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Monday, July 4, 2022

Police Promotion Presentations: The Rule of Threes

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“The will to succeed means nothing without the will to prepare.” – Juma Ikangaa

As part of your force’s promotion selection process for Sergeant and Inspector, you may be required to deliver a short presentation before your interview board. Briefing is a specific function of the role and given that you are seeking a formal leadership position, it seems entirely reasonable to assess your ability to deliver a short presentation. Importantly, it offers a real opportunity to stand out from your competitors.

Supervisors are expected to be effective communicators. For many aspiring to police promotion however, the prospect of delivering a formal presentation fills them with dread. It’s a reason officers often seek guidance or support.

“What is the best way to deliver a presentation?” – Common question I’m asked by aspiring police officers!

My response is that there is no single best format/model for effective presentations. The good news is that there are a variety of options. What matters, is making a start by finding different structures you can experiment with, make the most of the opportunity ahead and to become the best you can be. Then I advise you just choose one and stick with it!

Effective presentations are considered, thought through and planned long before the day they are delivered. In this blog, I thought I would share some brief thoughts around one option that I encourage successful candidates to consider; one which many have found particularly helpful in achieving top marks on their Promotion Board.

It is the simple notion of ‘rule of threes’…

The Rule Of Threes

“Omne, Trium, Perfectum.” – Everything that comes in threes is perfect

The rule of threes is a good starting point because an effective promotion presentation requires: A Beginning, Middle and an End.

The rule of threes is a renowned communication aid used very successfully in speeches, advertising and films. This is because it simply connects perfectly with the human brain. It also means people tend to remember only three things. They are unlikely to remember a fourth or fifth point.

In the context of preparing for promotion board presentations, I introduce this idea very early to candidates, for example: “What three things do you want to get across or leave in the minds of the panel?”

Humans are ‘wired into’ and very receptive to the rule of threes. Marketers know this and good communicators use it. Here are three examples of how the concept has featured throughout history:

  • Veni, Vidi, Vici (I came, I saw, I conquered) – Julius Caesar
  • Thinner, Lighter, Faster – Steve Jobs describing the iPad 2
  • Run, Hide, Tell – Current Public Safety Campaign

The instructions or scenario provided for your promotion presentation may initially ‘overload’ you. With limited preparation time, it can seem somewhat overwhelming. This is where the rule of threes can be supportive as a thinking tool or as a structure.

Think of a presentation scenario you might be given. If you had to focus on three priorities or issues, what would they be? As with tackling any ‘big’ problem, breaking it down can make it more manageable. It provides a starting point to focus.

Whilst there are no guarantees that the rule of threes will lend itself to every scenario, common topics for presentations relate to individual/team performance issues, a complaint scenario or a critical incident. Alternatively you could be asked to present on ‘the challenges you see ahead’ as a newly promoted leader, manager and supervisor. That’s a massive opportunity to choose any or all of these as practice topics, to start developing and rehearsing your presentation skills.

Practice Makes Perfect

“It takes one hour of preparation for each minute of presentation time.” – Wayne Burgoff

Rule of threes

There are three stages when preparing your presentation:

  1. Think it through
  2. Structure & write it
  3. Practice & Review it

You have the potential to deliver a great presentation. The key to doing this confidently and with impactis experience. That comes from practice. This is such an important issue. It underpins success because:

  1. Your presentation skills will develop with practice.
  2. You’ll develop your own distinct personal style through practice.
  3. Practice will ensure you have your content and timing right, while enhancing your confidence.

The volume of promotion candidates who say they have not practiced their presentation skills before the day of their assessment surprises me. Imagine how your favourite movie might have looked if the actors hadn’t read the script or practiced their lines until they arrive at the shoot. Imagine for a moment how not practicing might feel. Contrast that with having practiced for a few hours beforehand and how much more confident about your own ability you would be.

Of course most candidates don’t practice, which isprecisely why I encourage every one of my clients to do so. As a result they grow in confidence and enhance their ability to nail the ten-minute presentation.

Did you clock the Wayne Burgoff quote above? I find it resonates with motivated individuals on what it takes to perform well. Some are initially disheartened by it. It’s a reality check, because first thoughts are “Where am I going to find 10 hours?” I believe it inspires individuals to raise their game ahead of the challenge they face. I know some officers practice for much longer than that!

Does it work?

After some signposting and support, focused individuals have delivered presentations to family members, close friends and in some cases their dogs! In doing so, they literally transform their confidence, skills and awareness sometimes to the point of finishing bang on ten minutes without using a timer.

Some are kind enough to provide feedback on what worked for them from the options they considered. Here’s a snapshot:

“Just to let you know I passed my Sergeant’s board, practice presentations made a huge difference to my success.” – Rachael

“Steve, I passed my Inspector Board achieving top marks in the presentation, interview and briefing exercise! Attending your Masterclass transformed my preparation and was a light bulb moment. I should have done this years ago.” – Jamie

“Hi Steve, I finally passed my Inspector board, I achieved very high marks on my presentation, SJT and my interview.” – Scott

1,2,3… Easy as A,B,C…

“Remember the three Ps of success: Passion, Planning and Perseverance.” – Homer Hickham

Here’s how your promotion presentation task usually looks:

  • You are given a topic to present to the panel members. It will be aligned to the rank and role competencies in your force framework.
  • You have 30-45 minutes preparation time.
  • You’ll receive writing materials and a flip chart.

These three tips should help…

  1. KISS (Keep It Short & Simple): Whichever structure you choose
  2. Hone it to 10 minutes: You may lose marks if you overrun or finish too soon.
  3. Less is more: A short presentation can take more thought and effort than a longer one, so implement the rule of threes!

Ten-Minute Time Hack

“Sometimes not much is just enough.” – John O’Callaghan

  1. No more than three pieces of flip chart paper
  2. No more than three points per page
  3. Structure your 10 minutes

Structuring your 10 minutes means for example having 3 sections each of 3 minutes, which are topped and tailed nicely with a 30 second introduction and 30 seconds for closing. This is something you can experiment with and rehearse.

Remember, 10 minutes will seem to vanish as soon as it starts. Afterwards you may be asked a few questions by the panel about your content, to probe your rationale and thinking. This is where your depth of preparation (or otherwise!) really shows.

A Proactive Approach

“If you really want to do something you’ll find a way. If you don’t you’ll find an excuse.” – Jim Rohn

Instead of entering the preparation room worrying about what the scenario topic might be, be proactive by practicing topics beforehand that have featured in previous selection processes. Keep in mind the rule of threes as one way to implement a simple structure.

Imagine you’ve just been provided with the scenario or topic you are to present on. Then lay out on three pieces of flipchart paper, a structure as follows. You can adapt, amend and refine it from there but the rule of threes is in play!

  1. A Beginning: Outline the problem, challenge, or risks you are presenting on.
  2. A Middle: Your leadership actions. What will you do about it?
  3. An End: What are your intended outcomes/results? What does good look like?


“There is only one proof of ability – action.” – Marie Ebner-Eschenbach

If you found this blog helpful and you’d like more tips and guidance on effective promotion preparation, why not download a FREE GUIDE: ‘7 Things Promotion Boards Also Look For’ to help you on your way?

You can also use code POLICEHOUR20 at checkout, to save 20% on any Rank Success digital promotion toolkits or bundles.

Alternatively you can attend an upcoming Promotion Masterclass (Early Bird discount).

Kind Regards, Steve

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Steve Cooper
Steve Cooper
Steve Cooper writes expert promotion content to support the development of UK police officers.

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