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Building Better Briefings

May 2018- By Carl Pritchard, PMP®, PMI-RMP®, Apex Systems Contributor and an internationally recognized author, lecturer and trainer


And so, in conclusion, I believe we should march forward on the new approach, although I can see that you’ve all fallen asleep because my 20-minute presentation was so tedious and data-rich that no normal human being could avoid slipping into the arms of Morpheus.

We’ve all been there. It’s a challenging thing. Trying to create a briefing that will engage the audience and sell our point is no mean feat. Yet if we stick to a handful of basic rules, it’s do-able. And it’s do-able consistently.

The key to rendering a briefing effective can summed up in three words: First things first.

And then, the real sales pitch requires another three words: Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

First Things First

In the military, it’s often referred to as BLUF...Bottom Line Up Front. Ponder the end of your next briefing. “In conclusion...” Whatever you might say after those fateful words should be in the opening line of your briefing. In some cases, you can actually conclude briefings in a quarter of the time if you have a clear understanding of where it’s going and you share that direction with your audience.

Some briefers believe they can only reveal where they’re going after a substantial lead-in to the story. What they should realize, instead, is that the lead-in provides the audience an opportunity to build up their challenges and their rationale for why the suggestions are bad ideas. Brevity is not only the “soul of wit” (as Shakespeare called it), it is also the soul of agreement.

Briefings are called briefings for a reason. Brief. Short synopses of what’s transpired or transpiring. In a good briefing, this synopsis will incorporate a call to action, as well.

When we’re done here, I expect you will... When I’m through, I hope you will... We’ll be walking out of here in 10 minutes, hopefully in total agreement on the next steps.

In some briefings, participants have no idea why they were invited, even as the briefing draws to a conclusion. Explain their role, and they’ll have more of a rationale to invest themselves in the decision or conversation.

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

The old journalistic maxim was to “Tell them. Tell them again. Then, tell them that you told them.” It sounds potentially tedious, but it doesn’t have to be. In a good briefing, after you explain the bottom line, then it’s a matter of reframing the bottom line from different perspectives. The options are virtually boundless!

After the first telling, you can...

  • Repeat your call to action as a story. Fill it in with names and characters and depth to provide some insight on the human impact of what you’re suggesting. If the audience doesn’t understand why they should support you based on the bottom line alone, the incorporation of characters and humans goes a long way toward giving them an understanding of the influence of the primary point.

  • Repeat your bottom line as an analogy. You often need go no further than the front page of the local newspaper. The page 12 story about a crane collapse or the page 22 story about a little girl whose lemonade stand was robbed actually draw your participants in more closely to your story, no matter what it is. Avoid the political, of course, but seriously consider the stories that truly touch your audience. While everyone has different views on politicians, most people can concur on tragedy, puppies and small children.

  • Repeat your bottom line as a future state of being. Don’t dwell on the process it will take to carry out your plan. But talk about your bottom line in the past tense. Explaining how the world looks different in ten years, thanks to approval of your bottom line, opens a new way to share an older perspective. The year is 2028...

  • Let them repeat the bottom line from their perspective. One particularly powerful way to do this is to let them write down the 3-5 words that best capture their understanding of what the briefing’s subject will do for them or to them. If you have multiple participants in the briefing, this can give you a chance to sift through their feedback to highlight or isolate those that drive home your point in ways you might have otherwise overlooked.

In all of these, you’re building buy-in and concurrence. You’re keeping it brief, but you’re telling them, telling them that you told them, and telling them again.

And since briefings are lessons in basic salespersonship, remember to go for the close. If you’re not getting your desired reaction, reaffirm your call to action. Ask them to sign off, nod, applaud, agree, or signal that they understand what you seek and that they are ready to buy in. The more quickly you can get even a single voice to offer concurrence, the sooner your briefing will gain widespread approval and endorsement. And with widespread concurrence? You can’t lose!

Carl Pritchard, PMP®, PMI-RMP®, is an Apex Systems Contributor and an internationally recognized author, lecturer and trainer. He is the author of seven texts in project management, and serves as the U.S. Correspondent to the UK Project Management magazine, Project Manager Today. He produced the Audio PMP Prep: Conversations on Passing the PMP® Exam with Bruce Falk (just released for PMBOK Guide 6th Edition). And he’s hosting Seminars at Sea, sailing from Baltimore October 2018. He welcomes your feedback at Follow him on Twitter at @carlpritchard and @pmpprep

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