Safety First and Last: Tips for making great safety presentations

Jeff Thorne
November 13, 2017
By Jeff Thorne
We talk a lot here about the importance of communicating the safety message to your staff. Developing a good presentation style is one of the tools you and your safety officer can use to make sure the message gets through. Albert Einstein once said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
The need to make complex things understandable is the biggest challenge all presenters face. There are a few things all great presenters do to get their presentations to the point where they are simple and memorable.

1. Entertain the audience
Audiences have an expectation of being informed, entertained and engaged. The best speakers know how to appeal to emotions and invoke thought. It doesn’t matter what the size of the crowd is, catering to emotions creates a connection with the subject matter. Start strong. Great presenters always lead with their strongest point. We have finite attention spans, so getting your audience engaged early is key.

2. Never read your slides
If you read your slides and have little to add beyond the bullet points, you’re not needed! The audience should just grab a copy of what you’re presenting and go about their day. Reading slides disengages you from the audience and you may lose credibility in their eyes. Slides can be a crutch; you should be able to deliver the majority of your presentation without slides through storytelling. Slides are simply a cue design to assist with your delivery. Great presenters will rarely even look at the slide.

3. Know how to buy time
Every great presenter has their own effortless techniques for buying time to gauge the audience, collect their thoughts and get back to business. One of the most seamless ways to do this is to ask the audience a question, provide adequate time for them to process, then respond. This will give you the time to regroup and move forward. Unfortunately, many presenters are not comfortable with silence and tend to answer their own questions, or the manner in which questions are asked does not provide the audience the time to think and respond. So ask open-ended questions and provide time for your audience to process an answer.

4. Believe in what you are saying
Presentations are like a story and great stories are full of emotion, as are great presenters. If you think about the best presenter you’ve ever seen, I bet they exuded confidence and knew their topic inside out. Confidence and enthusiasm are contagious, so own your topic like a rock star! Practice your delivery out loud, not just reading it, but practice it until it is second nature. If you don’t believe in your topic and your message, neither will your audience.

5. Identify your weaknesses
Great presenters know their weaknesses and how to avoid delivery pitfalls. I recently was at a course where the instructor paced back and forth across the room and walked up and down the aisle. I felt like I was watching Roger Federer returning serve against Rafa Nadal. Movement isn’t a bad thing, but this was overdone as it took away from the speakers message. Be mindful of the words you choose, keep things simple and avoid technical jargon, acronyms and the dreaded fillers such as “Ummm” and “Ahhhhh.” In many cases, it’s much better to spell things out. Prepare your thoughts in advance but not your gestures. Rehearsing gestures makes you look unnatural. Finally, avoid the delivery pitfall of becoming pleased with the sound of your own voice. In other words, make sure the stories used to illustrate a point or a concept actually do just that.

Remember, if you as the presenter aren’t prepared and don’t know where you are going in your presentation, your audience hasn’t got a chance. Put some time and effort into it and prepare wisely, your audience will thank you for it and you’ll be proud of a job well done.


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