By Joe Igel

We have all had a safety presentation, a speech, an accident report, that did not have the desired impact, was not viewed as we had hoped. The feeling when this happens is disheartening, but contrasted with when it does, the corresponding elation is wonderful.

As I have mentioned before in these articles, prior to going into construction and discovering my role in safety, I started life as a teacher. Despite that, this was only a small portion of my working career, it profoundly impacted me and still does to this day. I taught English and Speech Communications. While I enjoyed English, it was the speech portion that I truly loved. And what I learned there followed me through my business career and still does today in my roles on various boards. And I still believe myself to be a teacher.

The ability to communicate and the importance of it are critical. While we have seen a breakdown in communications in our country, most prominently in the political realm, we cannot let it permeate our everyday existence. What are the markers for success that we look for, the techniques to use and the pitfalls to avoid? While I have made mistakes through the years, I have learned a few and want to share them with you.

I view all communication and all speech as essentially persuasive in nature. We all know a car salesperson is trying to persuade us. Whether it is us trying to make an audience listen to the safety points we are making, accept our version of an accident, serving as a witness, or buying a car from us, we are always persuading. With that realization come a few axioms worth presenting.

First, our goal is to move an audience (as individuals or as a group) from point A to point B. Point A is where they are, individually or collectively. We need to start there because if we start at a point beyond where they are, we will lose them and if we start too basic, we will bore them. This is why focus groups and market research exist. A memorable story, I have always believed, injects some personal experience into the discussion and often crystallizes both the idea to be presented and provides a memory that the listener can recall. I will often ask someone who does not know the specifics I will be presenting to review my presentation in order to allow me to fill any voids that I have overlooked.

Second, it is important to plan out the points to be made. I use an outline so that I can develop or contrast those points as I see my audience’s looks of understanding or confusion. And keeping these elements simple is critical. I was always taught to tell my audience what I was going to tell them, tell them, summarize what I just told them and move on to a new point. Vacillating serves no constructive purpose. While it sounds strange, it works. And in the event of a question or comment, it allows me to regain my direction quickly and accurately.

Third, follow-up completes the understanding loop. In our business, a lot of those who work there are more tactile in nature, more about doing than hearing. So, despite safety’s affinity for written tests, often practical experiences, including some “What is wrong with this picture?” slides, will be more effective.

Obviously, there could be more to this article. Libraries of textbooks have been written about the subject, but perhaps this offering will provide help for you before you visit that library.