We've all been there. Sitting at a mandatory meeting counting the minutes until we can go for a lunch break, or at least get back to some "real work". However, as a safety manager, you know that employee safety is real work. If anything, your safety presentations and meetings could save lives. But public speaking, especially to an audience who'd rather be anywhere else, isn't the easiest part of your job. Follow these tips to engage your employees and put safe work practices front and center in their minds.

The Truth Behind the Ice-Breaker

Conventional wisdom says to start with a joke to break the ice. When your topic is a serious one, as it is in any safety presentation, jokes might not fit the bill. Or maybe joke delivery just isn't your forte. Don't worry. Your job isn't to entertain. 

The larger goal is to avoid the feeling of a lecture. Although your safety presentation is, at its heart, you sharing valuable, expert knowledge with the audience, it doesn't need to feel like a top-down process. When compared to creating a flyer or writing an article for the company newsletter, at a meeting you have the advantage of being right there with your audience. Use that to engage them by structuring your presentation more like a dialog than a lecture.

The Best Safety Presentations Are Interactive

Start your presentation with a few questions for your employees.

  • What do they think is the most common injury in their industry?
  • How many lives have been saved by the adoption of a particular safety device?
  • Ask for a show of hands, or better yet, for people to just shout out their guesses.

Questions get them involved  and help you understand their mindsets. Doing this also sets the tone right away that this won't be just another boring safety presentation where your voice sounds like Charlie Brown's teacher.

Another advantage of in-person presentations is that you can read the room and adjust on the fly. The best way to do this is to have a few cards tucked away with ideas to shake things up if you're seeing bored faces. These might be trivia games, role-playing activities or group problem solving activities. You might not need to use these, but knowing they're there will give you confidence.

Avoid Death by Powerpoint

Slideshows are another powerful tool for memorable presentations. But be careful. As the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility. Slides have the power to make a lasting impact or to lull the audience to sleep, so use them well.

  • Statistics go hand-in-hand with slideshow graphics, but choose wisely: your staff will likely only remember three main statistics, so make each one count.
  • Don't drown your audience in text. It's hard to listen and read at the same time. Aim for fewer than five words on each slide.
  • Choose bold colors and graphics that are easy to digest, such as pie charts. Leave complex data representations for handouts, or if you must use a complex chart, go through each data point in detail, leaving the audience plenty of time to digest the importance of the information.
  • Don't be afraid to use lots of photos, and if telling jokes isn't your thing, a suitable cartoon might do the job for you.

Safety Presentations: Know Your Goals

As an EH&S professional, there are different reasons to give presentations. Be clear on your goals and consider how you can meet those goals in an engaging way.

Training new employees?
Bring in a seasoned worker to tell them, from her perspective, why a particular safety practice is so important. It's important to start off right with new hires.

Updating workers on new safety regulations?
Break them down into simple language, and repeat a few key phrases using slightly different language and examples from your workplace to drive home the key points.

Introducing new safety equipment?
Bring in some samples and let an audience member try on that fall prevention device, or use the new safety blades so everyone can learn together.

Anticipate and Address

Lastly, plan ahead to anticipate worker questions and complaints. Change is hard for everyone, and your employees will inevitably have objections.

Don't shy away from discussing concerns. Meet them head on and encourage questions, and then take care to listen carefully, respond in full and welcome follow up questions. This builds trust with your audience and makes it far more likely that they'll keep an open mind and remember what you've shared.