PM Articles > Carl Pritchard > Brief Me!

Brief Me!

By Carl Pritchard, PMP, PMI-RMP

Four Quick Tips (from a list of dozens…)

It's management. They want a briefing. It's the customer. They want a briefing. It's your team and you just met with management and the customer. They want a briefing.

The root of the noun "brief" is Latin, breve scriptum -- a short, written note. The emphasis on all of the etymological analyses of the term is on "short."

We are all called upon to brief customers, clients, managers, vendors, and others (even family). Yet it's one of the most daunting challenges we have as managers. Many of us are trained in just about everything except for how to present a powerful, short briefing. These four tools will help you get more out of your next briefing:

  • Names
  • Mnemonics
  • BLUF
  • Power

Names

Your name is a powerful thing. You've been hearing it since the minute you were born. In a crowd, if someone speaks your name, you telescope in on it. (And yes, we do have telescopic hearing.) We quickly give the name focus and attention. So in your next briefing, names matter. Deborah, Deb, Debbie. Rick, Richard, Dick, Ricky. James, Jim, Jamie, Jack. It's a mine field. Some Deborahs bristle at the name "Debbie." Some Anthonys despise "Tony" as a moniker. Tread lightly and don't be afraid to ask. First time presenting to a client? It's always prudent to take a moment before you start and ask for names. Write them down. Even if you never refer to your note, the act of writing can etch the name in your memory.

And rather than simply using "the customer" while explaining a new process, use names! Instead of "Suppose the customer wants a new…," try "Suppose Anthony is your customer, and he really wants a new…." That little conversion brings at least one participant in your briefing to full attention. And that's a start.

Mnemonics

ROY G. BIV is a classic mnemonic. As soon as it popped up on your screen, some of you stopped and ran through the colors of the spectrum. Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet. (And what is the difference between blue and indigo, anyhow?) Trying to get team members to remember the intervals of client intervention for your organization? A simple number sequence can become a mnemonic. Most people can remember any four-digit number through simple repetition. Want them to remember the departments in the reorganization? Purchasing, Legal, Accounting, Communications, Engineering, and Design will be difficult to recall. PLACED will not.

Pound the mnemonic home. It takes at least three rounds of repetition to begin the conversion to rote memory, but mnemonics help.

BLUF

Bottom Line Up Front. You're not telling a long story in a briefing, and if management grows inattentive, you may have less time than you think. Start with the end in mind. Consider starting with the phrase, "ten minutes from now…," completing it with a vision of where you'd like your briefing to take you. Identify victory. Declare the future. You don't have to spend a lot of time telling how you'd like to get there. Just explain where "there" is!

Shockingly, this can make a briefing even briefer. If management concurs with your "there," they may just make it so without an extended conversation. They may just want you to document the specifics for their later review.

Power

If you're the briefer, you have the power to make promises about timing, content, and attitude.

In a briefing, if you're the briefer, you have a surprising amount of power. You have the power to make promises about timing, content, and attitude. Everyone, at one time or another, has seen this power squandered horribly. Imagine the following opening remarks:

"I want to thank you all for being here today. We're going to go through my slide deck for about 40 minutes, with me reading every single slide in a slow-paced monotone. Then we'll take questions at the end from the few of you who didn't already sleepwalk out of the room. I won't digress from the written word, and most of you will endure this because it's a mandatory briefing. Welcome to the Gates of Hades."

No one would stay. Most would look at each other in stunned disbelief. And yet, virtually any professional with more than a few days' experience has sat through such a briefing. Contrast that with an energetic voice saying:

Deanna, Vic, John… everybody. Glad you're here this morning, and glad to know you're walking out of here in 20 minutes with a clear list of action items on what amazing contributions you'll be making to the project over the next three weeks.

It's positive. The briefer is "glad!" The briefing is brief. The deliverables are clear as crystal. We have a direction, and if we're not able to go in that direction, we'll likely understand why. And there's the power of the clock. Even if the briefer had said "60 minutes," that would've been okay as long as she meant it. Remember the clock and be true it. Time is the only non-renewable resource.

None of these four tools require superpowers. None require Svengali-like control. None mandate a depth of wit and storytelling unavailable to mere mortals. Simple efforts in thoughtful consideration of what we'll say and how we'll say it can make your next briefing one to remember.

Carl Pritchard, PMP, PMI-RMP is a keynote speaker, a former presenter's coach, lecturer, training and author who teaches workshops on how to improve your presentation skills. He welcomes your comments at carl@carlpritchard.com




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