Play Lists – Ray McCormack

Play Lists, by Ray McCormack

Top forty radio was a staple across the country years ago playing a limited number of songs on a continuous repetitive cycle. While popular, and designed for mass consumption it lacked creative expression. Preset song lengths along with restricted DJ participation were the rule with few exceptions. Not everyone found it banal because variations of it can still be heard on radio today. When we think of fire service education and teaching, a lot of it is on a restricted loop too.

I’m not against structure. You need it to deliver equity for presenters. Subjects; however, should be presented in formats that best suit their relevance to the listener. When every class is a set block of time, education can suffer. Not every class should be the same length. I recently designed a conference with this in mind although the idea has been rattling around in my head for years. Some classes suffer from excess time often becoming repetitive and preachy. Classes can be split in half offering two sides of a “topic coin” or co-taught.  There are numerous variations that can add punch to a linear speaker schedule.

This is not just about time allotment. It’s also about presenters learning to curtail their speeches and trim their egos into a smaller package. The hope is that a ten-pound program is never shoved into a five-pound bag punctuated by speed talking. The idea is to keep editing to reduce fluff until solid information is formed while reducing sentence finishers like “Ya know” and “Right?”. There should never be a post class declaration of, “If I only had more time….”.  If so, you have failed no matter the allotment time. Finishing on time is an art whether for a lecture or hands-on class especially when someone is awaiting your students release.

You should never make the mistake of falling in love with your own words to the point of going over your time allotment. Remember the next presenter is entitled to their full allotment too. Let me share a secret if you don’t get to something in your presentation, no one missed it. Present your class and let others see if they found it informative. That’s the key! A presentation should be good throughout its entirety. Its length shouldn’t be the only factor to good education and delivery.

I could make a strong case for short snippet education as being both impactful and responsive. When I developed the Training Minutes video concept for Fire Engineering, it was based on short length drill segments such as forcing an inward door or flaking out the lead length. Viewership has proven the concept valid. Social media has followed this path and I believe it’s a great supplement to longer length in-person subject delivery.

Foundational programs are important too and most speakers have them. Some never want to stray from them because they still fill seats. Again, it’s a play list of variety for attendees who can either take in the five hundredth presentation of this, see a new release or take in a remix. The choice is yours. Each program has its place and it’s your educational time.

For instructors who would like to bring a new instructor into the fold, think about shorter program times. This allows for a new presenter to appear without lengthening overall seat time for the attendee. Cutting yourself a bit short shouldn’t be too big of an issue. Here’s a suggestion; move your information and contact slide to the front so when your time ends, you finish without frustration.

I, along with others, did a 10 in 10 program which consisted of ten slides in ten minutes at the Orlando Fire Conference. It was both a challenge and a great opportunity to edit my thoughts and stick to a tight time line. Not everyone can do it as some went over, but if you ever want to add discipline to your teaching, try it. As a presenter you want to get a handle on all types of formats to increase your flexibility and subject delivery style.

Some programs need a day to present. If it’s several days, then it’s a course. Sometimes I wish we could just freestyle our information which is a talent unto itself. If you’ve ever had a program crash or have taught with just a board, freestyling is a great way to connect with your audience. The great presenters can adjust to a crash and survive due to their knowledge and comfort level of the material, while others will crash and burn. If you know your subject cold and can piece the learning together, you can probably freestyle. Whichever style you choose to present your program in, remember to share your opinions and experience, finish on time and don’t curse your way through it.

Keep Fire in Your Life