Briefing How To’s : Tips and Techniques to Deliver A Briefing Worth Listening To

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.

 

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Leaving the Script Behind

What sets the best presentations and briefings apart from the mediocre ones? It’s the presenter of course. No amount of slides and no script can do what the presenter themselves can for an audience: communicate powerfully and persuade. Real presentation skill is about showing your audience something that’s not on the slides, not on the script. Follow some simple rules that all great presenters use to separate themselves out from others.

The Presenter Is Everything

No two presentations (even using the same materials or messages) are going to be exactly the same and that should never be the goal. Your presentation has to be built around your most powerful tool: yourself. That’s because authenticity is going to be key to informing and in particular, persuading an audience of something. If you follow a script too literally, you’re going to limit that tool to the words you’ve rehearsed instead of staying in the moment and allowing your own passion to show. You have to be confident enough to show each audience who you really are and they can never get that from the script. This is oral communication, so when you present, you simply have to present in an authentic way that allows your audience to see the confidence and belief you have in what you’re saying. That simply can’t come from a memorized script and in fact it’s often why formal presentations and speeches fail; a lack of authenticity. To soar, you need to reveal real truth to the audience about what you’re seeing, why you believe it, and what they’re to do with this information.

Presentations And Briefings Aren’t About Acting

Many times, clients want to know how a successful presentation “looks”, so they can copy whatever they think is working. The truth is, authenticity can’t be copied. You’re going to have to be very clear about what you believe before you get up to present or brief someone else. Your audience is not going to be persuaded of anything if they think you don’t even believe what you’re saying. Don’t be afraid to use “I” in your presentations. What about your own experience or background relates here? We’re often our most relaxed, authentic selves when we’re speaking about our own experiences. If you don’t believe and believe strongly in what you’re saying, find another way to get the information communicated. Save oral presentations of any kind for those areas you’re passionate about. You WILL be judged when you’re standing before others presenting information, so this is the time to make sure they see you at your best.

Perfection Isn’t Your Goal: It’s Successful Communication

Presenters worry that if they don’t follow (or worse, memorize) their prepared script, they’ll blank out or stumble. Your audience isn’t expecting perfection; they’re expecting something interesting, worthwhile and pertinent to them. Focus on the content of what you want to say and make sure that content is built around what you know to be true. If you build your presentation simply around that, your authenticity and passion will far outweigh any minor flaws. You want your audience in the moment with you and focused on some essential information, not on the flawlessness of your reading abilities.

However you present, remember the materials are secondary to you, the presenter. Don’t be afraid to try some different ways of communicating those ideas and to never take a back seat in your own presentations!

Leaving The Script Behind Doesn’t Mean Leaving The Practice Behind

You don’t want to memorize your script because remembering the words will be all you’ll be concentrating on. You want to practice until the essence of the presentation feels right, even second nature, before setting the script aside. The exact words you use are far less important than delivering the right information that’s tailored right to your audience and what you know they need to hear from you. If you doubt this, try putting your far more detailed information into handouts or printed material, and see what happens when your audience simply hears the “essence” of what you’ve come to deliver from you.  They’ll be engaged and hungry for more information, which is exactly what you want. You can add far more detail in the q and a portion once they are engaged and you know what else they want to hear from you.

Just Take The Leap

Start by lifting your briefing or presentation up to its highest levels. Once you decide on your key ideas (no more than three), allow yourself to orally explain each one briefly. Hear what you naturally use as your strongest points behind each idea. Let those ‘bigger’ ideas guide you as you hone your oral presentation. Many if not most presenters simply sit and write their scripts and then try to rehearse and memorize, causing the “inauthenticity” problem of so many oral briefings. Try reversing the process (without the memorization).  You need to hear yourself repeatedly get through the presentation without the script to get closer to what your audience is actually hearing and seeing. Once you get your core ideas down, you can gradually add a bit more; until you’re satisfied your presentation contains only the best of what you want to communicate. After all, that’s what your audience really wants to hear.

