3 Effective Strategies to Fix Boring Safety Meetings (Yes They Are)

Safety meetings are not supposed to be boring. People, more specifically presenters, make them that way.

why safety meetings are boring by kevin burns, safety speaker

Talks from the TED conferences are engaging. If you are not familiar with TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design), they are a global set of conferences that bring together the world's most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes or less.

Eighteen minutes or less.

Some of the world’s greatest thinkers will change the world with their ideas in under 18 minutes. So the question becomes, if world-class thinkers and thought leaders are only given eighteen minutes to make their point, have the learning stick and ultimately change the world, why are mediocre safety presenters given 60-90 minutes to make a point or two about safety? If issues like fighting world hunger and jumpstarting world economies can be addressed in 18 minutes, why are safety meetings running longer than that?

Safety complacency is a big problem today but never moreso than safety meeting complacency: the lack of focused engagement in preparing engaging safety meetings. The problems outlined below identify the real reasons safety meetings are traditionally so boring and what to do next.

Problem #1: Padding, Fillers And Fluff

When safety meeting presenters are given a 90-minute time-slot to fill, they will pad their presentations to fill time. Seriously, do we need 90 minutes to cover proper use of a ladder or hygienic handwashing techniques? Give someone a block of time to fill and they will: over-preparing with cutesy videos, downloaded gruesome Internet photos of severed limbs, and barely relevant (but not engaging) stats, charts and graphs. (*yawn) This is the surefore sign that the length of meeting is more important than the content. "We have blocks of time to fill," meeting organizers believe, "so we will fill those blocks." And it sets up safety meetings that fail to engage. 

What if you can make your point in 15 minutes? Do you really need to keep talking for another 45 minutes? Is the schedule more important than the content? If you're still trying to fill your safety meeting to meet a certain timeframe, you're contributing to the problem.

Problem #2: It's All Important, Except It's Not

What are employees are supposed to do differently as the result of the safety meeting? Don't have an answer? That means there is no specific target outcome or call-to-action (CTA) for meeting attendees. Without a target outcome or CTA, anyone can talk about anything for any amount of time provided it is about "safety" in the generallest sense of the word. Is it important that everything be covered in every meeting? What parts are urgent today?

When safety meetings are not focused on a target outcome or call-to-action for employees, then presenters feel forced to cover all of it. And that's what gets covered, everything. And for every new word, topic or idea presented, it leaves safety meeting attendees confused. Really, is it up to the employees to figure out what was most important to remember, what to do better or differently, and what to focus on to achieve the suggested outcomes? That should be evident from the opening moment of the meeting. Too much information makes that a recipe for a failed and boring safety meeting.


So, what can you do? Here are three strategies that the average safety meeting organizer hasn't considered. It's the way safety leaders get their safety meetings done: 

1. Content Over Schedule

If you've got an hour to fill and are simply looking for some sort of presenter to fill that time slot, you should ask yourself whether you're actually addressing a particular issue or are you merely giving the illusion of addressing the issue? Figure out what you need done or addressed, ask questions of your experts and select topics and content based on deliverables, not the amount of time in a schedule. If a presenter needs 20 minutes to address the problem, don't make them add filler and fluff to stretch it out to a 90-minute presentation just because you've scheduled ninety minutes. You're better off giving your people a one-hour break after a riveting 30-minute presentation to think about how they can apply what they learned instead of forcing them to sit there and be distracted by fluff and convoluted messages. Short presentations. On topic. Advance one idea at a time.


2. Introduce a Call-to-action

Are you challenging your people to internalize and talk about what they’ve just learned or are you dumping information and moving on to the next dump session? Give your meeting attendees five or so minutes (but preferably more) to brainstorm among themselves how they might use the information practically. Address their solutions publicly for ten minutes and then give them a fifteen minute break for a job well done. Every safety meeting should feature a new subject, new learning and a new focus on using the information to make attendees better at staying safe. Make them use the information you just gave them. People want to know what you want them to do with the information you give them. So tell them what you expect to happen. Then give them the opportunity to put it into action.


3. Protect The Minds Of Your Attendees 

In the same way you would protect your employees from physical harm, you must protect them from information overload: conflicting messages. Every presentation should be vetted before the meeting. Have a small committee go through each presentation before it goes public. That includes the safety manager or safety director who is in charge of running the meetings. No one gets to spring surprise presentations on your people, including you. Make the messaging consistent. Edit, edit and edit some more. Get rid of the fluff and padding and get to the meaningful stuff. No one ever felt cheated that the safety meeting was too short. But if you keep them short, you will get better engagement.


Safety meetings are not supposed to be boring. People, more specifically presenters, make them that way. They are boring when they have no target outcome or a call-to-action for attendees to act on. They are boring when they go on and on filling a timeslot. They are boring when too many things are discussed in one sitting.

Ask yourself, what is the most important thing your people need to hear today? Focus on that one thing and drive the information home. Get focused. Safety meetings are meant to help make your organization better - not just better-informed. In order for your organization to get better, the purpose, the practice and the presentation must get better too.

I consult with Joint Health and Safety Committees, safety managers and safety teams to improve the format, content and deliverables in safety meetings. Working together, we help your employees take a more active role in championing the safety program.


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Kevin Burns has authored eleven books on human performance and safety, including his most recent release, The CareFull Supervisor, as well as his bestseller PeopleWork - The Human Touch in Workplace Safety. Buy them now on Amazon. Then, consider bringing Kevin's consulting expertise to your company or have him speak at a safety event.

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Topics: safety speaker, safety leadership, kevin burns, safety meeting, safety, safety buy-in, safety communications, peoplework, safety complacency