You're ready to begin training. You look at the sea of faces--some interested, some bored, some hostile, some veiled. What you say in the next few minutes can make or break all the work you put into this moment. It can tweak and pique your listeners' interest; engage their hearts as well as their minds in what's to come--or irretrievably lose them.
Set a Hook That Lands Them
Symbols are powerful heart and mind grabbers. Think of our flag, of your badge. I begin some of my trainings by handing out a clear marble. I advise participants to "not lose their marble" because they have to have it at the end of the training. Only then will I share with them its meaning. At the end, I explain:
The arena in which you work requires more courage than ever before. It demands dedication, perseverance and a steadfast spirit. When the demands get to you, when you feel you may be stumbling, look into the marble. It's not just a marble -- it's a crystal ball. When you look into it you'll see a reflection of yourself. And when you see yourself, you'll find all the "courage" and "spirit" you need. I know this. Because you folks have taught me more about the meaning of those words than any other experience it's been my privilege to have.
Think of a symbol for your training you can hook the audience with at the start--a compass, light, diamond, heart, flame, forge, anvil, feather, polished rock, knot, wind, tree, water. If you can't find an inexpensive, miniature version of the symbol (try Kipp Brothers), have it printed up on a roll of stickers or cards you can pass out. FTOs, remember what it was like for you to be in field training? Describe it in one word. Then think of a symbol for that word. I once asked some telecommunications trainers to describe what it took to be a great telecommunicator. They replied "patience and endurance under stress" and came up with a polished rock as a symbol they gave out in training new telecommunicators.
Worried your symbol will seem cheesy? I was. But I've had too many officers connect with the marble. At an academy where I regularly train, a marked patrol car stopped me walking to a quick lunch. The officer leaned out and asked, "Do you have any more marbles? I lost mine."
I'd taught him as a recruit the year before. He met me later at the airport and I replaced his marble from the spares I always carry. At the end of another training in another state, a man waited until everyone else had left and then quietly said, "You don't know who I am." I admitted I didn't. He explained, "Two years ago, I attended a training you did. I'm working a shaken baby case right now. The baby probably won't live and it's the toughest case I've ever worked. Your marble has helped get me through it. I just wanted you to know that." It isn't the marble. It's touching officers' hearts with a symbol that makes them feel the difference they can make in people's lives.
Ask the Right Questions
Great trainers don't try to give all the answers, but they do ask the right questions. A question draws listeners into the training and makes them part of it. Training on police and prosecution ethics, I sometimes begin with the question,
Is virtue in the eye of the beholder? Does the "right" thing depend on circumstances, on whose ox is being gored -- or is it found in principles that do not vary?
I then get a show of hands for which answer participants subscribe to and ask them why. I follow with a story:
Long ago, when Xerox machines were a new and wondrous invention, two officers were interviewing a suspect and getting nowhere. They got an idea. They told the suspect the department's Xerox machine was a lie detector. They put a colander on the suspect's head and wired it to the copier machine. Unbeknownst to the suspect, under the machine's lid one of the officer's placed a slip of paper that read, "He's lying!" Every time the suspect answered a question, the other officer would press the "copy" button and out popped, "He's lying!" Shaken, the suspect told all.