Aloha from Hawai’i

Aloha from Hawai’i

Looking at my last blog, it’s been a while since I last wrote about anything. I guess I just haven’t had much to say? What? Well, I thought I’d jump back into blogging and take some time and share with you some of my experiences that take place this week while I’m “on assignment” in the Hawaii National Park in Volcano, HI.

I’m here with my good friend and co-instructor “Wilson”. Wilson and I have taught with each other many times over the years and were originally invited to teach CERT Train-the-Trainer and Program Manager classes in Honolulu, Hawaii two years ago. I guess we did a pretty good job because we were invited back!

Getting here

Wow, the trip here was long. I started my day at 3:00A on Sunday morning (St. Louis time) and when all travel was done, I was finally in my room ready for bed at 10:30P Sunday night …. Hawaii time. It was a long day. I travel from St. Louis, to Las Vegas, to San Francisco, to Honolulu, to Hilo. Once we landed, we still had a 45 minute drive to where we are staying. Thank you Southwest, United, and Hawaiian Airlines.

Kilauea Military Camp (KMC; )

One of my unique motivators to come here was that our class is being conducted at the Kilauea Military Camp (KMC). While I’ll write more about the camp later this week, let me tell you KMC is considered one of the military’s finest vacation gems. It’s located in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and sits amidst spectacular scenery, natural wonders, and cultural treasures including the marvels of the active Kilauea Volcano. The camp is open to all active and retired military, members of the Reserve and National Guard, active and retired Department of Defense civilian employees including Coast Guard Civilians, dependents and sponsored guests. What a GREAT facility!

A great diverse class

This week we have 32 attendees in our class. Most are from the Hawaiian Islands. A few are here from Guam, others are here from American Samoa and some have come as far away as Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands. Talking about a long trip!

Many of our attendees are first responders representing law enforcement, the fire service, or emergency management. We have four members of Team Rubicon ( ) which is an organization that unites the skills and experiences of military veterans with first responders to rapidly deploy emergency response teams. We also have, several attendees representing education.

Lunchtime presentation – NOAA/NWS

Each day this week, attendees will be treated to daily presentations from local industry experts. Today, we welcomed Mr. Kevin Kodama. Kevin is the Senior Service Hydrologist with the Weather Forecast Office in Honolulu, HI. Kevin gave a terrific presentation about “Tropical Cyclones – Impacts & CPHC Products”.

OK, well that’s it for today.  I think it’s a good start for a first day day back.  Check back tomorrow and I’ll have more to share with you from the KMC and Volcano, HI.



Day Two of Training in Strongsville, Ohio

As this short trip comes to an end, we’ve had a great time working with folks from across the State of Ohio these past couple of days in our CERT Train-the-Trainer class.  I only wish we had a few more days to include a CERT Program Manager class.  I think the additional Program Manager class would be very helpful for this group as they are anxious for it.

Both yesterday and today proved to be very productive days in class.  We’ve had approximately 30 students actively engaged in learning.  By a show of hands, about 95% indicated they were involved in their local CERT programs (and this training) as a volunteer and not as a part of a paid for career position.  This fact illustrates the commitment these folks bring to the table.

In the previous CERT Train-the-Trainer curriculum, the foundation of the course was a review of the basic 20-hour CERT class and an unstructured leader-led discussion of “teaching considerations”.  Several years ago, FEMA rewrote the training curriculum where the focus moved to include a more structured approach to instructor development, along with a review of the basic CERT material.

Yesterday, we spent time addressing how to “Maximize Learning”, where we talked about how people learn.  The three primary learning styles we discussed were auditory, visual, and tactile.  We also talked about how those learners learn and how it impacts teaching and instructors.  We talked about how motivation, reinforcement, and repetition are also critical to the learning process.

We then spent time exploring why, as instructors, we need to evaluate.  The answer is simple … effective instructors know that they need to periodically assess to see that learners are learning.  Lastly, we discussed some guidelines for when and how to give feedback.

In the other instructor development units, we spent time level-setting student understanding of their “Role as an Instructor” where we discussed the focus of learning in any CERT training should be on the participant and not about the instructor.  We also stressed the importance of being a good presenter as well as a good instructor.  From there we discussed how to “Manage the Classroom” where we discussed the different learning styles among generations and how disruptive behavior negatively effects learning and strategies to overcome these challenges. This tends to be a very interactive unit with the learning happening primarily through discussion and exercise.  Many instructors-to-be are the most apprehensive about working with challenging learners but we help them over this with several good tips for how to deal with them.  I think our instructors will now have the skills necessary to be able to handle any situations that may arise.

