Safety training, 9 am tomorrow.
The calendar reminder blinks at you, taunting. Immediately you’re filled with thoughts of dread.
Here we go again, you think.
Death by PowerPoint, monotone lectures… what do I have to sit through this time?
You feel fearful, anxious, annoyed, deflated and even angry at the thought of having to attend.
But you have to be there, so you show up, grit your teeth, cross your arms, sigh and proceed to watch the clock for the next several hours.
Drastic as it may seem, these thoughts, feelings and behaviours are common in today’s workplace. For many workers, attending safety training has become a laborious chore. As an organisation, these widespread attitudes are cause for serious concern, and bring into question safety training effectiveness and ultimately, return on investment.
It’s apparent that something must change in the safety training space. As a starting point, I propose we explore the way training is delivered.
Think back to the most captivating presenter or speaker you’ve encountered. What did they do differently? How did they hold your attention? What did they do to engage you?
In contrast, think about the typical safety trainer…
Contrary to popular belief, engaging training delivery doesn’t always come naturally. There are specific skills and habits you can develop to build capability in this space and encourage not only better engagement during training, but also improve the likelihood that the training will be applied back on the job.
As a facilitator in the safety training space, I’m often faced with the challenge of engaging a diverse group of workers. Participants come from a variety of backgrounds and bring to the training experience different attitudes about safety training and what to expect. Here are nine tips I personally use to encourage an engaging, brain-friendly learning environment.
1. Room set up
Room design can have a significant influence over participant communication and participation in experiential activities. In turn, this has significant impact on the retention of material and success of the program. Good room setup provides maximum functionality and is comfortable, safe and accessible for participants. While simple, ensuring a comfortable temperature, appropriate lighting and limiting external noise and distraction can have a significant impact on participant comfort and engagement. The training room should be large enough to accommodate the size of the group, and participants should be able to see the facilitator as well as any slides or whiteboards without turning or straining. Struggling to encourage group contribution? Instead of one large table, try smaller tables of four to six participants to encourage conversation and small group discussion.
2. Verbal vs non-verbal
Effective communication requires both verbal and non-verbal skills. Being conscious of non-verbal cues such as your posture, gesture, facial expression, volume, pitch, pace and tone are key in maintaining engagement. If you feel the material is boring, it’s likely to show in your facilitation and your participants will find it boring too! Control your pitch, facial expressions, stance and pace to liven up the content where possible.
3. Learning styles
As humans, we have different preferences for how we like to learn and give or receive information. Our learning styles tap directly into our senses with the most common being visual, auditory and kinaesthetic. Successful training programs incorporate ways of catering to all learning styles in their delivery. Integrate different approaches such as video, whiteboards and flip charts, group discussion, story-telling, role play and activities that promote movement around the room.
Using stories to illustrate key points can bring core program learnings to life and help personalise the experience for maximum impact. Identifying opportunities to weave in stories, metaphors, anecdotes and jokes can enhance communication by creating an emotional engagement with the brain that is more likely to be sustained over time.
5. Experiential activities
Experiential activities and exercises are useful for learning. Not only do they provide opportunities to break up the session and lift energy levels, they cater to the different adult learning styles and allow participants to put information into action. Participants often have ‘aha’ moments during an activity, where they suddenly see something in a different way or the information becomes ‘real’ for them.
It’s human nature that if we receive some type of reward, payoff or acknowledgement for a particular behaviour, we are likely to repeat that same behaviour in the future. In-program recognition is simply a way of providing genuine acknowledgements to people for positive efforts, for example, contributing ideas to group discussions or getting involved in activities. Recognition also helps to establish group norms of respectful interaction in the program. There are many ways to provide recognition to participants, including verbally or non-verbally (e.g. facial expressions, hand gestures), individually or collectively, and publicly or privately.
7. Active listening
Active listening promotes engagement and is used to collect relevant information from participants throughout the program. This information is important because it acts as the link between the program content and participants’ attitudes and knowledge, as well as their experience and expertise. Understanding, evaluating and interpreting participants’ thoughts on the content is crucial to delivering a successful program. Look for ways to use eye contact, gestures, paraphrasing and summarising to demonstrate active listening.
Creating an environment of participation and engagement requires the use of purposeful questions. Questions can encourage thinking, discussion and self-reflection, so are recommended throughout any program delivery. Different types of questions elicit different responses. Some are more useful for information gathering, to encourage participation or self-reflection, or bring conversations back on topic. When using questions, consider scope (narrow/broad), target (me/you/us, team/organisation) and time (past/present/future) to make sure that the question you are asking is eliciting the response you are hoping for.
9. Managing attention
No matter how interesting program content may be, it’s challenging to hold an individual’s attention for long periods of time. This brain is designed to conserve energy wherever possible, so it’s not uncommon for participants to switch off into ‘screensaver’ mode. If you notice attention drifting regularly, there are a number of techniques you can use to assist participants to remain engaged during the program. Incorporating the strategies mentioned above and including things like tactical breaks, ‘mixing it up’ and the periodic use of energisers are great ways to effectively manage attention.
Creating and maintaining an engaging safety training program isn’t easy, but taking the time to re-evaluate the nuances of facilitation and delivery is the first step towards positive improvement and increased training ROI.
The next time you’re attending a safety training program, as either a facilitator or participant, I encourage you to commit to approaching the day with an open mind, and remind yourself of the ultimate reason you’re there—to assist you to work safely so you can return home to the people and things you care about most.