Creative Training

Keep it short. Keep it simple. Keep it relevant.

YEARS ago, Wendy's International Inc. ran a series of humorous ads under the premise of asking random people whether they would prefer Burger A, the rawhide dry burger, or Burger B, the juicy, appealing Wendy's burger. Invariably, the people were quirky individuals who chose the dry burger.

Alas, life as a safety trainer would be easier if our audience comprised eccentrics who preferred dry training because we have all served and undoubtedly continue to serve unappealing training. It's no surprise a Missouri worker's compensation survey found one of the major attitudes contributing to workplace injury is "Safety Training is not important," politically correct for "Safety Training is boring."

By some unwritten decree, safety professionals are supposed to be adept at presentations--but the survey says otherwise. Training workers is one of the most fundamentally important duties, yet safety professionals are generally ill prepared for this charge. Often training is seen as a necessary evil, whereas it should be seen as prime opportunity to affect positive change. All trainers could and should improve their presentation skills, but more so the safety trainer, who is handicapped at the outset by a "dry" topic.

Presentations consist of two major aspects: preparation and delivery. Preparation includes content, technical knowledge, organization, audience research, media usage, etc. Delivery includes voice, pacing, dialoguing, body language, rapport, etc. This article will focus on select components of preparation. Before proceeding, it helps to discuss the categories of speakers and content, listed below from low to high in their ability to engage the audience.

A. Dull speaker + dull content = Prepare the AEDs.
Most presenters fall into this category. Presenters usually start in this mode and unfortunately remain stuck in it, unaware of their shortcomings, too retired to improve or apathetic to improvement.

If you don't enjoy conducting presentations, you probably are this type of speaker. If your audience falls asleep, you are this type of speaker.

B. Exciting speaker + dull content = Like Chinese food, hungry after an hour.
The Rock, professional wrestler turned action star, set the wrestling world on fire with his promos. So dynamic was he that the audience would "sing along" when he uttered his catchphrases. He called himself Sport Entertainment's Most Electrifying Man and his performance truly was a treat. He was a case study for all that was excellent about delivery--yet for all of his gifts, the message was shallow, not affecting positive change.

It is fairer to say that for speakers in this category, their content is no so much dull as it is fluff. Gifted speakers have an instinctive ability to edit out dullness and backfill with flash. Preachers and motivational speakers are often culprits of this style presentation.

C. Dull speaker + lively content = Like getting to first base. I'm intrigued; let's see what happens.
When I was in second grade, a physicist came to our class to do "cool" physics demonstrations. While setting up and talking, he sporadically held our attention. When he started the demonstrations, the class was in rapt silence. And when he asked who wanted to come up front to try it, the entire class broke out in peals of "Me! Me!" Everyone was involved.

Some of the most successful pastors fit into this category. They may not be the most gifted vocally, but they develop and organize content in a manner that grabs us. When the content is lively, our weaknesses in delivery are often overlooked or forgiven. Being short on time, you can make the greatest strides by working on content improvement.

D. Exciting speaker + lively content = Get your show on the professional speaking circuit!
I had the privilege of attending a motivational seminar featuring professional speakers such as Elizabeth Dole, Zig Ziglar, Gerald Ford, Mary Tyler Moore, then-Minnesota Vikings Coach Dennis Green, and Colin Powell. Some were great, some were unexpectedly great, and a few were surprisingly bad for all their practice in the public spotlight. Supposedly, the top speakers earned $75,000 per speaking engagement. Isn't that figure incentive to be all you can be?

When you can shape dry material that holds the audience and deliver it as a master storyteller, you have reached the apex. Unfortunately, this state is rarely achieved. No matter how much we practice, most of us will never sing like Whitney Houston or Luciano Pavarotti, and most will never orate like Winston Churchill or Martin Luther King Jr.

While the ultimate goal is to be a Category D speaker, being a Category C speaker is a noteworthy goal that benefits ourselves as well as our audience.