Based on our Pre-test vs. Post-test scores, there was about a 40% increase in knowledge based on the class this weekend.  And in their evaluations, the vast majority of students enjoyed the class.  Learning and having fun is wonderful!

One of the students in our class was representing Fairfield County, Ohio.  from what she shared with me, the county Emergency Management Agency has a strong working relationship with their first responders.  They offer citizens free training in disaster preparedness as well as CERT Basic training two times a year.  One unique thing they offer is a disaster preparedness class for military veterans.  The county EMA’s website is

Take me out to the ballgame …..

So last night we grabbed some tickets and caught a baseball game between the Cleveland Indians and the Washington Nationals.  The Nationals took the lead early in the game with a lead of 5-0, but then Cleveland rallied to take the lead later on when the score turned to 6-5.  In the end though, the Nationals would go on to win the game 7-6.

This was the first time for both Wilson or I to visit Progressive Field.  Overall, the park appeared pretty nice.  We were both hoping that they would be serving some “regional” food that we could try at the ballpark.  Unfortunately it was pretty standard fare …. Hot dogs, brats, and Italian sausages.  Not very exciting, but still good.  And last night was the “Tribe’s” second baseman Jason Kipnis souvenir shirt night.  Not sure when I’ll get the chance to wear this back in St. Louis, but heck … it was “free”.

Another Southwest flight delay?

Well, I’m sitting in the Cleveland airport waiting for my flight home.  Unfortunately, Southwest has again delayed another flight that I’m on.  My last three flights (maybe more) have been delayed!  Come on Southwest, you used to be my favorite airline.  One of your previous marketing campaigns was your ontime record, but this trend isn’t good.  I hope you get you act back together soon.  Well, it’s going to be another late night.

I’ve enjoyed sharing this trip with you.  I hope you’ll come June 26 when I plan to blog again.  I’ll tell you where, then.

I’ll leave you with these pictures from Cleveland …..

Presenter Verbal Skills

Welcome back …. and not just to my blog, but welcome back to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Emergency Management Institute (EMI) in Emmitsburg, Maryland.  We were here just three weeks ago and now we’re back.  From my previous writing, you know how blessed I feel to be here.  We’re on campus this week teaching another set of Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Train-the-Trainer and Program Manager classes.

Before we get started talking about our training, I want to tell you about my travel here.  The flights were great.  The fine folks at Southwest were as friendly as usual, and both of my flights were on time.  And hey, no cost for two checked bags!  Also, it was a light travel day so the planes I flew on weren’t jammed.

My flight from St. Louis took me to Detroit, Michigan which for me was ideal.  My brief 40-minute lay-over allowed me to visit the National Coney Island and get a “coney” with fries and a drink.  For those not familiar with Detroit, the “coney” is a regional “delicacy”.  Now, it’s not just a hot dog with chili.  It’s MUCH better than that, and all I can say is man, that first, second, third, and forth bite was sooooo good.  I should have ordered two!  If you are ever in the Detroit area, make sure you have a “coney”.  Sorry, but the best I can do now is share a picture and a memory.

So today we started our first of three days of Train-the-Trainer and I instructed a unit titled “The Role of an Instructor.

The Role of an Instructor

This unit has two key ideas that it is built around:

  1. The various roles of a training instructor and the qualities that he or she should possess.
  2. What qualities and attributes an instructor needs to possess and learn in order to be most effective.

One of the roles a CERT training instructor fulfills is that of a presenter.  In our training we say that “when someone speaks of a good presenter, the qualities they are generally talking about include:

  • Sincere
  • Enthusiastic
  • Lively
  • Expressive
  • Interesting
  • Assertive
  • Convincing
  • Credible
  • Confident
  • Poised
  • Professional
  • Funny
  • Accepting

Bottom line, they need to be an effective communicator.

One of the most important tools  an effective presenter depends on is his/her presentation skills.  I thought I’d spend time today, and this week, addressing several of the qualities and attributes of an effective presenter, and today we’ll start by talking about verbal skills.

