Briefing, noun brief·ing \ˈbrē-fiŋ\: an act or instance of giving precise instructions or essential information.
Briefing isn’t just another word for presentation. A briefing is designed to point the listener toward “precise instruction or essential information” according to Webster’s definition. In practical terms, that means the essence of your job as a briefer is to facilitate some kind of action.
That means the first thing to ask yourself before putting together your briefing is why you’ve been asked to give it. You can’t develop your key points if you don’t know how or why this information is going to be used, or exactly what piece of information you gather will be the most useful to the person you’re briefing. The essential work for any briefer is in the preparation and in knowing your audience, what he/she or they might need, and then delivering it. If you want to hit the mark with every briefing you deliver, follow these best practices:
START AT THE END
You can’t brief well if you don’t know where you’re heading. Remember, this is a talk with a specific purpose, designed to deliver essential information for a decision maker. What’s the conclusion you’re going to reach? Get that up front and build your briefing from these “messages.” Don’t keep your target audience waiting and wondering what all this adds up to. You want to state your case and then spend the bulk of your time proving it by adding the essential information that led you there.
KEEP FOCUSED ON THE WIN
Remember this isn’t about everything your target audience needs to know. It’s about the ESSENTIAL things he/she or they need to know NOW in order to make a decision. Stay focused on the WIN, What’s Important Now. That means you want to distill your information to a few key points and back those up with your best verifying information. Then let the person you’re briefing guide you to any more detail in the question and answer portion of the briefing.
STAKE A CLAIM
This is no place for a wishy-washy, “on the one hand-on the other hand” type of dissertation. Briefings, remember, have a particular purpose. Don’t wait for your target audience to ask you, “So what’s your conclusion?” or “Which of these options do you think is best?” The whole point is to state a case and prove it. If your target wants you to talk about a different option, that’s fine as well, but be ready to make your case either way. You’ll have to stick your neck out to be a useful briefer. This isn’t just a random collection of information you’re delivering. Even if the best you can do is a briefing that concludes “we need more time” or “we don’t know yet,” make sure it’s clear why this is your conclusion and stand behind it.
REMEMBER TO BELIEVE WHAT YOU’RE SAYING
Never deliver a briefing with conclusions that you don’t believe yourself. This isn’t acting. Your usefulness to a decision maker demands credibility. Make sure you can deliver that to the best of your ability, in every briefing, every time.
Aileen Pincus is President and CEO of The Pincus Group, Inc., providing tailored presentation training and media coaching to executives worldwide, with headquarters in Washington, DC.