It’s happened to the best of us. You’re standing in front of a room of people, tasked with the job of delivering a safety briefing. You’ve put on your best suit, practiced your presentation and double-checked your data. Yet as you look out at your audience, you are confronted by a sea of bored faces, shuffling their chairs, itching to leave. You don’t get it. After all, the things you’re saying are vitally important – possibly life saving! Yet for whatever reason, the message just isn’t getting through…
As we’ve discussed in our previous post, some people simply hate health and safety. For all sorts of reasons, they have constructed a wall of prejudice, and no matter what you say they’ll wheel out the usual, lazy stereotypes – ‘Boring!’, ‘Time-wasters’, ‘Kill-joys’ – you’ll have heard it all before, even if health and safety has only recently been added to your remit.
However, the key is not to get disheartened, but rather to break down that wall; to mentally shake that room of people by their collective lapels and get them to understand that the message you’re sharing relates directly to THEM.
Fortunately, we’ve spoken to some of RoSPA’s most experienced trainers, who have kindly provided us with their top tips for working a difficult crowd. So sit back and learn from the best – safe in the knowledge that next time you give a speech or deliver training, there’ll not be a drooping eye in the house.
Keep it real
One of the biggest criticisms of health and safety is that it can sometimes feel a little abstract. One of the best ways to combat that impression is to root your presentation in real life examples. Accident statistics are a great way of providing context, but you should be sure to balance the broader picture with real life examples. For instance, it’s one thing to make a point using shocking construction statistics, but to then use a real life example about an individual whose life was changed irreparably after a building site accident can really cause your audience to stop and think – which is exactly what a good safety briefing should do.
Crack a joke
There’s no denying that safety is a serious topic – but that doesn’t mean you can’t lighten the mood by making the odd joke. Humour can be a great way to break the ice with a ‘frosty’ crowd, and can help people become more receptive to your ideas. If you’re stuck for material, you can always take a look at our 10 worst health and safety myths – there’s enough nonsense there to keep you laughing for a while!
We know it’s tempting – especially when you take into consideration the shattered lives, financial burden and general heartache accidents cause – but sometimes a calm, rational argument can have an even bigger impact. That’s not to say you can’t be passionate, it’s just that the facts often speak so loudly for themselves that there’s no need for you to shout and risk people switching off.
Be honest – if you had a pound for every mis-used, mis-remembered or mis-pronounced acronym you heard at work every day, then the chances are you wouldn’t be in work in the first place! While there’s definitely something endearing about the OSH industry’s dedication to cramming every new initiative into a not-so-snappy shorthand phrase, it’s worth remembering that your audience won’t always be familiar with the latest safety-speak – which at worst could leave your life-saving message unfathomable to all but the most hardened H&S professional. The key here is to tailor your message to your audience – and to check understanding as you go along if in any doubt.
This trick is helpful in nearly every type of presentation situation. It’s the one where you second guess any criticism you are likely to face – such as safety being costly or time-consuming – and then counter it in advance. For example, you might like to assure your audience that, while there is often an expense involved in safety training, it is nothing compared to the time and expense a workplace accident can cause. If in doubt, you could always remind them that the HSE estimate that accidents cost the UK economy a jaw-dropping £13.8 billion every year!
Bring it home
This is the big one, the bit where you’ll notice people actually straighten up in their chairs and pay attention. When talking about safety it’s sometimes difficult to make people understand the consequences of their actions – not just for themselves, but for the people who matter most to them. Their family. Maybe it’s human nature, but death is a difficult concept for most people to get their head around.
However, if you ask your team to consider how their wives or husbands would feel when they got that phone call, or how their children would feel growing up without a parent, suddenly it all starts to feel very real. You don’t want to scare people, but sometimes it’s worth highlighting exactly what’s at risk, so that they can make the right choice for themselves. After all, just like the most important speeches, you only get one chance to get it right…