It’s no secret that many people have a terrific fear of speaking in public.  I think that fear exists for many because they simply don’t have the chance to learn and practice.  To help get over that fear, I recommend to my students that they seek out opportunities to learn, practice, and develop.  Two widely recognized opportunities would be taking public speaking classes at a local community college or other higher education institution, or joining a group like Toastmasters.  Another source of information (and training) would be from a vendor like Communispond .  The fine folks at Communispond were kind enough to share with me a few ideas on how one can improve their presentation skills.

Fight or Flight

When you present, does your heartbeat accelerate? Do you get butterflies or a knot in your stomach? Do your muscles feel tight? Walter Bradford Cannon, M.D., coined the term “fight or flight” in 1915 to describe an animal’s response to threats.

This term explains a lot as it relates to giving presentations. When you step in front of your audience, your digestive system is disrupted, your muscles contract, and your blood pressure elevates. On top of that, a whole bunch of chemical reactions kick in. It would be easier to run than to face the unknown of your audience. To counteract these symptoms:

  • Avoid caffeine and sugar-your body already has a heightened awareness and doesn’t need any more energy
  • Walk around backstage or out in the hall to work off some of the nervous energy
  • Swing your arms in circles
  • Shake out your hands
  • Relax your shoulders (you might try a yoga exercise)
  • Take a deep breath before you begin

Then, when you step in front of your audience, you’ll feel less threatened when presenting and be able to hold your ground without “fighting or fleeing.” Speaking with strong volume when you present will keep your audience more engaged than speaking at a soft volume level. But how do you speak loudly enough so everyone can hear you easily without straining your voice or damaging your vocal cords?

Speaking loudly enough

  • When you speak, relax your tongue. Create a big open space in your mouth and the back of your throat- imagine a space big enough for you to swallow a ping pong ball.
  • Make sure you breathe from your diaphragm so you support your voice.

Doing these two simple things should help you speak loudly enough without strain. Your audience will hear you easily and will continue to listen to your message.

Microphones Amplify Monotone

Presenters assume that using a microphone will enhance their voice, so they get close to it and go into their lounge act. Far from adding color to your voice, however, most microphones take some of the color out; they don’t capture the full range and resonance of your voice. Microphones don’t make you sound more interesting; and, they only amplify a monotone. When you’re presenting to a large audience and need to use a microphone, follow these tips:

  • Position the microphone at least six inches from your mouth.
  • Speak up. Project so that the first rows of your audience can hear you without the amplification.
  • Deliver your message with passion, energy and enthusiasm.
  • Let the sound engineer ride the volume control.

Your audience will love you because you’ll sound more interesting, you’ll hold their attention, and your message will be easier to follow.

Use Plain, Simple Language

What Mark Twain wrote in 1880 in a letter to D.W. Bowser applies to presenting today: “I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English -it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in…”

When you present, keep it simple. Beware of jargon, buzzwords, and long convoluted sentences. You don’t have to speak in business-speak to have an impact; in fact, you’ll be more effective the clearer and simpler you are. Ask yourself, “What’s the critical information my audience needs to know?” Ask, “What’s the best way to communicate this information to them?” Then select words and sentences that get that message through-plain and simple.

You’ll increase your credibility with your audience because you’ll make it easy for them to understand your key messages and take the action you want them to take.

Find the Right Words

Nothing makes a presentation or meeting harder to listen to than a presenter who stumbles to find the right words, instead using a lot of filler words like “umm,” “ahh,” and “so.”

While we use these fillers to help kill time while we think of our next thought, they don’t allow us to put our best foot forward. Here are a few tips that will help you to reduce the fillers and find the right words:

  • Do not fear silence, which always seems much longer to you than to your audience. A brief pause can help you gather your thoughts before you continue.
  • Create a list of attendees and deliver a single thought or sentence to each attendee, just as you would use your eye-brain control with an audience that’s in the room with you.
  • Speak louder than you normally would on the phone. This is a presentation after all, and the phone’s internal works will adapt. Speaking loudly makes you more aware of each “um” and “er,” so you’ll use them less.

Whether you’re a CERT instructor, an instructor of other classes, a business continuity manager, or a leader, you’ll need to present material to others.  Hopefully, with the information I’ve included in this blog, you will become a better presenter.

