CFIs Need Career Situational Awareness

By Scott Spangler on May 9th, 2012

Last week, the middle school where I am a substitute teacher held its annual career and hobby day, where students sign up for presentations  that interest them. I was on duty as a student wrangler, not a speaker, and it was happenstance that I ended up with 35 sixth, seventh, and eighth graders interested in aviation.

The presenters were two young flight instructors from a nearby collegiate aviation program. When a non-flying person needs an expert, a CFI is the first choice because being a pilot is something most non-flyers understand, and who best to speak about them than those who teach them to fly.  Unfortunately, public speaking, like customer service and sales, is not part of the CFI practical test standards.

Consequently, the kids quickly grew bored with the unpracticed, myopic presentation that rarely strayed far from the presenters’ aviation goals. In fairness, I don’t know how much warning they had about this speaking gig, and they tried their best, but it was a missed opportunity because of a poor situational awareness of aviation careers beyond their airline and corporate aspirations.

My point is that opportunities to get non-flyers excited about professional and recreational aviation to non-flyers of all ages are rare. In most cases, flight instructors are the go-to last-minute speaker. So why not have a presentation, supported with a PowerPoint presentation, on a flash drive? And why  not practice it once, so you’re ready for last-minute calls.

Putting together such a presentation is no harder than a lesson plan. All it takes is a little bit of time, accepting that there’s more to aviation than the career carrot you happen to be pursuing, and an Internet connection. Before you start, you should know two things: Who is your audience, and what is the desired focus, professional or recreational flying?

In building an all-purpose presentation, research and prepare subjects related to both professional and recreational aviation and use them as needed, like multi-colored Lego blocks, to create the aviation world the audience is there to learn about. Aviation’s alphabet organizations are excellent resources and places to start your research.

I know you’re a pilot and wedded to rules, regs, and numbers, but to your audience all these details will sound like the honking waa-waa-waa spoken by adults on a Charlie Brown special. Save these details for the Q&A after the presentation, and never forget to translate aviation into English and correct it for reality (FAA requirements and what it really takes).

Show and tell them that aviation careers exist on the ground as well as in the air. Because most non-flyers know what pilots do, make them the presentation’s unifying thread, and then talk about all the jobs that make piloting possible. Start with the sport pilot certificate and work your way to ATP, and show what they can fly for fun and profit.

Never forget that there’s more to aviation than boys and airplanes. Women and men recreationally aviate in powered parachutes, powered paragliders, gyroplanes, and weight-shift trikes. And their related careers include their design, maintenance, and repair, as well as the people, welders and sewing machine operators who craft their airframes, canopies, and wings.

Approach professional aviation—civilian, military, and government, in the same way. Flying in bad weather is a succinct way to separate it from recreational aviation. (Don’t get all anal on me; remember, you’re not talking to pilots.) What and who makes this possible? Aviation careers include ATC, the weather guessers, dispatchers, ground, airport,  and cabin crews, and the training centers that support them.

If you’re part of a flight school faculty, when time allows, brainstorm all of aviation’s recreational and professional possibilities, and then get online to learn more about them. In most cases, there’s an organization that supports it with all sorts of information. Video will capture your audience’s attention, and short clips will save you at least a thousand words.

In any aviation presentation, getting your audience excited is why you’re there, and doing it with deadly honest information is your ultimate responsibility. –Scott Spangler

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2 Responses to “CFIs Need Career Situational Awareness”

  1. Peg Ballou Says:

    I have suggested that the FAAsteam make a presentation for representatives to take to school career days since they already havae a good base of stock photos, etc. Any idea where anyone else could get such photos?

  2. capnaux Says:

    Great points, esp. “you’re not talking to pilots”!

    In my many presentations to schools (in airline subjects and others) I have found that LESS is MORE–be focused, concise, on-topic. And be ENTHUSIASTIC! It’s contagious. But, if you’re not, nobody else will be!
    Captain, A320

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