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All About You: Your safety meetings don’t have to be boring

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Motivating employees to work safely is part of the safety professional’s job. But who motivates the motivator? In this monthly column, veteran safety pro and professional speaker Richard Hawk offers his entertaining brand of wisdom to inspire safety pros to perform at their best.

My father-in-law, a retired pipefitter, once told me he loved weekly safety meetings. That surprised me, because people usually tell me the opposite. His reason? “I get a chance to take a nice after-lunch nap!”

His answer made me laugh but, unfortunately, boredom and safety meetings/presentations are grouped together like butter and popcorn. Please don’t get mad at me for saying this, but the reputation is deserved. I’ve sat through hundreds of safety sessions. Some have been delightful and mind-expanding, but most haven’t. To be blunt – they were boring.

The good news: Your safety meetings, presentations and trainings can be the exception. But you have to take the time to develop what professional speakers refer to as “platform skills.”

Here are three platform skill tips:

Make eye contact

My experience on stage, whether in front of three carpenters or 1,500 safety pros, has given me this insight: How you look at your audience has a profound impact on whether each member enjoys and accepts your safety message or ignores it. Too often, the “material” seems to matter more than the people we’re explaining it to.

Look at your audience one person at a time. Don’t quickly scan the room. Look at each person for a moment as you would if you were talking to them at a dinner party. There’s no set pattern to who you look at, but when you do make eye contact with someone, make it focused in the sense that, for a moment, the person you’re looking at is receiving a personal message from you.

Remember, each audience is different

When I was a full-time access safety trainer at a nuclear power facility, I gave a respiratory protection training class every Wednesday. It was a challenge to stay inspired to make the topic fun.

But I believe I did so most of the time. One thing I told myself to keep me feeling excited about the training was that even though I’d presented it many times, each new class meant a new audience. So, my jokes and metaphors would be new to the workers and could make a difference in how they performed on the job. It also meant I could act as if what I was delivering was new to me, too.

How can you do that? By conveying as much natural energy as you can and acting as if this is the first time you’re presenting the material. Move around a lot – not so much that you seem phony, but enough to show you’re excited about what you’re doing. Don’t focus solely on making sure you deliver everything you’ve planned; instead, work on connecting with your audience.

Try new things

One reason safety meetings have a reputation for being boring is because they’re so predictable. So, when you add something unusual to the mix, it spurs interest and adds freshness to the meeting for both you and your audience.

I often start my keynotes with an intriguing question or unusual slide. You can do the same at your safety meetings. Here’s an example: While I was hosting safety meetings for construction workers on reducing risks and not taking shortcuts, I displayed a slide or picture of a weasel before the meeting started. Invariably, someone would ask me about the weasel. I wouldn’t tell them what it was about until the meeting started, but it was proof my weasel slide was successful in arousing interest.

My introduction of the topic included a description of how wily and vicious weasels are as predators. I would then segue into a correlation between weasels and tricky risks. I had fun using this unusual metaphor, and I believe my audiences didn’t find it boring because it was an unusual twist on a common safety subject. So why not use your creative juices and develop ways to liven up your safety meetings? That way, nobody will be taking a nap.

This article represents the views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

Richard Hawk helps leaders inspire employees to care more about their safety and health so “nobody gets hurt.” He also has a long history of success getting safety leaders to increase their influence and make safety fun. For more than 35 years, Richard’s safety keynotes, training sessions, books and “Safety Stuff” e-zine have made a positive difference in the safety and health field. Learn more about how Richard can improve your employees’ safety performance at makesafetyfun.com.

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