Practical Presentation Preparation – Part Two of a Three-Part Series

Greg Bettis

by Corporal Greg Bettis, Holly Springs Police Department

As outlined last month, the instructor must be able to convince his audience to listen to the material he is presenting. If we didn’t want them to hear, we wouldn’t be talking. And what we have to say can be life-changing. In part one last month, we established proper breathing techniques to keep the voice strong for extended periods of teaching.

Too often, we suffer with dull, lifeless, monotonous presenters who drone students to sleep with dead presentation styles. This type of presentation rarely results in learning. Now that we’ve got proper breathing, how can we keep them interested? Here’s a teaching secret–tell a lively story.

These are the “lively” in your story. Consider the voice variables of rate, pace, volume, pitch, inflection, and pauses. Each of these used thoughtfully, as in daily conversation, will bring life to any presentation and keep people listening.


Rate is about speed. The tendency of most new instructors is to talk too quickly. Excitement and energy are important, but often the result is speaking too fast for the listener to digest the thoughts. Too fast reflects a nervousness and lack of ease with the material. Speaking slowly demonstrates reflective and mature thought, but too slowly and look out… the snoring is about to begin. The student tires quickly at working to listen and his mind will begin to wander. Never be constant and allow the rate to change to match the thought. Important content may require a slower rate for emphasis while less important details a quicker one. The emotion of the content guides the rate. Grief and contempt are slow, while joy, energy and enthusiasm are faster.


Pacing is similar to rate but is a sense of moving the thoughts forward. We’ve all found ourselves asking, “Where is this going?” When this happens, it is often because the pace has stopped, leaving confusion. Keep moving towards the goal. The presentation should move forward smoothly. A good pace keeps the topics moving toward a conclusion. Rate and pace should flex within the presentation and be like everyday conversations. Know when to go fast and when to go slow.


Volume is a key in variety. A change in volume tells the hearer that something important is happening and causes him to strain to determine what that change is. Allow the content to guide the volume. Do not make the mistake of thinking that full-power equals importance. In fact, a small whisper can be deafening to
an audience.


Pitch is the movement of the voice up or down similar to a musical scale. Don’t stay in the middle range of your speaking voice, but instead move up or down on certain words and phrases to emphasize the important thoughts you are conveying. Lower tones create a mature thoughtfulness while higher tones give energy.


Inflection is a change in the pitch within a word. By simply changing the pitch of a word, ou can express confidence, cast doubt, or express conviction or a question. Rising inflection indicates a question while falling is used to complete a thought. Gradual changes display confidence while abrupt indicates excitement.


Finally, consider the pause. It leaves you wondering what comes next. ………………..See what I mean. A pause can be very effective if properly placed. The pause is meaningful and not to be confused with hesitation. A well-placed pause allows the speaker to look forward to his next thought, but it makes the listener look backward at what was just said. What an opportunity to give students a chance to reflect on the last thing said before continuing. Keep silent during the pause. Do not fill the space with a huh, uh or um. Do not be afraid to use a pause. Silence can be a very meaningful tool.

Remember, if they’re not listening, they’re not learning. My job as an instructor is not to complete the lesson, it’s to teach the lesson. I must work as hard at how I am doing, as I do at what I am doing.

They hear you, but are they listening?

We visit mental preparation next. See you then.

Corporal Greg Bettis is the Department Training Officer and brings 26 years’ experience. He is a POST Master Instructor. Greg can be reached at

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