Give a Better Toolbox Talk
Whether or not you are a safety professional you may find yourself tasked with giving a toolbox talk on a frequent basis. For some people it is the fear of public speaking that impedes their ability to present a toolbox talk to the best of their ability. For other individuals it is often finding a good topic that creates stress in preparing for a toolbox talk. I have addressed these stressors in other articles as well as providing over 100 safety talks on this site. Today I will discuss ten tips for giving a better toolbox talk in front of a group.
- Prepare ahead of time. Know when you have to give a talk and plan for it. Do not go into work the morning you have to present a toolbox talk and scramble to prepare for it. Find a topic well ahead of time and read over it. Think about how you can personalize it for your work or jobsite. The audience can tell when a presenter is not prepared.
- Find a relevant topic. There is nothing worse than sitting through a toolbox talk that has nothing to do with the work that is being performed. Toolbox talks serve the purpose of communicating some type of safety message and if it is not relevant to the audience then you just wasted precious time. Toolbox talks should not be viewed as a go-through-the-motions activity. They have been proven to have a positive effect on a company’s safety culture.
- Know your audience. How you prepare for a toolbox talk to executive level individuals will differ from how you prepare for a daily toolbox talk for your field workers. One thing I learned from a previous project manager is to use language that your audience understands. Do not try to flaunt big words while giving a talk to your field workers for example. Talk with them on their level. It is not a knock on them or their education level in any way. It is just something to be aware of when presenting. Many of my workers have English as a second language and if I am using difficult words then I am not getting my full message across to them.
- Do not only read straight from the page/slide. Please do not just print out a safety topic and then read straight from the page word from word like a robot. Use any topic that you print out more as a guideline with pauses to make your own statements or ask the audience for their input or experiences. Reading straight from the page takes away your credibility as the presenter. It is also harder for the audience to want to follow along with the talk.
- Be confident. This is something I have been troubled with in the past, but less and less nowadays. If you prepared then be confident. There is no reason you do not deserve to be heard for what you have prepared for. As humans I believe we are wired to think the worst. Avoid letting your mind wonder about what the audience thinks about you and how they are looking at you. Think about the message you are passing onto the audience. The point of the toolbox talk is to pass useful safety information, not to find out what they think about you. Trust me, you are far less important to them than you make it out in your mind.
- Make eye contact. This goes back to confidence. Eye contact goes hand in hand in showing confidence. Avoiding eye contact often leads to more problems with a speaker’s confidence. It also allows you to connect with audience members. Looking at the audience also gives you visual clues to whether or not you are speaking loud enough or if they understand your message.
- Share experiences/stories. This goes backs to not just reading from a page. When you take the time to share a personal experience or story it builds your credibility as well as maintains the audience’s attention.
- Allow the audience to participate. At my company we do two toolbox talks a day. It can get very redundant if you are not creative. I often ask the audience for experiences and stories; after all they are the ones who have been in the trenches doing the work. Some people do not like to speak in front of groups, but I often find at least a few who do.
- Do not be the know-it-all. Maybe you do know just about everything and I commend you if you do. Most of the times you do not know everything about a certain topic and that is alright. If you slip up and make a mistake and someone corrects you then recognize it and discuss it if needed. If you do not believe they are right or you are unsure then just state you will have to check on whatever the issue is to be sure. Do not be the guy who insists they are right just to save face. You lose credibility as a speaker and as a person when you don’t recognize your mistakes.
- Have fun. This is something I still struggle with. Many times I will dive into a topic and want to keep on a narrow path. Be flexible and feel free with expressing yourself while presenting. It not only shows you feel comfortable presenting, but it also helps to maintain the audience’s attention. Do not feel that the talks have to be a rigid one way conversation. Experiment with different exercises or techniques and see what fits your company’s needs the best.
These are just the first ten tips off the top of my head that I have found useful in preparing my safety talks and as being a part of an audience for many toolbox talks. I am no means an expert, but I have greatly improved from just a few years ago when I first got into the EHS field. For those of you reading this who have a fear of public speaking, I strongly recommend checking out Toastmasters. They are an organization that is dedicated in making their members become better public speakers and leaders. I have been part of several clubs and I know they have been a big part in improving my public speaking fears. Check out an article I wrote about the organization here.