Have you ever been in “The Zone”?  “The Zone” is described as a tunnel-vision experience and an extreme focus. “The Zone” is reported by athletes, soldiers, and researchers.  When I was growing up, I usually played right field but one day in sixth grade, I went to school and forgot to take my softball glove. At PE, the coach told me to play shortstop to teach me not to forget my glove. I remember vividly getting in “The Zone.” I was fielding every ball that came to me, sometimes one handed, starting the double play at second base or throwing the batter out at first. I even caught one pop fly over my shoulder just like Willie Mays. Afterwards, the guys asked me why I didn’t play like that every day. I had never heard of “The Zone” before, but I found it that day.

Getting you and your students in “The Zone” 

Safety trainers and their attendees should strive to get in “The Zone” to get the most benefit from the session. I have witnessed quite a few knowledgeable trainers give fact-based and accurate presentations but simply not connect with the audience.

The essentials of strong and effective training include:

•Relevance – employees want to understand their machinery, their work environment, their employer’s procedures and expectations, and the hazards and controls relevant to what they do every day.

•Hands-on activities – employees should handle the hardware that they will use, operate the equipment under the tutelage of an experienced operator, and try on the protective equipment they need.

•Memorable – games, contests, competitions, stories about the subject from either the instructor or classmates. A key element of adult safety training is connecting with your audience, the first step in getting in “The Zone.”

Five tips for connecting with your audience

I have taught hundreds of safety courses to thousands of managers, supervisors and employees, at a wide variety of workplaces in about 15 countries. After 40 years of providing safety training, I’ve discovered a few tips to help you connect with your audience.

1. Storytelling

Storytelling might help skeptics understand the point of the training. Storytelling might turn a statistics or standards based-training session into real situations that the audience has experienced.  Storytelling might help the audience to remember a key point.   

A personal story:  A maintenance manager at a U.S. manufacturing plant was, according to the plant safety manager, a naysayer and curmudgeon about safety. The safety manager warned me that the maintenance manager might be trouble in the class. As it turned out, the maintenance manager did not appear to be very interested in the training, but remained a gentleman throughout the course. Several weeks later, the safety manager told me that the maintenance manager had been affected by a story I told in class about investigating an accident when I worked for North Carolina OSHA.  

My story was about an employee who had lost two fingers on a saw and the repercussions that accident had on his family. The maintenance manager, who had two children, used the same type of saw in his company’s shop and thought about how an accident to any of his employees might affect family life. Safety professionals do not get that type of feedback very often, but it indicates that even those least likely to respond to our message can be affected.

2. Challenge questions, games and prize

Safety Jeopardy, Safety Hangman and Safety Bingo are common games that instructors use, including me. I also include Challenge Questions during my presentations. For example, if you are teaching about oxygen / fuel gas burning and cutting, ask the group to provide the persons, year and country that the patent for the modern oxygen / fuel gas cutting and burning rig was obtained. If you are discussing aerial lifts, ask the group what the letters JLG (a leading brand of aerial lift) stand for. Allow research only during breaks, lunch and after class. Give a prize to the first person who has the correct answer.

3. Minor class disruptions

I appreciate when my attendees are enjoying themselves. When the small group conversations start to cause some minor disruption, I ask the person who appears to be the ring leader a question such as “Joe, what are you stirring up back there?” That generally gets a laugh and either the discussion is shared with the entire group, or that quiets the disrupters.  

When the entire group is getting rowdy usually just after lunch or a break, with great fanfare I take a $20 bill out of my wallet, hold it up, and state, “I have a real 20 dollar bill in my hand that I would like to give someone.”  That always quiets the group, and then I put it back in my wallet. Someone will ask, “What about the $20?” I respond that I didn’t say I was going to give someone the $20, just that I would like to. That always gets a laugh or a groan.  

When there are group conversations that erupt after a surprising statement by me, such as an OSHA guarding requirement, or a specific piece of personal protective equipment that should be worn for a specific task, and an attendee wants to ask a question about that comment, I state loudly enough to be heard over the roar “Let’s give Jane our full and undivided attention.” Always effective.

4. Questions to elicit stories

 I like to ask questions to the group such as “Has anyone here ever needed to use an eyewash?” “Has anyone here ever gotten their clothing caught in a piece of equipment?” It is quite common for someone to answer yes and I ask them to tell the group their story. It is also quite common for attendees to say to the group during a discussion, “Look what happened to me,” and they show the group a missing finger or a scar. These personal stories are very effective at showing the group what can happen.

For example, I was discussing the hazards of a mushroomed head on a chisel and how OSHA 1910.242(a) requires employers to provide safe tools. An attendee raised his hand and said, “That’s what happened to me. I struck a chisel with a mushroomed head, and a small sliver broke off and entered the back of my hand. I didn’t think much about it until it got infected. The hand surgeon had to cut out that dead area in the back of my hand and here is the divot to prove it.” He didn’t mind showing the group the consequences of using an unsafe tool. That type of contribution to the discussion happens frequently.

5. Hazards in the classroom

 One additional technique to consider is to point out the risks in the classroom. More often than not, there are hazards in a classroom. If the hazards are significant, I correct them before class starts. If the hazards are minor, I start the session by pointing out those hazards or ask the group to find them, such as a partially blocked exit due to the layout of the tables and chairs in the room, a blocked fire extinguisher, a light bulb in an exit sign burned out, a broken receptacle face plate, improper use of an extension cord, etc.  Then we have a good discussion on why the situation existed, or in other words, why the safety management system failed and allowed that situation to exist. It’s a good idea to correct the minor situations, too.


As an instructor you know you’ve connected and reached “The Zone” when all eyes in the room are on you and your attendees are waiting for your next comment, your next story, and your next example. It might not be the same as what Beyoncé or Tom Brady feels, but your connection with the group has a better chance of saving a hand, an eye or even a life.