You really can present and deliver briefings like a pro! Leave the script behind and let your audience see you at your best, authentic self.

Leaving PowerPoint Behind: No, You Don’t HAVE To Use It

At the Pincus Group, we know better than to try and talk clients out of using their slides when making presentations. At many (if not most) organizations, presentations have simply come to mean an oral talk communicated with the aid of slides. Separating the two, presentation from PowerPoint, is as unthinkable as presenting before others in lounge wear. It’s just not done!

But is that because PowerPoint is widely considered a successful mode of communication? Anyone who has suffered through their share of bad presentations knows the answer. Very often, audience hopes of an interesting presentation are dashed quickly as soon as the lights are dimmed. So if you’re someone who wants to break the mold, doesn’t want to present their ideas using slides filled with bullets and text just because everyone else does, how would you present your ideas?

Ask yourself to consider how you might do things differently:

Bring back the visuals in visual aids

Ask yourself if you could get through a presentation without reading or asking your audience to read. How would that change your presentation? It definitely forces the presenter to be very clear about their purpose and key messages. By putting the burden of communication on the presenter, and excluding text, it forces a shift in the way presenters communicate their ideas. Are there photographs, drawings, or renderings you could use to show your ideas and help your audiences understand them?

Think outside the box

If you do decide to rely on visuals rather than text, think of those ‘visuals’ in the widest possible sense. There might be a simple prop you could use to demonstrate how your ideas work. There might be a video that helps you set the stage for your ideas. Then again, you might try simply interacting with your audience to lead them through how to consider your idea. Think about what your messages are and what your goal is for this audience. What are you trying to get them to understand or be persuaded of?  Removing text from your presentation might force you to find more creative avenues of communication. Remember, everyone loves a good story.

Keep it moving

When presenters use PowerPoint, the materials tend to drive the performance. Presenters often want to address each bullet on each slide, regardless of what their audience may be interested in, or the time allotted, because it’s there.  Without those bullets, with or without visuals, presenters become far more aware of having to reaching their audience successfully. That may mean presenters are motivated to stop for questions along the way, or find new ways of interacting with the audience as they present. A lively engaged audience is far more likely to forget about the time and absorb what’s being communicated.

However you present, remember the materials are secondary to you, the presenter. Don’t be afraid to try some different ways of communicating those ideas and to never take a back seat in your own presentations!

Presentations and Emotional Intelligence: Powering up your presentation

Any good presenter knows the importance of keeping the audience the focal point of the presentation. To be successful, a presenter has to understand not only his or her own subject, but what the audience already knows about it, what they are hoping to learn, and even possible misconceptions  that might stand in the way of their understanding or reaching common ground. It isn’t enough to just keep the audience in mind as you gather your materials and decide on content. To really move and motivate an audience with a presentation, you’ll need to be aware of how the audience is responding to you in the moment.

Emotional intelligence is sometimes defined as the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s self empathetically and appropriately; and to be able to use emotional information to guide behavior. How then is emotional intelligence used to strengthen presentation skills?

Next time you get ready to present, think about how you and your audience are responding to each other and how you can make use of that information to enhance your performance and your results. Some guides to consider:

BUILD IN TIME TO READ YOUR AUDIENCE: This sounds easier than it is. Many presenters think mostly (if not exclusively) about their own performance during a presentation. They understandably want that presentation to go smoothly and without mishap, so are focused on remembering details of what they planned to say, as well as how to get from point to point without missing anything. Master presenters, however, know the test of a great presenter isn’t whether the delivery proceeded without hesitation or that everything you thought you might include was delivered. The emotionally intelligent presenter is aware of the audience’s reaction. Make it a point in every presentation to gauge audience reaction as often as you can. You can do this either by literally stopping occasionally and asking for feedback (“Does this make sense”?  “Everyone agree?” ) or you can simply build in pauses that allow you to gauge reaction yourself.

