: Deliver Dynamic Presentations, Create Engaging Slides, & Increase Active Learning.” He is a retired city cop, and instructs for several of Ohio’s criminal justice training academies. He can be contacted through his website that is dedicated to resources for law enforcement educators and trainers –

  1. Kerry Avery says:

    Great article! A point I often have to make is that it is about the learner/cadet/constable, not the facilitator. Police trainers have this impression that the point of teaching is for them to impart their knowledge on the learners, which makes it about the trainer instead of the real point – ensuring the cadets leave with the skills and tools they need to do the job. It’s about them, not you.

  2. John P. Hebb, Esq. says:

    Excellent article. I have been involved with law enforcement for almost 40 years, 32 as a full time police officer. Now, I am a lawyer and college professor. I went to many, many training sessions over the years. I remember the good ones, and forgot most of the others.
    The “professional” instructors were the most forgettable. You remember the practitioners, the people who have real experience and insight and pass it along.
    You can teach information, but you need passion to get your points across effectively.

  3. Mark says:

    Thanks for your article. Diverging a bit from presentation to teaching methodology, I have found practical exercises reinforce presented information. Students are Power-Point to death — going from one class to another with endless power-points to “convey knowledge”. Live practicals are best. I provide an intermediate step — virtual practical exercises — transitioning from classroom to live. Employing gaming technologies, the current generation of recruits take to simulation/gaming, especially if it is touch-enabled. The lessons learned in simulated scenarios are valid as virtual incidents can provide lethal situations not easily created or experienced in live practical exercises. But, they certainly don’t replace live exercises. From my experience and exposure to live simulated scenarios in virtual environments — the keystone to learning, beyond the students’ own personal experience, is the instructor-led After Action Review (AAR) to bring out teaching points. It has been those points that I often cite whenever I present. I speak at conferences and to funding sponsors — it has been my students’ experiences that I draw on to relate my topic. Otherwise, I have nothing to say — it has been their experience, although virtual, that allows me to tell THEIR story when I speak. Thanks for your admonition in how we need to convey what is truly needed to be expressed.

  4. Terry Coleman says:

    I agree with the above but we must remember that police personnel need education as well as training.

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