Creating Away
Creativity is a must if not the hallmark of great content. Before embarking on factors attributed as part of creativity, we need to be aware of factors that detract from creative content. When someone asked Michelangelo how he sculpted the beautiful statue of David, he replied, "Simple. I chiseled away the marble that didn't look like David." Here we look at what isn't part of a beautiful presentation and chisel away at it.

* Keep it simple. I attend a church headed by a young pastor a few years removed from seminary. Whatever his reason, he spends his time at the pulpit trying to prove he is worthy of being a pastor, showing his command of the English language and his acquired knowledge. His messages are difficult-to-follow exercises in academia. He has lost sight of the fact his time before the congregation is an opportunity to feed the flock, give hope, and help the lost find the way. As the saying goes, no one cares about what you know until they know you care. It's trite and tired but still and forever will be true.

Safety professionals often assume others share their enthusiasm and drop volumes of information on their audiences. Sometimes safety professionals feel they need to prove their expertise, leaving the audience victimized by their "machismo." Minimize the tables and pie charts. No fancy jargon. No esoteric theory. Share a concise message. Showcase your concern and not your encyclopedic knowledge. Like ministry, safety is about saving lives.

* Keep it short. I worked with a safety manager who had toiled for years to help the organization achieve VPP Star status. He was rightly proud of his accomplishment. Unfortunately, he spent the first two hours of orientation explaining VPP and the struggles to achieve Star status to brand-new employees who didn't give a hoot about VPP, much less working. Instead of giving them a reason to be interested, he reinforced their notions that safety is boring.

We're never as interesting as we believe. Here are a few concepts to assure we don't "over interest" our audience:

1. A preacher was asked why he kept his sermons to 20 minutes. He replied, "If I haven't reached them within 20 minutes, then another 20 minutes ain't going to make a difference." This speaks volumes about our ever-shrinking attention span (and our expanding waistlines) courtesy of the TV remote.
2. Give them frequent breaks when dealing with multiple topics and when exceeding 20 minutes. This is common sense, but somehow our timing becomes distorted when we're in front of an audience.
3. Leave them wanting more . . . or at least not minding to see you again. When theatrical movies stink, we either fidget through the two hours because we paid out $9, or we walk out. People attend the movies by choice. Safety will never be as exciting as the movies. People sit through safety training because they must. Don't prolong their agony.

* Keep it relevant. Years ago, Wendy's also ran a wildly popular ad campaign spawning the national catch phrase "Where?s the beef?" and implying competitors offered quarter-sized, not quarter-pound, patties. With trainers there is no problem providing the beef--rather, it's all beef. They feed the audience an Atkins High Protein diet, whereas the audience craves a "well rounded" meal including the special sauce, cheese, lettuce, pickles, and onions on a sesame bun.

Keeping it relevant is more art than science. It is a delicate balance between too much and not enough, theory and fluff, seriousness and humor, education and entertainment, personal and impersonal, etc. Here are a few concepts to keep in mind as you keep it relevant.

1. Ask how they would use this information. If you can't answer this, it's not relevant. Earlier, I mentioned the manager who spoke for two hours on VPP. How does a two-hour VPP history lecture help the employee be safer?
2. Having determined the material is relevant, determine how you can make it relevant to the audience.
3. Ax the personal war stories.

You have a captive audience that feels they know everything there is to know about their own safety. Their attitude is that anything you say does not affect them--and if it does, it only means more work for them. The relevancy challenge is to offer them something old as something fresh.

John Maxwell, a noted leadership author, says changes in thinking lead to changes in beliefs, changes in beliefs lead to changes in attitudes, and changes in attitudes lead to changes in behavior. Our goal as safety professionals is to elicit positive behavior, and effective training is the catalyst to achieve the goal.

People assume training is easy. On the contrary, it requires much dedication. Training is an expansive art and science. In this article we looked at only a small slice of presentation preparation. By doing "less," your presentations will be "more."

This article appeared in the January 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

This article originally appeared in the January 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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