NFL legend Terry Bradshaw gave the opening keynote address at the 2016 National Safety Congress. The message I expected and the one he delivered were two entirely different things.
With Bradshaw as a keynote speaker for the opening day of the National Safety Congress in Anaheim, Calif., I expected a discussion about teamwork and motivation and how they can impact the goal of achieving fewer preventable injuries. After all, the theme of this year’s Congress is “Make Building a Safer Workplace a Reality.”
In fact, Deborah A.P. Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council, in her opening remarks, focused on starting with your team to eliminate injuries and illnesses and moving on to the entire facility and then the corporation and eventually the country.
She asked audience members to stand up if they thought it is possible to eliminate all preventable workplace injuries. Many in the audience stood. She amended her question to ask if audience members thought they could eliminate preventable workplace injuries at their facility or among their team members. Nearly every audience member stood.
Hersman called eliminating preventable workplace injuries a “moon shot,” something that seems impossible until someone attempts it and succeeds. “You don’t have to solve the big number,” she told the audience. “You just have to solve your number.”
Hersman’s message struck me as particularly relatable. One of my favorite “jokes” is how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. If you want to reduce preventable injuries, start with your team, then your facility. Share learnings, use “wins” with one group to motivate more employees to achieve similar results, show employees that everyone can impact preventable injuries and reduce those numbers.
Part of her message was that great results only could be accomplished through teamwork and motivation; a perfect transition to a former professional football player, television announcer and actor – in other words, someone who relies on a team to succeed.
One of the first things Bradshaw said was, “The National Safety Council and I have a lot in common.” After all, he said, the council is all about preventing injuries, and he is “all about preventing injuries to me.”
I understand that a motivational keynote speaker is not there to directly address the topic – in this case, eliminating preventable injuries – they are there to motivate the audience to do something about it. Keynote speakers offer stories or personal experiences that generally relate to the topic and show the connection between their message and experience and that of the audience.
Bradshaw tried to do that, explaining that he’s been in situations where his ankle became wrapped in bailing wire as it was spooling, he’s been kicked by horse, stampeded by cattle, gored by cattle and bitten by a dog.
“I don’t want to die stupid,” he said. “I’m a man who’s conscientious about being severely injured.”
Bradshaw continued, saying he knows that if he wants to get something accomplished he needs to work with other people. He then went on to insult – in a joking manner – many of the people with whom he currently works or with whom he played football. Many of his stories are told with a wink and laugh, but a few of them have an underlying bite.
He took a couple of detours in his remarks to offer a touching story about writing a love letter to his wife, saying he wanted to be with her for the rest of his life. Because, he joked, "The last one cleaned me out,” taking his home, his dogs and most of his other belongings.
From there, he launched into another story about meeting his current wife (his fourth) at a truck stop as she was receiving an award for being the safest truck driver and how she had a tattoo on her arm that said “Stud.”
He later encouraged audience members to shake hands, hug and kiss one another, saying, “You will never regret the day you shake someone’s hand, hug ‘em or give them a kiss on the cheek.”
“Everybody ought to be happy,” he said, “And if you’re not, don’t tell anyone. People want to be around other people who are happy.”
He then said, “You don’t get hurt when you’re happy.” (Unfortunately, happy employees do get killed and injured.)
He talked about joking around with his coworkers on Fox NFL Sunday, and then went on to share that he does virtually no preparation for his stints as a panelist on the show. When his camera – No. 4 – turns on, he said, he opens his mouth and starts talking.
I don’t know of any successful EHS professional who believes that zero preparation is the best way to approach any workplace project or situation, let alone protecting employees from occupational illness and injuries so maybe that part of his message would be called a "fumble" on the football field.
Motivational speakers can be, well, motivating. They can make us look at situations in a different light, fire us up about what’s important to us, show us new ways to collaborate and make us proud of our professions. I feel like Terry Bradshaw missed an opportunity to share some of the secrets of his success as a team member and team leader. As a man who has depended on teammates and coworkers for a lifetime of success – and as a quarterback who led his team to four Super Bowl championships – I expected more.
If you saw his presentation at the National Safety Congress, I’d love to know what you thought in the comments below.