Practical Support for the Changing World at Work 
Linda F. Willing
P.O. Box 148
Grand Lake, CO
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Training Tip Archives

2000  2001  2002  2003  2004  2005  2006 2007 2008

December 2001

To Read or Not to Read When is it appropriate to read to an audience during a presentation? Consider the following guidelines:

  • In most cases, reading from a prepared text is less engaging than using notes as talking points during a presentation.
  • Never hand out a printed transcript of the presentation, and then stand up and read the exact text you have just handed out.
  • Avoid turning and reading from slides that are projected on the screen. If you do this regularly, it gives the appearance you are not familiar with your slides.
  • Short blocks of direct quotation should be read and not paraphrased.
  • Short speeches may be read from note cards, but make eye contact regularly with the audience.
  • Reading verbatim from longer presentations is dangerousö if you lose your place, it can be much more difficult to recover than if you are working from notes.

November 2001

The Importance of Proofreading Effective training depends on good instructional materials. Careless errors in printed or projected materials are very distracting to training objectives. Consider:

  • Always do the final proofreading from printed copy, not from the computer screen. It is much harder to spot errors on a computer monitor than on paper.
  • Use spell check but donât count on it to catch errors. It will pass by misspellings that are also words.
  • Proofread three times: a quick scan from the computer screen, and then a detailed examination from printed copy. Then give the printed material to someone else and have them look for errors.
  • If no one else is available to help out with proofreading, put the material aside for awhile and come back to it later to proofread again with a clearer eye.
  • All presentation-graphics programs have a spell check feature. Use it, then carefully go over the slides again for errors. A misspelling looks much worse when it is several feet high on a projection screen.

October 2001

Pitfalls of PowerPoint Many organizations depend heavily on PowerPoint-type presentation graphics for training. Although these computer programs are enormously useful, they can also be misused and distract from training goals. Consider:

  • Most computer presentations require dimmed lights. This can be deadly, especially right after lunch.
  • At times during the program, the projector should be turned off to allow for more interactive learning.
  • Edit your slides. Too many slides are overwhelming.
  • Donât put too much information on any given slide. Break it up into several slides or better yet, put only key points on the slide and present the rest spontaneously.
  • Think twice about giving class participants copies of all the slides at the beginning of the presentation. For some, this will be justification for not paying attention. It may be better to hand out slide copies at the end of the presentation, as reference notes.


Enough or Too Many? How many people should be in a training class? That depends on your goals and the subject matter. Consider:
  • For practical evolutions, group size should not be so large that people can "hide out" and not do the event
  • For sensitive or misunderstood topics (such as sexual harassment), groups should be large enough that no one feels singled out, but not so large that individual questions cannot be answered. Try for groups of between 20-35 people.
  • Sometimes very small groups work best. If an engine or ladder company will be deploying equipment without help, then having them train with the equipment just among themselves can be advantageous.
  • If large groups are necessary for training topics requiring discussion, consider seating people at round tables and facilitating "table group" discussions that report back to the group as a whole.


Timing is Everything When is the right time for a particular type of training? The answer depends on your goals and your audience. Consider:

  • Avoid scheduling required training around holidays, during the first week of school, or right before a promotional exam.
  • If people make critical errors on emergency scenes, talk to them right away and try to find out why the error occurred and how it can be prevented in the future.
  • On the other hand, try not to make general training seem reactionary. If youâre designing a training class based on a specific incident, wait a little time after the actual incident. Make sure you understand the actual problem before jumping into a training solution.
  • Let groups train at different times of the day. Donât let one engine always come in the mornings, and one always get stuck with the after lunch spot.
  • Be proactive about seasonal training. Donât wait until youâre already having ice emergencies to familiarize everyone with the rescue equipment.

JULY 2001

Keeping Active Adults learn best from interactive experience, and worst from just sitting passively listening to a subject being explained. When planning training sessions, either classroom or hands-on, try to get people as actively involved as possible. Consider:

  • Alternate class lecture with group or individual activities.
  • Keep lecture sessions short and focused.
  • Ask questions to stimulate class discussion.
  • Assign short presentations to people ahead of time.
  • For hands-on training, develop several work stations so that no one is just standing around waiting for their turn to do the evolution.
  • Keep practical evolutions clear and focused.
  • Make sure all equipment and materials are ready before students arrive for training.
  • Vary the exercises. Donât allow your students to "sleepwalk" through training.

