Instructional Command Presence - Training -

Instructional Command Presence

The do’s & don’ts of teaching



R.K. Miller | From the October 2010 Issue Tuesday, October 19, 2010

In my August column, we talked about the introductory aspects of teaching a class. In this installment, we’ll share some thoughts on presentation skills—the do’s and don’ts of successfully instructing on a particular topic. To do this, we focus on the mechanics of getting the message across to your students.

The importance of a trainer knowing the subject matter is probably the best starting point. There is a definite connection between this and a greater degree of technical competence in front of the class. It can be a tremendous help to an instructor who is relatively new to teaching a specific topic to know the subject inside out. Especially when you’re teaching cops, don’t expect to go well if you try to “wing it” or “BS” the class when you don’t know the material well.

The Right Stuff
An embarrassing moment that continues to haunt me occurred in one of my first classes. I committed a major instructional sin: I read from my notes. Even worse, I also read, literally, straight from a book on the subject. I wasn’t teaching. I was verbally regurgitating.

The evaluations on my performance were justifiably terrible, including comments about the class being a waste of time. Since then, I’ve recognized that a positive byproduct of knowing the subject is that you won’t come anywhere near my dismal performance. If you’re dependant on your printed material rather than your own brainpower, you may feel the same trainer’s trauma.

But it’s something you can correct by knowing your stuff. A good indication of reaching instructional nirvana is when you can coherently talk to the students and think ahead to the next topic. That’s when you know you’re really in the groove as a knowledgeable and skilled instructor.

Crank Up the Paddles—Stat!
It’s a given: There will be times when you lose a thought and need to jump-start your presentation. If you’re dependant upon notes—especially if they’re in a font similar in size to this article—it’s almost guaranteed you’ll experience difficulty as you search to find your place while the students watch. This will take too much time and the students’ eyes will be on you as they wait for the learning to continue. (In some cases, this pause drags on to the point where students may want to grab the paddles of an “instructional defibrillator,” yell “CLEEAARR!” and zap their instructor back into action.) That effect will only add to the pressure and the stress you’ll feel to get going again.

Here’s a suggestion that may help, especially if you’re first developing your command of a topic. Each time I tackle a new class, I make a “teaching book.” Generally I use a three-ring binder so I can change pages as I add updated information. Each page is labeled and contains relevant information printed in a large font. If I’m using PowerPoint, I may print out the presentation’s slides and put those in the binder. Additionally, I will use a red or blue pen in large print to make important notations. Should I forget something while speaking, I find my place in the teaching book and quickly reorient so that I’m back on track with minimal delay. You can do the same by using a well-prepared lesson plan. However, for a quick recovery from the illness I call CRS (Can’t Remember Sh*t), I rely on my teaching book.

Um & Ah
Another issue that plagues instructors is the use of “ums,” “ahs” and other filler words. A command of the topic, including the relevant details, will help prevent this. Here’s why: Trainers often use filler words as a verbal crutch. Their conscious and subconscious brains try to maintain a logical and correct flow of information. A limited reliance on filler words is a natural part of the sharing process.

But if the teaching brain is searching for the correct info rather than delivering it in a seamless fashion, it’s a good bet that words such as “um” will creep into your sentence structure and become an unwelcomed part of the delivery.

To address this, one development technique that works well is the teach-back exercise. In this, trainers develop their skill on an assigned subject in front of other instructors. If the trainer starts injecting unnecessary words into their presentation, then it’s a good bet that they’re doing so because they’re lacking in confidence and command of the subject matter.

I’m often involved as an evaluator in such exercises with my students. Sometimes the use of these repetitive words is so bad that I start keeping score. When a speaker’s “ums” gets into the 20s and beyond in a 5­–10 minute presentation, they become a roadblock to getting the message across. Often, the student has realized this during the presentation. Along with my critique, this realization helps get the new instructor on the right track.


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R.K. MillerR.K. Miller, Law Officer's Train the Trainer columnist, retired from the Huntington Beach (Calif.) Police Department as a lieutenant after 30 years of service and is currently a reserve officer with the Orange (Calif.) Police Department.


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