Briefings are crucial for creating an effective culture of safety and communicating the important messages colleagues need to hear.
Without proper communication, people can fall out of the loop with procedures, rules, and updates, which can, in turn, put them at risk of serious injury or worse. When people are on the same page, you expect things to run smoothly.
But safety briefings have a reputation for being, well, dull. When most people who aren’t safety managers hear those words, they immediately think of endless Powerpoints and the dreaded flip chart.
I’ve worked with safety managers for over 20 years. In that time, I’ve noticed that very skilled and knowledgeable individuals often struggle when it comes to communicating that knowledge to others. This is understandable, as these are two different things, and not all of us are born with the gift of the gab.
Unfortunately, the bottom line is that if people aren’t switched on and engaged when you’re talking about something important, they’re unlikely to take it in – even if it might save their life. They have to be hooked onto the topic instantly, and people will ask themselves, “what’s in it for me?” WIIFM, if it’s nothing, you’ve lost them before starting.
Thankfully, there are a few ways safety managers can change things up to communicate better, get people engaged with safety briefings, and ultimately ensure a safer workplace.
Tip 1: Know your audience
Although some might disagree, I believe that safety managers should be salespeople too. It’s no good knowing what needs to be done if you can’t communicate it in a way your audience can understand and buy into.
One of the most important things any salesman needs is understanding their audience. They can’t use the same pitch for everyone, as the needs and experiences of their client will depend on who they are and where they come from.
The same goes for health and safety. You will need to amend your ‘pitch’ depending on whether you present to leadership, middle management, or employees.
For example, briefings with those at the coalface will generally focus on daily exposure to risks, how to avoid them, and why they must follow procedures. Conversely, briefings with leadership should be more general and consider how changes to policy might impact the long-term running of the business.
Those in different business areas have other priorities, and your briefings need to reflect this.
Understanding the people you work with is integral to health and safety. You need to ensure you see colleagues as people, not statistics, as only then can you begin to communicate with them in a way that will be effective.
Tip 2: Minimise the Powerpoints
It can be easy to get carried away with PowerPoint. Unfortunately, too many safety managers pack everything into their presentations, resulting in verbatim repetition from slides that are far too busy, boring most people to the brink of sleep.
Powerpoints shouldn’t be your entire briefing. Instead, they should support your briefing with essential information, allowing you to expand on the subjects more engagingly.
According to Guy Kawasaki, former Apple founder and Silicon Valley venture capitalist, Powerpoints should adhere to a 10/20/30 rule. That means:
- no more than 10 slides
- no longer than 20 minutes total
- and, perhaps most importantly, presentations should not contain text in a font size smaller than 30 points.
This ensures that you don’t try to cram too much information into the presentation itself, avoiding “death by Powerpoint”. Any information that can’t be included in your presentation should be given as a handout afterwards.
Tip 3: Watch your body language
We’re not all born presenters, and that’s fine, but one thing that it pays dividends to focus on is your body language.
Body language can be both conscious and subconscious and influences our interactions daily and during presentations more than you’d think. For example, the wrong body language, such as slouching, lack of eye contact, or crossed arms, can negatively influence your audience and turn them off.
Conversely, confident body language such as better posture and eye contact will engage people.
Body language is a huge topic, but you can start by paying attention to your physical actions during your next briefing and keeping an eye on how your audience responds to you. You might be surprised.
Tip 4: Get people involved
No one likes being talked at, and if your briefings consist of you standing at the front, droning on for an hour, you’ve already lost the battle.
Instead, you should make an effort to get people involved in the briefing. This can be small, such as getting people to guess answers or even using role-plays to illustrate new procedures. If people expect to be called on, they’ll be more engaged.
A very effective way to do this is to invite opinions about current safety processes as a sort of forum. This gives people a chance to share their thoughts and will, in turn, show that your business values their input. In addition, if people are involved in implementing rules from the start, they’re more likely to follow them.
Listening is a valuable weapon in any safety manager’s arsenal, and you should make the most of it.
Tip 5: Keep things moving
According to a study by Skipton Building Society, the average person has an attention span of just 14 minutes. However, in work meetings, they generally zone out after 13 minutes, like safety briefings.
Leading public speaking consultants and media training company Throughline Group suggest that a good presenter can hold an audience’s attention on a relevant topic for a paltry seven to 10 minutes. How long was your last presentation?
Now, this doesn’t mean that you should cut your briefings down to a few minutes, just that you should be conscious of attention spans and ensure regular transitions and breaks to keep your audience engaged. You can change things by moving to a new position, asking the audience a question, or just shifting to a new topic.
Remember that even the most talented presenters can only keep things moving for so long, so try not to spin the plates forever and drag your briefing out. Remember, people have other priorities, and if they feel that you’re taking up an unreasonable amount of their time, you’ll lose them.
These skills can be learned.
Many people assume being good at engaging others is something you’re born with. While it’s true people can be taken with a magnetic personality, there are plenty of tips and tricks you can employ to communicate more effectively in safety briefings and beyond.
My safety coaching package includes modules on how to communicate safety to engage others and, more importantly, keep them engaged, whether you’re talking to employees or employers. So if that sounds like something that might be beneficial to you, get in touch.