With more than 30 years in health and safety, Richard Hawk is both a safety professional and an entertaining speaker and trainer.
He’s given safety speeches in every state across the nation except for Alaska. He’s also given dozens of global keynote speeches, in places such as Canada, India, and even the United Arab Emirates.
One time, when speaking in Dubai, UAE, he was doing research before he was scheduled to speak.
He turned to the person who had hired him to ask for more details about the audience. During that conversation, the woman told Hawk to avoid any audience interaction.
He trusted her, and didn’t interact with the audience.
Except one time, part of the way through his speech.
At that point in time, Hawk wanted to get a show of hands.
Knowing how they had a lot of golf in UAE, he wanted to see how many people had played golf in recent months.
“Not one person raised their hands when asked to do so, and that was even though many of them do play golf!”
The woman was right, and Hawk immediately knew.
It reminded him of a lesson he’s learned after hundreds of speeches: get to know your audience. It’s not about you—it’s about them, he says.
You may be speaking or training an internal group at your organization. Or, you may be creating materials that will help support safety professionals in the field. Either way, always start by getting to know your audience, says Hawk.
“This was also one more example of how you can’t do the same thing for every audience, no matter what,” says Hawk.
“Find out what it is that your audience enjoys in life, and what it is that gives them energy,” says Hawk. That’s a place to start rather than just throwing out information to them. (More and more people are learning this and applying this successfully today, notes Hawk.)
In his 30 years in the industry, Hawk spent 15 of those years as a safety professional in the nuclear industry and as a safety advisor on constructions projects.
He holds numerous safety and technical certifications, including the National Safety Council (NSC), the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO), and The National Registry of Radiation Protection Technologists (NRRPT). You may also recognize him as the veteran safety pro behind “All About You” column in Safety & Health Magazine.
We spoke with Hawk to learn about the top lessons he’s learned when it comes to creating content-rich, compelling, and behavior-changing content for safety teams.
Here are two of his biggest secrets to making safety fun:
1. Make your content high energy
One of the things Hawk is known for is that speeches that are…well, fun!
“’Fun” just means energetic enjoyment. You’re just enjoying what’s going on and there’s a lot of energy,” explains Hawk.
Even if the topic is serious, you can still create content that is high energy. And, you can still create content that is dynamic, actionable, and gets people involved. “It’s not just about being more ‘engaging.’ It means there’s a lot of energy. It means that it’s upbeat and unusual in some way,” says Hawk.
Hawk says that one of his major discoveries has been that if, from the start of any talk or meeting, he sends the signal that it is going to be fun, memorable, and practical, most people in the room are going to be committed quickly.
“In fact, shortly after my introduction, I promise my audience they will have a fun time, will remember what we explore, and learn dozens of practical tactics to improve their skills or live safer and healthier lives,” says Hawk. Then, he follows through on that promise!
“And, it’s not merely my opinion that having fun improves performance,” says Hawk. “Many studies and real-world results have shown that when employees are having a good time at work, they perform better,” adds Hawk.
One small litmus test: if you are high energy, and you are having a great time and having fun as a speaker, it’s that much more likely that your audience is also having fun.
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2. Use storytelling to connect with people
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When it comes to safety speeches or your safety meetings, having a message of, “Don’t do this, do this” puts you at a disadvantage.
A better approach can be to tell stories to get your message across. Stories allow you to:
- Lighten or shift the mood in the room (think: early morning presentation, anyone?)
- Keep people’s attention
- Get people emotionally invested
- Communicate underlying points without just preaching them
- Allow people to reflect on your presentation/content
- Keep things practical!
“Show how the stories relate to what you’re doing, or they can communicate the point you are trying to make. Most people expect the same thing at every safety meeting, but if you don’t do that, and if you do things that are different—such as an unusual story—that alone will help make it more fun and interesting.”
When you add a new element or an interesting approach to storytelling, you can be even more impactful. When Hawk did this at a power facility, he used a parrot on his shoulder when he told stories. “Toby was his name, and he was a blue Macaw. We did all kinds of interactions and tests and competitions with him.”
Not sure where to start? Ask yourself questions like:
- What will I do to make this group feel special?
- How am I going to surprise them?
- Why will they feel secure and eager to open up?
- How will I let them know I like them?
- When will they laugh?
- How can I get them to remember?
These questions can help you craft stories and shape your content. Hawk uses these questions (and others) when he prepares for a speech or training.
Once you have a story identified, it’s time to practice telling the story!
“I hang out at a club near my home. Any time I’m going to include a new story in a talk I tell it several times to the guys at the club… I also tell it to my wife and people I meet during my travels. By the time I tell it in front of an audience I’ve already told it enough times to know when I should pause, speed up, be dramatic or calm,” shares Hawk. “I still make changes for a while depending on the responses I get from audiences. Practicing alone is helpful but not near as much as practicing on a live audience–even if it’s only one person.”
The key point: stay authentic in how you present your information, but stimulate people emotionally. “We all make all our decisions on emotions, and safety is a very emotional subject, too,” says Hawk. It may take some imagination, but that work will pay off.
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