Why You Should Be An Attention Seeker—Tips for Running Effective Prestart Meetings

Do your prestart meetings resemble a boot inspection more than an effective sharing of information?

Do you find the same 10-20% of team members actively engage in what you’re saying, while the remaining crew members switch off completely?

Can you relate to telling everyone where and what they’ll be working on throughout the day, only to have two to three people approach you to ask exactly that, straight after the meeting has ended?

You’re not alone.

51% of employees describe their team safety meetings as a poor to average experience.* If the purpose of a prestart meeting is to effectively exchange critical safety information, and ensure your team is engaged and focused, this huge level of dissatisfaction (and likely disengagement) is worrying.

If you reflect honestly, you can probably recall meetings where you’ve personally let your attention drift. So, why is it that we have a tendency to ‘switch off’, even when we know the information being presented is important and deserves our full attention?

It has been suggested that the average attention span is twenty minutes, and for some people it is as low five minutes before we’ve lost them. These figures are applicable even when the subject we are concentrating on is interesting to us. If the person finds the subject boring or repetitive, their attention can drop to an alarming seven seconds.

Concentration is hard work and our brains are infinitely seeking to conserve energy. Have you ever driven a car all day? How do you feel when you get to your destination, despite sitting down all day? Exhausted, right? In order to conserve energy so we don’t become exhausted, our brain will daydream or think about other, more appealing subjects such as the weekend, the footy result or even what kind of truck that was outside.

What information in your prestart meeting isn’t important? What sections could be skipped altogether because they are completely irrelevant to anyone in the room? If the answer is nothing, that’s good. However, if your team isn’t paying attention to the important, often critical information, then it’s as good as redundant anyway. Best case scenario, you’re repeating yourself throughout the day. Worst case scenario, someone is injured as a result of missing a potential hazard that was discussed in the morning’s prestart.

So, how do you capture and sustain team attention and engagement during prestarts?

Below are a few simple tips and strategies to help get you started.

1. Mix it up

Consider asking a different team member to present the meeting on a weekly rotation. Not only does this help to keep the delivery fresh, but is a great way to encourage engagement and ownership over safety. Looking for additional ways to break up the routine? If there’s opportunity to do so, consider occasionally holding the meeting in a different location.

2. Limit distraction

Our brains are easily distracted. If there are other crews or machinery working around you, it will be near impossible to maintain the team’s attention. Prior to starting, take a moment to minimise distractions in the room or area where you are hosting your prestart meeting.

3. Make eye contact

Non-verbal cues are an important part of effective communication. Are you reading off a sheet of paper or a projected screen? Remember to make brief eye contact with everyone as you present. This helps people to know you are talking to them, rather than at them.

4. Ask questions

How often do you ask questions? Our brain loves questions and can’t help but answer them, making questions a great tool to encourage interaction and engagement. Where possible, consider asking instead of telling.

5. Encourage group reflection

Consider inviting the team to break into small groups and have a two-minute discussion about how the previous point in the meeting may affect them throughout the day. This is particularly helpful in a quiet, more introverted group who may be reluctant to answer out loud in front of everyone.

6. Make it real

It’s not uncommon for teams to become desensitised to safety messages. Quick activities, such as asking team members to undo a button or shoelace and then attempt to rebutton/retie without using their thumbs, can simulate the effect of the loss of a finger and be a tangible reminder of the importance of paying attention and working safely.

7. Ask for feedback and input

Have you thought about asking the participants in your prestarts for their ideas on how to make them more engaging? A discussion like this helps to create ownership and responsibility on the team to increase their effort in staying engaged.

While no one thing can guarantee total focus and engagement, trialling the above tips may assist in increasing the effectiveness of your prestart. Capturing the team’s attention is just the first step; maintaining it requires constant conscious effort. During your next prestart, consider the following—if you were on the receiving end of this presentation, would you still be paying attention?

*Based on a survey of 11,985 respondents across 7 industries.


Senior Consultant

Adam joined the Sentis team in 2012. His genuine passion for people and their safety has seen him deliver cognitive-based safety programs to more than 5000 individuals across Australia, New Zealand, America, Africa and Papua New Guinea. With a special interest in safety leadership, Adam has extensive experience coaching leaders to improve their skills in safety communication, safe interactions, and the delivery of prestart meetings and toolbox talks. Adam’s ability to work closely with both frontline workers and senior leadership ensures his success in helping clients move towards a culture of safety excellence.