Speaker-Training Program Of Ventura County F.D.

Speaker-Training Program Of Ventura County F.D.


Civic groups are screaming for public speakers. They are seeking people who have the knowledge to make their environment safer. They want to know how their tax dollar is being spent and they are looking for entertainment.

Deep down, most people do seek a safer, more pleasurable life. Fire fighters everywhere have the responsibility to provide the instruction necessary to motivate a complacent public from the position of “It will never happen to me” and stimulate them to action which has been proven to save lives.

If a group leaves your public education presentation and is not motivated to action, they may be smarter, but not necessarily wiser. Even today, some fire fighters who know and understand the toxic effects of the products of incomplete combustion still refuse to wear self-contained breathing apparatus, or they remove them much too soon. If the public does not react to the information you have presented on the toxic effects of smoke inhalation, they may die or lose loved ones, even though they fully understand the need of residential smoke alarms.

Getting the word out

Like most fire agencies, we are also limited by budget constraints. Here is the method we took to get the word out without spending a lot of bucks.

First, we took advantage of the material presented at the public fire education course taught at the National Fire Academy. Next, we formed a volunteer speakers bureau within the department. Eighteen fire fighters attended three days of instruction, including a class in techniques of public speaking, which included practice sessions using videotape playback and group critique.

Individuals chose one of the following topics and prepared a 5-minute and a 20-minute presentation.

  1. Home fire safety and smoke alarms
  2. Mobile home fire safety and smoke alarms
  3. Protecting your home during brush fires
  4. Industrial fire safety and extinguishers
  5. Baby-sitter’s guide to fire safety

Daily dozen program

Most of one day was given to instruction in the techniques of putting together motivational speech presentations. A reserve fire fighter, Wynn Allen, president of Interpersonal Communications Associates, who has a Ph.D. in communications, established the foundation for the class and motivated our potential public speakers to action with his daily-dozen program.

Apply these 12 points daily to have your views understood and end the frustration of miscommunication:

  1. Assess communication goals. Define your purpose for each communication experience. Design a communication pattern to meet your purpose. Set priorities to best reach your goal. Keep goals in focus.
  2. Prepare your communication: Know all the issues. Develop the topic logically. Know the alternatives. Gather evidence to reinforce your credibility.
  3. Know your audience, Audiences are individuals with unique qualities. Minimize generalizations. Read the audience and reach out for feedback. Adapt yourself to the audience background.
  4. Organize your material: Start at the beginning, do not jump in. Base each ensuing point upon the last. Make material understandable for all. Be specific.
  5. Show your interest: Be enthusiastic. Develop trust. Express your ideas. Show sincerity. Go beyond the obvious with your communications.
  6. Display your confidence. Create a well-defined image of yourself. Be concerned with success, not failure. Believe in your ideas. Make a 100 percent effort toward effective communication.
  7. Consider your appearance: Deliberate about hair and clothing styles. Create nonverbal cues which support your self-image. Express with bodily gestures and facial movement.
  8. Weigh others opinions: Make all channels of communication available. Progress often comes from change. Involve others in your thoughts.

Listen actively: Minimize precommunication prejudice. Outline main thoughts as you hear them. Understand speaker’s orientation. Maximize logical listening, minimize emotional listening.

  1. Be aware of environment: Have audience attention before speaking. Arrange chairs, tables and lighting to the degree of formality or informality desired.
  2. Exercise proper delivery: Speak up. Look in people’s eyes. Listen to yourself. Develop a vocal personality. Be sure everyone can hear you clearly.
  3. Prepare for next opportunity: Analyze your last communication. Make changes for effectiveness. Maintain communication awareness. Exercise the daily dozen program.

Fire Marshal Bob Holaway reinforces this daily dozen foundation of communication techniques with a framework of facts that we must get across if we are going to reduce the tragic loss of life due to fire within our community. A review of national and local fire casualty statistics, along with direct identification of where our fire problems now lie, were the reinforcers needed to motivate our new public speakers to action.

Time-tested method

Training Chief Gary Girod presented a class on speech formulation based on a time-tested method outlined in a book by Richard C. Borden (1935) called “Public Speaking as Listeners Like It.” Borden’s four-point formula gives true insight into public speaking when analyzed from the listener’s point of view.

  1. Ho-hum!—kindles a quick flame of spontaneous interest.
  2. Why bring that up?—builds a bridge explaining how they can personally benefit from it.
  3. For instance!—gets down to cases, gives them examples-examples-examples.
  4. So what?—what’s the point, what do they do about it, identifies what action do they take now.

Teachers should be able to identify the concepts of the four-step teaching method: introduction, motivation, application and evaluation. This sequence, designed to stimulate listening, is used by professionals in every field of writing and speaking. Many use it unconsciously. It’s a trick of the trade they’ve come by through years of experience in analyzing what listeners like. There is nothing new in this concept or format, and it’s still the simplest and clearest method of speaking or writing in the way listeners or readers like to hear or read it.

Fire service trainers and public information officers may want to consider reorganizing their presentations around these action-oriented concepts to motivate audiences to accept and implement sound, life-saving practices.

Getting the word out can’t be accomplished just by presenting humorous, interesting speakers, fire prevention posters, or media spot announcements. This does nothing unless the listener does something about it.

You may do nothing about this article—SO WHAT!

Thousands who can easily afford a smoke alarm will die in their homes because of lack of knowledge or lack of interest. Our country and our communities have by far the worst per-capita fire death loss record of any progressive industrial nation in the world. We can do something about it, now.

Motivate and train competent public speakers.

Educate the public in effective fire safety habits.

Stimulate knowledge into action which saves lives.

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