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1. Know thine subject

  • Don’t read off of slides, adults are capable of doing that without an instructor.
  • Respect your audience’s time and intelligence by reviewing the material beforehand.
  • If a question or topic comes up that you are not prepared to discuss or you are unable to provide an answer, simply say “that’s a good question, I’ll need to look up the correct answer at the break…”
  • While it is necessary for you to know the subject you’re teaching, no one expects you to be infallible or to know everything.

2. Know thine audience

  • Always be professional and take extra care to tailor your training to your audience.
  • For example, don’t share a violent active shooter training video with parents at the PTA meeting–find a more informative and less stressful media presentation.
  • At a training I recently attended, the presenter used gunshot sound effects at each slide transition–this was not only distracting but could have triggered an emotional response from audience members who have been in combat or other violent situations.
  • During a CERT course I attended, one of the instructors was a firefighter and absentmindedly included training for skills that exceed CERT requirements–this wasn’t terrible, but the material should have been tailored for CERT rather than the fire service.
  • Assume that someone in your audience might have an unintended emotional response to examples of violence, gore, profanity, etc.

3. Thou shall tell a story

  • People love stories and case studies.
  • Stories should be short, sweet, and relevant to the discussion.
  • Stories can provide excellent reinforcement for lessons.
  • Do not get off-topic and consumed with a long story (and do not drop names throughout a story).
  • Do not tell inappropriate stories or stories that could embarrass/harm your and your agency’s reputation.

4. Thou shall not bear false witness (be honest)

  • Be candid and sincere.
  • Don’t tell a story that you don’t know to be true.

5. Thou shall be realistic

  • Without being gratuitously violent, graphic, or profane, all training should be as realistic as possible to prepare students for what they will encounter in the real world.
  • If the training you’re providing differs significantly from real world application, refer to the (previous) 4th Commandment.

6. Thou shall educate, thou shall NOT intimidatefmj

  • Resist the urge to frighten new students, it doesn’t make for a good learning environment.
  • In emergency preparedness training, it is easy to cause fear in students. Doing so creates an emotional response in the students. People do not learn best when they have a strong emotional response to the course content. In the 2009 article “Stressed Memories: How Acute Stress Affects Memory Formation in Humans,” the authors explain that “During a stressful time, a person’s attention and emotional state may be affected which could hinder the ability to focus…”
  • By presenting the course content in logical, reasonable, and non-harassing way, your students will feel more comfortable, be willing to ask questions, and share more during the course. Intimidation may work in boot camp but doesn’t have a place in most emergency preparedness classes (such as CPR, first aid, ICS courses, etc).

7. Thou shall NOT gratuitously show terrorists’/criminals’ pictures

  • Unless it is necessary, refrain from using pictures of terrorists or other criminals during your presentations. Many of these killers want to be famous/infamous and spreading their image only helps them reach their goal. Instead, focus on the victims or the responders. The perpetrators should not be given undue publicity.
  • You should use the photographs of terrorists/criminals if you have a need to do so. For example, you could show pictures of several active shooters and explain how they didn’t look like killers before their acts of violence and, thus, we really can’t stereotype what a killer looks like…

8. Thou shall be interactive and encourage thine audience to participate

  • Don’t forget that when delivering training to adults, interactive training is important.
  • The best classes include discussion and sharing from the audience that helps reinforce the course concepts.
  • Ensure that there are specific times during the course that include audience participation.

9. Thou shall avoid unnecessary abbreviations & initialisms

  • Oftentimes, in emergency management, it is easy to get carried away with abbreviations and initialisms (like HSEEP, ICS, IC, SitL, etc).
  • Don’t assume everyone knows the definition of the terms you’re using. Make sure to define each one on first usage.
  • Using too many abbreviations and initialisms can delay or limit comprehension–just be careful.

10. Thou shall be neither defensive nor offensive

  • If you don’t know something–admit it. If you get corrected by a student, thank the student and make sure the class understands the correction. You’re an instructor, you’re not infallible. You’re not expected to know everything perfectly–neither are the students. Don’t get defensive. It’s a learning environment for everyone–including the instructors.
  • Don’t be offensive. Don’t tell crude jokes–they are never as funny as you think they are. Don’t share offensive cartoons, videos, or any other media during the classroom breaks. At best, it gets a laugh. At worst, it triggers a complaint or (worse still) a lawsuit. Don’t make fun of students, other instructors, or do/say anything that could be considered politically incorrect. It simply is not worth it.

Above all else:

  • Please be polite, courteous, helpful, thoughtful, kind, and professional. There are many opportunities for training and the emergency management field needs awesome instructors.