The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta recently posted a blog post giving sage advice on what you should do in the event of a zombie attack. Primarily it is a list of the things you should include in an emergency supply kit, planning meeting points and evacuation routes. Oddly these are similar to the kind of things you should do in the event of other natural disasters, such as hurricanes, tornadoes or even an epidemic.
So why did the CDC make their post about zombies? Well, because it got attention. (It also enabled me to answer the relevant question on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me this past weekend). If a few people read that post because of the title and retained some of the information in it, enough to perhaps make a preparedness kit or a list of emergency contact numbers, then it is a few more people that will be better off if something bad really does happen.
This lesson applies in chemical safety presentations as well. I have been in more than a few safety talks that, well, put me in a zombie-like state. If the speaker is able to engage his audience a little then it will be a bit less painful for everyone. Using the ridiculous but funny situation above, what would your lab do if there was a plague of zombies outside? I suspect it will be very much like the shelter in place protocols we have drawn up for tornado sightings. Using the fantastic or humorous versions of the situations you are discussing makes people pay more attention.
You don’t have to use zombies. Funny pictures on the slides (often depicting the WRONG way to do things) give the audience a laugh and make the point. Actually doing a stand-up routine is more than likely going a bit too far, but the odd joke is OK.
Audience participation is another approach. A contest or questions directed to the audience, with possible prizes at stake. Something getting the competitive juices flowing means less people looking out the window and zoning out. But it doesn’t have to be a competition, questions asked will usually get replies and if the subject is suitable you can get everyone following along – we had a safety meeting on stress one time in which we scored ourselves for how stressful our lives were.
It is not easy to present what can be very dull topics like proper waste management without losing the interest of the very people you need to inform. But it is worth a little time and thought spent on how to make it a little less tortuous for everyone.