The following is adapted from Rethinking Hand Safety.
In Safety Training, Boring = Failure
When you were in school, did you ever have a class where you struggled to pay attention? Maybe the teacher spent the whole class lecturing in a droning voice with no inflection and no activities to break up the monotony. Maybe some days you even fell asleep, despite your best efforts to stay awake.
Chances are, you didn’t learn as much as you could have in that class. And was that your fault? In my opinion, no. It was the teacher’s.
The same is true for safety training. If workers aren’t listening to your training, it’s your failure, not theirs.
Again and again, working men and women with a vital interest in their own safety—who are out in dangerous roadways, down in mines, in the bellies of airplanes, or sailing at sea—are subjected to tedious PowerPoint slides with hundreds of bullet points, or safety videos with actors in slow motion accompanied by a monotonous voiceover. Over time, workers learn to snooze through these shows and ignore them.
Safety training absolutely cannot be boring. Audience interest is not a “nice to have”; it’s a “must-have.” If people are not interested and engaged in what you are saying, they are not going to retain the information—it’s that simple.
Let me put this in bold type:
The dullness of presentations presents an active danger. Boring is a form of failure.
To ensure the success of your safety training, here are ten secrets to stop being boring.
#1: Develop a Personal Story
Find a story you can tell to make a vital personal connection between yourself, your audience, and the material. Safety expert Delaney King, who often trains trainers, recommends having two stories, “both a negative and a positive story, a disaster and a problem solved.”
Your stories can be about a relative, a friend, or a coworker—but you have to have a personal connection and really care about the story. It doesn’t have to be 100 percent relevant to the situation, but your personal involvement with safety will create automatic interest and a common bond with listeners.
#2: Words on Screens Suck
Words on screens suck, and more words on screens suck even more. The human mind is simply incapable of retaining lots of bullet points, not to mention the problem of workers with poor language skills. It’s okay to do some (not all) PowerPoint, but the show should be 99 percent pictures, with maybe one or two words per slide: “Pinching Danger” or “Right Way” and “Wrong Way.”
Remember also that if you don’t have words on the screen, workers will have to listen to you talk. The stuff on the screen should just catch interest and illustrate what you are saying, never substitute for what you are saying or discussing or demonstrating.
#3: Photos Work
Yes, gruesome photos, used with care, are an effective tool. Photos of doing the job right and wrong are also crucial—for instance, videos of donning and doffing gloves correctly when using dangerous chemicals, but without stupid voiceovers. Use just the pics and video in the background, as you talk and engage. Photos of “near misses” can be particularly effective. But make sure always to leave the audience with a positive, “right way” image.
#4: Humor Works
Beyond holding interest, good humor is disarming, it reduces objections. Good humor also puts you on the same side as your audience—“we are laughing together.” The trainers at my company, Superior Glove, have used any number of humorous videos to good effect, even when dealing with very serious topics. Funny stock photos and cartoons work too—we use them all the time in our training materials and on our website.
Humor must, of course, always be used with caution: no politics, religion, sexist, or sexual orientation jokes. Humor must also be universal—something everyone can relate to. That means you should use clips from popular TV shows, not something obscure.
#5: Variety is Mandatory
Far too often, trainers reuse the same infographics, the same statistics, and the same photos over and over again to make the same point. Even if the audience has changed, this will eventually dull your own presentation skills. As every performer and teacher knows, you must be willing to take risks with new material, try new approaches, and engage your audiences in different ways, or you will become stale over time. Often, this means introducing material that is not strictly relevant to your audience, just to get their attention.
#6: Create a Conversation
Get workers’ feedback, their tips and tricks to stay safe. Get them telling their personal safety stories. Get everyone past their discomfort of discussing safety in a group and they will become genuinely engaged, maybe even proud of their contributions to everyone’s well-being. If you are doing all the talking, you are doing something wrong.
#7: Keep it Short
Even fireworks get boring if you watch them long enough. Keep it short.
#8: Don’t Pack it All into One Show
The human mind can only absorb so much in one sitting. Presenting fifty bullet points in sixty minutes makes it unlikely that people will remember even five of those points. Giving a solid discussion of five points in ten minutes, with another ten minutes of discussion, makes it pretty likely that people will remember those five points.
#9: Be Willing to Change
Most safety trainers get into a rut. Often they’re completely unaware that no one’s listening to them. If your message isn’t getting across, you need to be honest with yourself and your audience. You need to be willing to say, “Hey, you guys don’t seem to be getting this, let’s try it a different way.”
#10: Critique Yourself
Videotape yourself giving a presentation and force yourself to watch it. Are you mumbling? Being dismissive of others? Repeating yourself? Going on and on and on? What can you do to shorten it, tighten it, spice it up? I guarantee the first time you do this you will be shocked at how boring you are.
If you are involved in safety training, you have been tasked with great responsibility. Your job is to keep workers safe. Safety training can literally be a matter of life or death. What could possibly be boring about that?
Banish boring, and you could save a finger, a hand, a leg, or even a life. It takes work to make safety training engaging, but you owe it to yourself and your workers to do just that.
For more helpful resources on planning and presenting effective safety training, you can find Rethinking Hand Safety on Amazon.