Even if you are not a full-time 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 provided over 250 safety talks on this site.
10 Tips to Give a Better Safety Toolbox Talk
In this post, I will discuss ten tips for giving a better toolbox talk in front of a group. Your success as a presenter often lies both within the preparation process as well as how you carry yourself when presenting. Browse the list below to find ways to be more prepared for your next safety meeting.
Tip 1 – 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. If you have the time, find prep for the next several safety meetings in one sitting.
By following this practice, you will always have something prepared if you have to present a topic on short notice.
Tip 2 – Find a relevant safety 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 program.
Browse the talks found on this website to get ideas. You can also refer to OSHA’s Safety Topics to find resources for your next meeting.
Tip 3 – 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. 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.
Also, many workers may speak English as a second language and if you are using difficult words then you are not getting the full message across to them. Using language that your audience understands will help you to connect more effectively with them.
Tip 4 – 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 for 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.
Read through the safety talk you want to present and cross out the information that is not applicable to the work being performed. Add notes within the talk to make it custom to what you need so that it flows better and is more impactful for your audience.
Tip 5 – Be confident
This is something I have been troubled with in the past, but less and less nowadays. If you are prepared then be confident when you are presenting. 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 wander about what the audience thinks about you and how they are looking at you.
Think about the message you are passing on to 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. Most of your audience members respect the courage it takes to present in front of the group and want to be respectful to you as the speaker. Projecting confidence is a form of respecting yourself.
Tip 6 – 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 gives you visual clues to whether or not you are speaking loud enough or if they understand your message.
By knowing your topic and what you want to say, you can simply refer back to your materials only when needed.
Tip 7 – Share experiences/stories
This tip 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. You can leverage supervisors or the employees to share their own stories as well. Do not feel that you need to be the only person speaking during the meeting.
Tip 8 – Allow the audience to participate
At my last company, we did two toolbox talks a day. It can get very redundant if you are not creative. I often would 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 you will often find employees who do.
To help the employees feel more prepared, let them know what the next safety meeting will cover and ask them to think of stories or experiences they would like to share. If they do not want to share the information in front of the group, offer to be the one who shares it on their behalf.
Tip 9 – Do not be the know-it-all
Maybe you do know just about everything and I commend you if you do. If you are reading this post then you understand the value of continually learning.
Most of the time, 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 do not recognize your mistakes.
Tip 10 – 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. For example, do not be afraid to add humor into your safety meetings.
These are just the first ten tips off the top of my head that I have found useful in preparing my safety talks and being a part of an audience for many toolbox talks. I am by 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 to 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.
Do not fear having to give presentations or share safety messages. These meetings can be stress-free and impactful when done correctly.
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