Selecting a Safety Speaker or Trainer
- By Michael S. Dorn
- January 1st, 2008
Serving as a trainer,
speaker, and conference keynoter for more than two decades has taught me a lot
of about the value as well as the pitfalls of public speaking to affect
improvements in safety. I have also had the good fortune to hear hundreds of
other trainers, speakers, and keynoters in different fields, ranging from
regional speakers to top keynoters whose excellent performances command fees of
up to $20,000 for a one-hour keynote.
Unfortunately, there are
many instances where organizations have regretted using some trainers and
speakers they selected. Some presenters turned out to be boring, others have
been recognized too late as frauds focused only on making money, and, in a few
rare instances, people have died because the information provided turned out to
be dangerously incorrect. It is important not to waste precious funds and
invaluable staff time with a presenter who is not a good fit for the topic or
the organization. There are a number of ways to avoid a mismatch between the
presenter(s) and your organization’s needs.
consider what it is you are trying to accomplish. Whether the trainer is a
paid professional, a free government expert, or someone in your own organization,
define your goals before selecting a trainer. It is sadly common to see a
mismatch between the presenter and the topic to be addressed or the needs of
the organization. Even the most gifted presenters cannot address topics beyond
their areas of expertise.
the field of experts thoroughly. Conduct a thorough
assessment of the presenters available for the topic. It is common for
organizations to regret selecting a trainer they found with a quick Internet
search or chose from slick marketing materials without careful evaluation. Some
speakers spend incredible sums of money on marketing but are rarely booked a
second time by clients. Be sure not to overlook talented and qualified
government experts who may be available for free.
caution with media experts. Unscrupulous topical
experts commonly spend substantial sums of money on listing services to create
media exposure beyond their actual level of expertise. In addition, many media
experts are chosen because they are willing to make alarmist statements and/or
criticize government agencies and are more readily available for interview
compared to the top experts in their field. While legitimate top professionals
also often use listing services and serve as media experts, it is unwise to
assume talking heads make great trainers and presenters.
that cost is not always indicative of quality. Sometimes
the top experts and best presenters are the most expensive, but this is not
always the case. Weigh carefully the experience, reputation, and credentials of
trainers and speakers before paying top dollar.
credentials in relation to the topic. In a recent case, a
number of people died in a campus tragedy because of the training provided by a
safety expert who was operating out of his field of actual expertise. In
addition to the deaths, the organization lost multiple litigations relating to
the incident because the trainer was not really qualified in the specific field
of emergency management in which he had provided training and expertise. Make
sure your trainer has solid and tangible credentials in the specific topic you
references and past evaluations. Take the time to review
letters of recommendation and past evaluations from attendees, and then call at
least a few references before selecting a speaker. Qualified safety presenters
should have no trouble providing a number of recent references as well as past
evaluations. Top presenters can usually provide references who have engaged
their services on dozens of occasions. Even if your presenter is free, the
staff time for attendees can add up to be quite costly, so make sure the
presenter is worth the investment of the time dedicated by your staff.
the handout materials. The presenter should be able to provide
sample handout materials that give you a good idea of what he or she will be
covering, how much depth of coverage will be afforded, and how logically the
information will be covered. Be especially careful of presenters unwilling to
do this. Some speakers do not provide handout materials because they routinely
plagiarize the work of others.
There are many qualified
trainers and speakers who can help make your organization safer. A little extra
time spent on up-front evaluation can prevent a tremendous waste of effort,
resources, time, and money. In the safety arena, it can even save lives.
Michael S. Dorn has helped conduct security assessments for more than 6,000 K-12 schools, keynotes conferences internationally and has published 27 books including Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters. He can be reached at www.safehavensinternational.org.