JUNE 2001

Consider the Weather Summer is upon us and that is often the time when fire departments do training that involves active simulations or live fire. Heat, humidity, and intense sun can all lead to bad outcomes when doing this training. Consider:

  • Plan training for early in the morning before the heat of day.
  • Try doing evening or night burns.
  • Keep plenty of cold drinks on hand, both water and electrolyte replacement beverages.
  • Keep actual evolutions short. Always allow for rest periods between activities.
  • Encourage firefighters to cool off whenever possible, by removing bunker gear, sitting in the shade, etc.
  • Try misting showers in hot, dry climates.
  • Provide sunscreen and encourage the use of sunglasses.
  • Watch for early signs of heat exhaustion: heavy sweating, cramping and fatigue, dizziness, pale clammy skin and nausea. Untreated heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke, an often fatal condition.

May 2001

Self-Assessment Tools Learning is enhanced when the curriculum includes self-assessment as a tool. This might take a number of different forms. Consider:

  • Use before and after self-tests to assess original knowledge about a subject and progress made as a result of the training.
  • Assessments which indicate learning style or leadership preferences are good catalysts for discussion, as well as being enlightening for the student.
  • Vary the types of self-assessments given. Standardized tests can be blended with informal self-reflection.
  • Avoid psycho-babble. Make the self-assessment tool relevant to life on the fire department.
  • Protect confidentiality. Self-assessment should be just thatö evaluation that is only of interest to the individual.

April 2001

Forming Partnerships Firefighters are generalists out of necessity: one day you’re fighting a grass fire, the next you’re doing CPR, and the day after that you’re helping a citizen figure out how to dispose of old household chemicals. For this reason, fire service training covers a broad spectrum of topics. When putting together your training plan, consider using experts from your community to enhance your programming.

  • Personnel from the local senior center or nursing homes could give a class on relating to elderly people and specific issues such as emergency response for those with Alzheimers.
  • The local recycling center can inform firefighters about recycling options for hazardous waste or other materials.
  • The water department can give a class on how the local water system works, who to call in case of problems, and how to troubleshoot hydrant malfunction.
  • Utility companies are usually required to have training and equipment for trench rescue, and are often happy to share this resource with the fire department.
  • Search and rescue groups are a good resource for classes in technical rescue systems and high angle protocols.

In addition to gaining critical knowledge and skills, such training partnerships also open up lines of communication and improve service quality overall.

March 2001

Training for Testing Many departments have gone to assessment centers or other types of promotional testing that may be unfamiliar to some employees. Throwing people into a strange testing process can be intimidating and lead to poor overall results from the assessment. Everyone benefits when those testing are better prepared for the process. Consider:

  • Do an orientation for all employees about the new testing process long before the promotional test begins.
  • Make it part of the contract with the assessment center company that they do an on-site orientation to the process and provide written information about the test to all candidates.
  • Foster an open atmosphere within the department where candidates can get their questions answered.
  • Create a print and electronic resource file about assessment centers and relevant skills to the process.
  • Encourage employees to evaluate and improve their skills in relevant areas before the testing process begins.
  • Make classes in leadership a regular part of the departmentâs training curriculum.

February 2001

Take a Break! Any class or meeting that lasts longer than 90 minutes should include structured break time. Instructors should design lesson plans that include breaks and still allow for all material to be covered. Here are some ways to make breaks a positive aspect of training:

  • Set the agenda for the class at the beginning, announcing that breaks will be taken at regular intervals.
  • Donât be tempted to skip or postpone a promised break because you want to push through one more topic. Your students need a break more than you do and will be disgruntled if you are not true to your word about allowing them.
  • Make breaks no longer than ten minutes. This is enough time for a bathroom stop, a cup of coffee, or a phone call. The longer the break, the harder it is to get people back in the room and working.
  • For a longer class, offering a ten minute break every 60 to 75 minutes should be the minimum.
  • Begin class right on time after a break. Do not schedule post-break activities that require everyone to be present. There are always those who are slow to return from break but starting without them will get the message across that you are serious about the class schedule.

January 2001

Many departments have a number of different training initiatives going on at the same time. For example, a department might be doing classes for EMT re-certification, classes for hazmat rating, and also introducing a new piece of equipment. Such scheduling may be unavoidable, but can also lead to a sense of being spread too thin. Consider:

  • The more classes that are occurring at the same time, the more likely it is that some department members will fail to complete at least one class.
  • People like to feel a sense of completion and follow-through. Focusing on one topic at a time can enhance this feeling.
  • Focusing on one training area at a time is less stressful for those who must plan the classes.
  • If more than one training cycle must be done simultaneously, the training experience can be improved by linking the different subjects into a greater whole. For example, if training is being done for both EMT and hazmat, spend some time talking about EMT response at hazmat incidents.



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