Why I Won’t Be Speaking At Next Year’s National Safety Council Conference and Expo

by Phil La Duke

Today I received a form email inviting me to submit abstracts for next year’s National Safety Council’s Conference and Expo in Indianapolis.  The subject line read “we need your expertise”  The body of the email extolled the benefits of speaking at the NTC  and finished with:

“You play a crucial role and as a result more injuries can be prevented and lives saved, Submit a presentation and unleash your potential to influence m ore than 14,0000 safety, health, and environmental professionals from the US, Canada, and more than 60 other countries.”

As many of you know I have spoken at the NSC before; eight times to be exact. So why you may ask would I so resolutely refuse to even submit an abstract.  Were the last eight times so horrible? No.  In fact, despite from delivering on none of the promises in the quote above (if you think you are going to be speaking to an audience of 14,000 you are delusional, and “60 other countries” seemed like a stretch, I enjoyed speaking at the NTC and despite having not a single piece of business come from speaking there, it did afford me the opportunity to meet and reconnect with many of you. So if I enjoyed doing the shows, and 8 consecutive years of them accepting me as a speaker, one would think that they at least at one point thought I was a speaker worthy of a slot, why don’t I do it anymore?

It wasn’t a lack of attendance at my sessions, some were so full that they were standing room only. Nor was it because people were unhappy with me as a speaker.  My presentation skills, knowledge of the subject…in fact all questions related to me as presenter were, as best as I can recollect, scored either good or excellent.  So why don’t I submit abstracts? The one area of my reviews that consistently hovered around neutral was the subject matter.  This is puzzling to me, I mean, these aren’t SURPRISE topics.  They are, after all, featured in the program and advertised on the website.  I have never once proposed one topic and then delivered another nor have I ever used the NSC pulpit as the setting for a pitch for my services.

I was told by Hilda Koskiewicz, (Conference Program Manager, National Safety Council
hilda.koskiewicz@nsc.org  Phone: (630) 775-2037 drop her a line, I’m sure she would love to hear from you, whether you support them blackballing me or oppose it) that they have a new way of selecting speakers.  After aggregating the scores they dropped the half of the speakers with the lowest scores, then they divided the group in half again and gave preference to those who scored in the highest quadrant.  She even made a snide comment that perhaps I should work on my presentation skills.

The selection process seems suspect, but given that I came right out and asked Hilda why year after year they had Scott Geller and Charlie Morecraft as keynote speakers when so many people at the conference rolled their eyes at the mere mention of the fact.  Don’t get me wrong, I have known Charlie for decades and I think he has a compelling and important message, and Lord knows SOMEONE has to keep selling Scott Geller’s books, but every year on essentially the same subject as a keynote?

And it can be rightfully said that after eight years I too had become passé and people didn’t want to hear me, so how can I condemn the NSC for putting them on the docket every year and then complain (for the record I am not complaining, I’m explaining, but it’s a small point) that I get left out? I can’t.  Like so much in safety you just have to walk away from fights you can’t win.

Perhaps it has nothing to do with my open contempt for Scott Geller’s work and has more to do with the NSC’s ferocious defense of Behavior Based Safety.  The NSC has numerous publications, services, and other offerings that still cling to what many consider antiquated thinking in safety, and having someone like me who openly and vociferously opposes the idea that we should focus exclusively on behaviors in favor of a more holistic approach.

So what will I do instead, well for starters I am going to make more of a concerted effort to write this blog with more regularity, although I prefer not to post anything than to post something just for the sake of doing so.  I will continue writing for Entrepreneur twice a week (if you missed the first 57 stories they can be found here: https://www.entrepreneur.com/author/phil-la-duke I would sure appreciate you helping get the word out that these stories are out there by sharing from within the article.  Since this is how they determine who to keep and who to ditch your voice makes a big difference.  I could also use your help spreading the word on this blog, since LinkedIn has auto-kicked me out of several groups because I post from here to the groups to which I belong.  Beyond that, I am open for suggestions.  I’d love to do more speaking en-gagements but well…I need your help in finding venues that aren’t easily spooked.

Irrespective as to whether I fade off into the sunset, a safety rabble rouser has been or if I continue to build an audience through my articles I’m still out here, flying the flags of discontent, and ignoring spelling and grammar just to get under the skin of the uptight safety goofballs; a voice crying out in the wilderness of safety.