OnPolicing Blog

Officers must learn to tell their stories

March 30, 2017

Tracy Miller

Tracy Miller

Orange County (CA) Assistant District Attorney

Tracy Miller

Tracy Miller

Orange County (CA) Assistant District Attorney

The officer who sat across from me at my kitchen table had clearly enjoyed a prodigious career but as he talked about himself, those tales weren’t materializing. I could see right then, if I were choosing whether to hire him, he would fail.

I’d seen it many times before. Cops are great at being cops. They do so many amazing things, they sacrifice so much, and they fight like hell for the people they pledge to defend.

But there are two things that cops are not good at: speaking up for themselves and showing they can be vulnerable. Both make sense, particularly their struggles to show they are human.

As a longtime prosecutor, I get it. Working on the streets means making sure you don’t expose much about yourself. And while cops may be good at fighting for everyone else, it often leads to them never learning how to fight for themselves. I realized I needed to dig deeper so I asked the officer to talk about his favorite boss.

“I’m not talking about that,” he snapped.

Not about to relent, I prodded a little more. It wasn’t long before his eyes welled up and he began telling the story about when his child was diagnosed with a heart murmur. His boss made it possible so his colleagues could spend time with him at the hospital, helping him through the traumatic ordeal.

That was the type of leader he wanted to be. It was as clear to him as it was for me. And right there we had it – we had his story.

Over the past year, helping cops find their story and eloquently deliver it to supervisors when seeking job promotion has become a calling of mine. Yes, it’s true; it is a side business of mine. But I derive a real reward from helping make sure cops and sheriff’s deputies don’t sell themselves short when they are up for a new job.

A pay grade or a promotion can really impact the lifestyle of an officer and his or her family. It’s a big difference when you project it out over a lifetime.

Being able to successfully talk about yourself is not something that just the average cop struggles with doing. Many people freeze up when it’s time to promote themselves, just as they do when talking to a group.

As a society, we are getting worse at communicating, especially when it comes to public speaking. And it’s not just because of millennials burying their heads in their phones.  It’s all of us, whether we are getting lost in social media or just never felt comfortable doing so in the first place.

There’s video of Jerry Seinfeld that I like to play in which he says most Americans would rather be the dead guy at the funeral than the person giving the eulogy.

The problem is people don’t have a plan and they don’t practice – sometimes, they don’t even know where to stand. They always want to start off by introducing themselves and giving their resume.

Let me tell you something: that is the worst way to start off.

I could create a boilerplate plan to give clients for methods and suggestions. But I prefer to speak with my clients (usually in person but Skype works great too for those out of state!) and get them talking about themselves.

We then work together to tell their story that will fill a 30-minute interview. It’s funny too because often, clients show up with binders full of potential questions they could be asked and how they would respond. I will tell you this now: we never look at those.

I love this work because everybody has a story and every story is unique. It makes them who they are. None of them are boring.

And none of them can be found in those binders – the best answers can only come from within.

One of the things I tell my clients to do is start with a story that shocks the listener. Find the tale that reveals who you are and what type of a leader you will be.

So I ask them a series of questions. Who are you? What’s your message? Why are you a cop? That forces them to focus on who they are and what makes them unique and why they love the profession.

I must say: it’s so rewarding for me to have cops who hate speaking to a room full of people turn things around to the point that they own the room. These were the sort who wouldn’t look anyone in the eyes and would apologize for how nervous they were and how bad it was going to be.

What they become are confident, effective speakers who people seek out in order to hear what they have to say. In reality, these things are not hard. We have just made them hard in our head.

All of us should be able to say who we are in two to three sentences, and then practice it to a point that it just becomes natural.

It certainly should – it is our story after all.


Tracy Miller, who is an Assistant district attorney with the Orange County (CA) District Attorney’s Office, received her bachelor’s degree from Loyola Marymount University and her Juris Doctorate degree from Southwestern University School of Law. She was the recipient of the Orange Police Department’s Civilian Medal of Valor and the 2013 Orange County Department of Education’s Community Service Award. She has prosecuted thousands of cases and throughout her career and has specialized in juvenile sexual assault, domestic violence, gang carjacking, robbery, narcotics and attempted murder. She prosecuted the first gang injunction case in Orange County and currently supervises 33 attorneys, investigators and community advocates. To learn more about her coaching, go to www.tracymotivates.com.

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Tracy Miller

Tracy Miller

Orange County (CA) Assistant District Attorney

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