Safety Awakening – “What If Your Audience Knows More Than You?”

March 20, 2015 No Comments

“What If Your Audience Knows More Than You?”


Early in my safety career I lived in Dubuque Iowa.  As a young safety consultant I was frequently asked to speak to groups of employees about various safety subjects.

One of my clients was a trucking company.  An analysis of their vehicular accidents found that their most frequent accident was right hand turns.  The company’s CEO asked me to speak to all of his owner/operator truck drivers about this problem and what they could do to prevent right turn accidents.

After much preparation on my part, the day of this training session had arrived.  I got in front of this large group of drivers and proceeded to tell them how to make a proper right turn with an 18-wheeler.  I even diagramed how to “guard the corner” to prevent cars from sneaking between the right side of the truck and the curb.  All was going well – or so I thought.

Partially through this well-rehearsed presentation an old, grey-haired driver in the back of the room raised his hand.   He asked in a loud voice  “Mr Weber” have you ever driven a truck?“.  I answered  “No, I had not.”.  He then replied  “Then why are you trying to tell us professional drivers how to make a right turn?“.

To say that I was embarrassed would be an understatement.  How I finished the rest of my presentation I’ll never know.  But I do recall cutting it short, which was fine with the audience because I’d lost them right after the above exchange.

I learned much from this meeting.  I learned that if an audience knows more about a subject then you do, then the typical safety presentation format isn’t going to cut it.

Now,  when asked to talk to a group who may know more about a subject then I,  I try to follow these tips:

  • don’t dress significantly better than your audience – dress like them and they’ll warm up to you
  • admit that you’re not an expert on the subject
  • recognize their expertise on this subject
  • convince the audience that you care about them and their safety and health
  • smile and use humor, the audience will like you and be less inclined to turn on you
  • don’t lecture on how to do something, rather identify the problem and ask them to share their ideas on how to correct it
  • review specific accidents in detail, then ask the audience to identify the root causes of these accidents and what they might do in the future to prevent them from recurring
  • discuss what another company is doing to prevent a certain type of accident, ask them if that would work here

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