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September 2003 - Giving a Briefing

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September 2003

Giving a Briefing

Many briefings lose effectiveness because they are too long. A briefing should be as brief as possible and still cover the subject adequately.

Function. Briefings originated in military settings. Seeing their value for presenting much information, former military members introduced briefings into business settings. Today, briefings are the most common type of presentation in both settings. Sometimes their purpose is to inform-tell about a mission, project, operation, or concept. At times they enable listeners to perform a procedure or carry out instructions. At other times they advocate or seek to persuade listeners to accept a certain solution or way of doing things; they may seek a decision from listeners.

Since a briefing should be brief, don't use extraneous or "nice to know" support. Visual aids are often used to save time and achieve accuracy. Humor is seldom used because entertainment is never a purpose of briefings. Briefings concentrate on the facts. Briefings also generally begin and end according to a prescribed format, designed to save time for the hearers.

Briefings are given to busy people who desire and need to know your information, so don't waste time on a long beginning or ending. A Chief Financial Officer (CFO) briefing the CEO and vice presidents of a bank on its current financial status, a military officer briefing higher ranking officers on a proposal to upgrade enlisted barracks on the base, the chairman of the United Way briefing sector chiefs on progress of the campaign are all examples of briefings.

Beginning. If, as often happens, another speaker introduces you and your subject, you may only need to give a quick overview of the subject and proceed immediately to the main points. Your listeners' familiarity with the subject will determine the length of the overview. In most cases simply mentioning the main points is sufficient. If you are not introduced, you might simply say, "Good morning, I'm _______ briefing on __________. Here are the main points we will cover today." Often, just a couple of seconds before you begin speaking or at the moment you actually begin you may show a PowerPoint slide, chart, or transparency with the title of your presentation, name, and (if appropriate) the name of your company or organization in whose behalf you are speaking. You can use another visual listing your main points. Then get into the body of your talk. If you expect a decision from you listeners at the end of your talk, tell them at the beginning.

Ending. This part of a briefing should be short but positive. Normally you will end by reiterating the main points of the briefing, usually with an accompanying slide or chart showing the points. If you are recommending a particular solution or course of action, say so. Give a brief, clear restatement of the possible solution or course of action you judge best. No new material or commentary should be presented here. You have given the information in the body of the talk. Now conclude quickly. Briefings are to be brief.

Although many briefings are subject to interruption for questions from listeners, many times a good concluding sentence might be: "Ladies and Gentlemen, are there any (further) questions?" If a question period is not to follow, or once the questions have ended, you might simply say, "Ladies and Gentlemen, that concludes my briefing," or "Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today," or "Thank you, I look forward to talking more with you about this concept/proposal/idea." Often the highest-ranking person listening to your briefing or the person conducting the meeting may conclude the question period for you by declaring, for example, "We have no further questions." Depending on the situation you will either say nothing or else a short "Thank you." Usually briefings are one item on a longer agenda. Listeners will be ready to move to the next item. 

This information was adapted from my book, Speaking Effectively: Achieving Excellence in Presentations, Upper Saddle River New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2004, which can be purchased here.

John Kline
Montgomery, Alabama

September 2003 - Giving a Briefing
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