How to Give Effective Toolbox Talks, Part 3: The Delivery
Toolbox talks are a powerful teaching method that can have far-reaching effects on the health and safety of your workforce. Naturally, everyone wants their safety toolbox talks to be as engaging and effective as possible. However, with so many factors that go into making a great meeting, sometimes that's easier said than done.
Following the tips in this article will help you improve your presentation skills and deliver consistently great toolbox talks that help your crews start their shift better prepared to face workplace hazards. In addition, if you'd like to learn more about toolbox talks and other best practices, check out Parts 1 and 2 of this three-part toolbox talk blog series.
Toolbox talks are often delivered right before a new shift begins. As a result, their audience is often still waking up or still shifting into “work mode” and sometimes not in the best state of mind to listen to educational material. Due to these factors, capturing their attention demands better presentation skills.
Unfortunately, most people have never received training in the best practices of presenting to an audience. As a result, many toolbox talks are low energy and dull, and audiences end up tuning out and missing critical safety information. When this happens, employees and companies are not receiving the rewards that a strong toolbox talk brings to workplace safety culture and injury reduction. Thankfully, giving an effective and engaging toolbox talk isn't difficult if you follow some of these simple-to-use tactics.
The Keys to an Engaging Toolbox Talk
Keep it short and sweet: People have a lot on their minds when they first wake up. They are thinking about their day ahead or something that happened at home last night and are often still trying to transition into work mode. So don't take more of their time than necessary and aim for your toolbox talks to be 5 to 15 minutes.
Always remember that the most effective meetings are the ones that get to the point immediately and only provide essential information. Therefore, when planning your meeting, always stay on topic and cut out as much fluff as possible to distill the information into a handful of vital takeaways for the audience.
Prepare and practice the day before: Many toolbox talk presenters don't prepare beforehand, and their meetings may be sloppy or full of errors. However, just because a toolbox talk is considered less formal than traditional training doesn't mean you shouldn't put forth the effort to make it the best it can be. People are busy and they value their time, so make sure you treat their time with respect by presenting high-quality content.
To do this, try practicing your meeting from start to finish the day before. Doing so will help you iron out any of the wrinkles in your speech and help you find gaps in the information. It's also not a bad idea to film yourself or practice it in front of a mirror or with a trusted coworker beforehand to provide tips on where you are doing well and where it could use some work.
Use multimedia: Many toolbox talks involve a manager or a safety professional standing in front of a group of workers on the project or shop floor and reading from a printed-off document. If you have heard the classic presentation advice of "Don't read from the slides," this is equivalent to reading from the slides for toolbox talks.
Try to mix up the types of media you use when presenting to keep the information fresh. For example, while reading from documents now and then is okay, try to add videos, slides, handouts, audio clips, or whiteboards. Mixing up your visual aids gives you a better chance of keeping your audience's attention.
Try not to single anyone out: A common topic of toolbox talks is to review past injuries that have occurred. While this is an excellent opportunity to learn from mistakes, you never want to approach this in an accusatory or negative manner that singles anyone out. Doing so runs the risk of people shutting down and refusing to interact.
The most value comes from getting employees to engage and interact with toolbox talks. When toolbox talks are not a presentation but a collaborative group discussion, that's where the real value and future injury reduction come from. Therefore, always keep your toolbox talks positive to ensure that the information benefits individuals, the group, and the company.
Eliminate distractions: When conducting a toolbox talk, you want to eliminate as many distractions as possible. For example, performing them each morning on a noisy shop floor where employees have to strain to hear what you're saying adds one more barrier to the transfer of knowledge. Instead, do your best to find a quiet place free of distractions where everyone can feel comfortable and focus on the topic.
Present with confidence: It's normal to get nervous when speaking in front of an audience. While presenting, make sure to do so confidently by positioning yourself with an upright posture, speaking loudly and clearly, and making eye contact while engaging with audience members. Presenting with confidence is important; if the audience members perceive you as not having confidence, they will lose faith in the material you are offering and tune out. You’ve probably heard of “fake it ‘til you make it” and this can be applied here; even if you don’t feel confident, presenting with confidence can go a long way to improve the quality of your talk.
Be a storyteller: A common mistake management and safety professionals make when speaking with their employees is focusing too much on the statistics or dollars and cents of safety. The numbers approach is valuable, but it can also make the information dull if that is always the focus. Instead, try to put topics in the context of a story, either by telling your own stories related to the subject or encouraging others to share their own. For example, people are much more interested in hearing about how their coworker cut their hand at work, using equipment they are used to seeing and interacting with, than the number of workers that cut their hands in the United States each year.
While toolbox talks are often more informal than traditional training, it doesn't mean you can't approach them with the same level of thoughtfulness and preparation. By following these best practices for better toolbox talks, you will see significant improvements in engagement and meeting quality while taking a positive step toward reducing workplace injuries.
Check out Parts 1 and 2 of this three-part toolbox talk blog series to learn more about the basics of toolbox talks and tips for identifying toolbox talk topics.