Public Speaking Tips for EMS Leaders

Eye contact, posture, tone, hand movement and volume of your voice are all important aspects when delivering a speech, and some may want to rehearse beforehand. Photo Glen E. Ellman

If you’re serving in a leadership role, from time to time you’ll find yourself invited to speak at a community function. As the fire chief in Champaign, Ill., it happens to me a minimum of once a week.

If you’re terrified of public speaking, you’d probably rather be at your dentist getting a root canal. Many people identify public speaking as one of their biggest phobias. Others consider public speaking as easy as laying on the beach. Most people fall somewhere in between the two extremes, but, even the most polished public speakers have some room to improve.


If you’ve been asked to address a civic organization, make a presentation at a public budget meeting with the city council or been invited to speak at a business community lunch, you need to prepare. I’ve seen some pretty good politicians who could just get up in front of a crowd and wing it, but the majority of people can’t do that. Even if it’s just jotting some notes on the back of a napkin before you speak, it can help keep your thoughts together and hit points you want to make.

There are some key things you should do to prepare for your public speech. Ask whoever invited you how long you’re expected to talk. Once you know how long you have to speak, you can adequately plan what should be in your message. You should also ask the organizer what they want you to speak about. Many times, they don’t care and will leave the subject up to you. They just need someone to speak at a function and they thought of you. They might want you to speak about the EMS system and give some background on how the 9-1-1 system works, or other times may ask you to talk about a specific topic such as public access defibrillation.

How you deliver your speech will be a reflection on you as the manager of your EMS system. Mess up the speech and the audience will also think this is how you manage the system. I know it’s not a fair characterization, but that’s the perception the audience will walk away with.

When it comes time for the speech, eye contact, posture, tone, hand movement and volume must all be skillfully done to keep everyone interested. If you give a monotone talk with your head down the whole time, you’ll fail miserably with your delivery. If it’s a really important speech, you may want to rehearse it. I don’t typically rehearse a speech, but I did when I presented the keynote at the National EMS Memorial Service a few years ago in Colorado. I was honored to be asked and I thought it was important I got it right at such a significant event, so I wrote my speech out and read from the script as part of my delivery. I don’t typically read my speeches, but I didn’t want to miss anything I wanted to say. I practiced my speech multiple times and drew lines on the paper where I thought it was important to pause or slightly soften or increase my voice to emphasize points.

When I don’t write my entire speech out, I’ll jot down a few notes the day of and continuously tweak it–even when delivering the speech. I usually try to start with something funny, even just one or two lines or playing off something that happened or was said by the speaker before me. It helps the audience to bond with you and it helps to capture their attention when you make them laugh.

I usually try to thank whoever is responsible for me being there and congratulate anyone who may have received an award. I also take about two minutes to tell the audience what I’m going to talk about before launching into the main body of my speech. I may even divide my speech into different talking points and then close it out with a threeminute summary.


You need to tailor your talk to your audience. If you’re giving a talk to a bunch of paramedics, you can use the paramedic vernacular. But, if you use the same language and words at a neighborhood meeting of senior citizens, they’ll have no idea what you’re talking about.

Consider each speech you give as very important since the reputation of you and your EMS organization is dependent upon your success. Put some effort into preparation and it will pay off in the end.

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