So, here’s some pictures from our class yesterday along with a National “coney”.  Come back tomorrow and we’ll continue on with our class as well as other qualities and attributes of an effective presenter.

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Hello From Reno, Nevada!

I’m in Reno, Nevada this week teaching a couple of Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) classes and will be posting each day I’m here in an effort to share my experiences with you.  I hope you’ll follow along daily AND, if you feel so inclined, offer a comment or two about what I’m sharing with you.

The two classes we are teaching are “CERT Train-the-Trainer” and “Program Manager”.  I say “we” because I have the pleasure this week of working with a co-instructor that I’ve worked with before.  His full-time career is in the law enforcement field.  He’s a terrific instructor who has the ability to quickly develop a very likeable rapport with the class, and he knows his material too.

Our classes are supported by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Emergency Management Institute (EMI).  If you’ve been reading my blogs, you’ll remember I wrote a series of blogs back in October 2011 dealing with a similar opportunity I had in Emmittsburg, Maryland which is where the EMI is located.  I’m very excited about the classes we are teaching this week because the majority of our students are tribal representatives from many different Native American tribes.  Additionally, we’ll have non-native students in both classes representing local, state, and federal emergency management.  It looks to be quite a large class with a lot of diversity, which should generate a lot of interesting discussion and networking.

The flight here

I’ve commented on this before, but whenever I fly, I try to fly Southwest because they consistently do a great job.  My travels today reaffirmed this.  On my flight from St. Louis to Denver, I checked my bags only to go through security and have a Gerber multi-purpose tool found in one of my carryones.  Along with being expensive, the tool has sentimental value, so I didn’t want to lose it.  Long-story-short, the Baggage Office in St. Louis had my bags brought back to me so I could put the Gerber tool in my checked bags and not lose it.  Kudos to the St. Louis baggage team at Southwest.  Wow, they were really helpful and accommodating.

What’s on tap this week

We’ll be starting class early tomorrow morning and will be teaching CERT Train-the-Trainer over the next three days (Monday through Wednesday).  Then, starting Thursday and concluding late Friday, we’ll be teaching the Program Manager class.  In each of my daily blogs, I’ll discuss class highlights.  I also hope to include some insight on the various native cultures as shared with me throughout the week.  So, plan on coming back tomorrow.  Until then ….

Lucy, I’m Home

Seven days later and I’m heading for home.  What a great feeling!  Anymore, I’m generally ready to head home at about Day Two, so by Day Seven I’m anxious.

It has really been a terrific trip.  I’ve always wanted to be a FEMA Instructor and now I can cross that off my “Bucket List”.  Over the years, and particularly more recently, I’ve seen the various sides that make up the FEMA organization.  The Training side of the organization continues to impress me with the depth and quality of material, the instructional team and their delivery of the material, the facilities, and the planning and coordination that makes it all happen.  What an amazing organization.  What an amazing opportunity I’m been offered.  I am very grateful.

This week I’ve made new friends and learned more about how citizens across the nation prepare for emergencies and disasters.  While there are some differences due to things like location and culture, there’s a lot more commonality.  That commonality adds to our capability, our effectiveness, and our overall efficiency.  I wish the best for all of the students we taught this week, as well as for my fellow instructors.  As we now return to the real world, we have a responsibility to use our training and look for opportunities to help make our communities safer and stronger.  It won’t be easy and we’ll face roadblocks along the way, but we must be persistent.  And the nice thing is knowing we’re in it together.  We can reach back to each other for help, ideas, and encouragement.

Heading home

Whenever possible, I always try to fly Southwest.  Their on time record is solid, their flight schedules generally fit mine, and they really treat their passangers well.  Unfortunately, I think they are losing their “low-cost” advantage, but their fares are still reasonable, and add to the fact they don’t charge you for first and second bags.  Ok, I didn’t mean for this to be a commercial for Southwest, but I really like the company.  Hmmm, I wonder if they need someone with business continuity/emergency management expertise?

Flight 440 to St. Lou is on the board!

Thanks again for following me this week.  If there’s something you’d like me to write about concerning business continuity, emergency management, or leadership, please drop me a comment or note.  I’m always looking for ideas.

And let me leave you with a few more pics from the trip:

Inside the Dining Hall at EMI

The chow line

Small group activity in class - GREAT people!

The 9/11 Memorial

As always, be safe and take care.  Come back on October 15th for something new.