As someone who writes and communicates my thoughts freely, it was a shock to hear from one of my Fast Track your Safety Communication Results students that she has to follow a script for toolbox talks.
Six times a week.
And she can't change the content or the PowerPoint Slides.
Of course, all of the content comes up instantly on each slide. So she's effectively talking to a group of people while they speed read her content.
I could totally understand and empathise with Sandy (not her real name), as to why she felt so frustrated and unempowered. Day after day she was walking into different meeting rooms around the site, reading out a script to people she doesn't really know, with a script she has no control over. It was decided that because she didn't know some of the technical equipment or processes that someone else more senior needed to write it, while she delivers it.
There are several issues with this common (and stupid) corporate practice:
1. First of all, as a safety professional the most important thing you can do is have people like and trust you, so that they will come to you with questions and let you know when a safety issue arises. But it's very hard to build rapport if you have to act like a robot, mindlessly talking through pre-written slides.
2. Second of all, I know very few senior safety professionals who have any training in how to create interesting slides, let alone how to deliver content in an engaging manner (unless they refer to the book, Transform Your Safety Communication). It's very hard to present information convincingly, if you haven't written it. As someone who has directed countless senior leaders delivering speeches to camera, I always advise to write (and rehearse) your own speech. Any speeches that were written by someone else, people always stumbled over and just sounded false. In the end, many CEOs would madly rewrite their script, so they could say their own words in an authentic way.
A better use of resources is to get a junior person to write their own presentation to build up their skills, but to also make them more authentic and believable.
3. Communication is all about relationships. Ideally, it's a 2 way conversation where you get people involved with your information and they ask questions. The more you communicate a topic, the more feedback you get, so the more you can tweak the content, so that it's relevant to your audience.
4. Being a good leader is all about empowering your staff and stretching them. Good leaders don't tell employees to do a pre-made presentation and not improve it. That's short sighted. Every piece of work anyone does in a company has the potential for improvement. And for a workplace to thrive, everyone should have the power to give their input and action on it. That's how you build accountability and job satisfaction.
In the book, How the Mighty Fall by Jim Collins he says exceptional companies need self-managed and self-motivated people. These are key ingredients for a successful culture. But where a culture is characterised by rules rigidity and bureacracy, you end up creating a culture of mediocrity.
So if you're in a command and control organisation that "makes" you do boring safety presentations, how do you get around it?
Yep, that's it. Ask a whole lotta questions.
When you do a toolbox talk, ask a question at the start. A simple "Tell me what do you already know about our emergency procedures?" Get some dialogue happening.
You'll find that once you do the first live rehearsal, you'll see where people get bored. That's where you ask them a question about the content. Get them involved. See how that question goes the second time around. Test and tweak. Be curious. See the boring 6 toolbox talks as an opportunity to test questions and learn.
After all, you're not really diverting from the script. You're adding to it by asking questions. You're not telling people any unauthorised information.
At the end, ask people questions about the presentation. Questions such as "What did you learn today?' or "How could I have done that better?"
If all you're doing is talking during a presentation, you're not relating. Asking questions builds rapport and helps work towards getting people to trust you - such an important element in safety.
Asking questions also gives you the information you need to go back to your boss and say, "I've been doing 5 toolbox talks like you told me, what I'm finding is that people are confused about y procedure. What they tell me they need to know is this....Are you okay if I update the slide with this information?"
Taking control and ownership of the presentation will not only give your boss a break from having to write the content all the time, but let them know that you have good ideas and are always looking for solutions. It also means you're accepting responsibility which is a sign of a great employee that any good corporation would encourage. And of course, if they say no - ask why.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici, at freedigitalphotos