Hook, Catch and Don't Release

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.

Then another question: Good investigation strategy or unethical or illegal use of deception?

Nationwide, there's disagreement amongst ethical officers and an energetic discussion is off and running--leading to court decisions on such conduct, whether legal equals ethical, and, if not, which should be officers' guiding light. All starting with a question that engaged learners.

Let's Talk about ME

We all love to hear about ourselves. Begin by addressing the audience's unique situation and you'll grab their attention. I was once privileged to address the National Organization of Black Women in Law Enforcement about women in policing. As I looked out and experienced for the first time what it was like to be the only white person in a room, I thought, "What on earth do I think I can tell these women about being a minority in anything?"

I changed my opening on the spot to,

I don't know what it's like to be you! You folks know that. I just want you to know that I know it. This is the first time in my life I've been the only person with my skin color in a room full of people. You women experience this every day of your life. That's right--I don't know what it's like to be you!

About that time I heard an "Amen, sister!" Another voice called out, "Say what you came to say. We're listening." I proceeded, "But we all know what it's like to be women in a non-traditional profession," and completed a presentation that was warmly received.

If you're training recruits, let them know you remember what it's like to be them, or acknowledge their situation by joking it's taken years of therapy for you to forget. If you're training a group that's more experienced and wiser, pay homage to their contributions. Then find common ground from which all of you still care about the topic.

Grab 'Em With a Challenge and Quote

Challenge the officers to open their minds and hearts to the material you'll be presenting. Then offer the quote,

"Minds [and hearts] are like parachutes, they work best when open."
--Thomas Dewar

Have the audience set their own challenge, then support that with a quote. As an instructor at a DPS academy, I begin every academy by asking each of the recruits to tell, in one word, what they think is the single most important quality to being a great cop. One by one they offer their words: Integrity, Compassion, Courage, Fairness, Persistence, Dedication, Service. I have a recruit write the words on the board. When the list is done, I tell them that in all the years I've been training, recruits never list things like being the best academically or on the range, able to run the fastest three miles or do the most sit ups. Instead, recruits always set the same sterling standards for themselves and their fellow officers. I let them know they are in good company. The once top cop of New York City, Teddy Roosevelt, said of warriors like them,

It is not the critic who counts, not the person who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to those who are actually in the arena; whose faces are marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strive valiantly; who err and come short again and again...who know the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spend themselves in a worthy cause; who at least know in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who, at the worst if they fail, at least fail while daring greatly, so that their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

I conclude this opening by challenging them to never forget the standards they just set for themselves in the arena they've chosen to enter.

Graduating classes have elected to put the qualities they listed or the Roosevelt quote at the center of their class banner. I just laid down the challenge. They picked up the gauntlet. They did it from a sense of connection with the training, the academy, and each other.

FTOs, begin your time with a rookie with a challenge. Ask her what kind of cop she wants to be, what she wants her family, community and fellow officers to say about her at her retirement. Have the rookie write this out. Put it on a card that the two of you review at the end of every shift. Find a symbol for what's on the card that you can present to the rookie to help them through. At the end of their field training, tell them you're going to be at their retirement with that card.

Pull Those Ripcords

Trying new things can be scary--a bit like volunteering for a dangerous mission. Speaking of dangerous missions, have you ever heard of the Nepalese Ghurkas? They're mountain men from Nepal. During World War I, Gurkhas fought on the fronts of Europe and Asia, becoming known as "the bravest of the brave." The London RADIO TIMES has reported,

Among many legends about the Nepalese Gurkhas of the British Army is the story of a paratroop regiment in World War II. The regiment leader asked for volunteers for a dangerous drop behind enemy lines. About half the Gurkhas promptly stepped forward. As the leader went on to provide details of the mission, a surprised voice piped up from the back: "You mean we can use parachutes?" Every remaining Gurkha stepped forward.

Opening your heart and mind to new training ideas takes courage, but think of the Gurkhas. Take stock of your personality and your training objectives in deciding how to grab your audience's attention--but don't be afraid to jump outside your comfort zone now and then.

C'mon, let me see you pull those ripcords!