YOUR AUDIENCE IS COMMUNICATING WITH YOU IF YOU LISTEN:  Audience feedback is often subtle, which is why for many presenters, it’s easy to overlook. Many audiences won’t interrupt your presentation or offer you the kind of verbal feedback that lets you know how you’re being received. The emotionally intelligent presenter checks for non-verbal signs. Are they maintaining eye contact? Are expressions neutral? Interested? Is body language open? Or are they shifting constantly in their seats, avoiding eye contact and giving you other signs of disinterest or disagreement?

TALK BACK: The point of being aware of audience reaction is to react to it. If you sense you might be losing your audience, don’t ignore the signs. Stop and react. If you sense boredom or disinterest, don’t stick to your script. You might quicken your pace or even skip ahead to a different section of your presentation. (“Why don’t we move ahead to some action items.”)  If you sense disagreement, you might react in turn by testing the resistance. “I can see there’s some skepticism. Anyone want to offer some reaction?” That will give you a clue as to whether the resistance or reaction is shared by others or an isolated problem you identified and can quickly address.

TAKE IT IN STRIDE: The purpose of getting audience feedback is to increase your chances of successful communication. Don’t take any negative feedback you get personally, even if you disagree with it or think it unfair. You might even end the presentation portion early in order to devote more time to the q and a section of the presentation, to make sure you’re addressing your audience’s concerns. (I can guarantee that no one will complain about not enough slides, handouts, or data once you’ve gotten through the basics of the presentation.) Keep your additional materials on hand in case someone asks a specific question the additional data can help you explain, but let the audience guide you in when and how much to use.

Emotional Intelligence is now identified as a crucial leadership skill. Remember that displaying it, proving your ability to connect with others right in front of them, will do far more in proving your leadership ability than all the slides, charts and graphs you could possibly display.

Powerful Presentations Depend on Feedback

How do you know your Presentations are Powerful? Get REAL feedback

Presentations are powerful things. When they’re done well, they can persuade an audience, enhance the presenter’s credibility and motivate action. So how do you know when you’re hitting the mark with your audiences?

For most presenters, the answer is to simply ask a colleague or audience member afterwards. The problem is, a simple “How’d I do?” isn’t likely to be answered with an illuminating response. Many people are uncomfortable at giving anything but the most positive or at least neutral feedback (“I thought it was fine.”) Of course, getting helpful and precise feedback is one of the reasons executives hire presentation coaches. You can get good feedback though after your performances if you learn to ask the right questions.

Next time you present:

MAKE FEEDBACK EASY: You can construct a simple feedback survey on index cards to hand out after your presentation if it’s an outside audience. This removes the uncomfortable hurdle for some people of having to tell you in person, should they have anything but positive reactions. Always include at least one open-ended question about what could have been improved. For internal audiences, you might select a few people to ask the same questions via email.

ASK SPECIFIC QUESTIONS: If you know someone who’ll be attending your presentation, ask them ahead of time if they’ll listen for specific things you’re working on. For instance, if you’re working on reducing the “uhms and ahs” or other verbal fillers when you present, tell a colleague to listen for those as you present. If you make it clear that you’re welcoming that feedback precisely, you’re more likely to get accurate feedback on how you did.

PICK YOUR PRIORITIES: Don’t ask for more feedback than you can handle at one time. Select one or two priorities at a time, such as slowing your hurried pace, or making more eye contact with the audience. You’re much more likely to make real improvements by narrowing your focus.

TAKE IT IN STRIDE: The purpose of feedback is to better your performance as a presenter. Consider the feedback you get but don’t use it as a substitute for your own best judgement. If you have good reason for doing what you do, and it’s working for you, take that into consideration as well. Remember, presenting isn’t “acting”, so if any suggested changes make you uncomfortable, stay true to yourself.

Every time you present, you want your audience to see you at your best. Put the effort into improving this key executive communication skill so others can truly appreciate what you have to offer.