Briefing Skills:
How to Deliver a Powerful Message

🕑 5 minutes read | Jun 12 2023 | By Richard Head, TTA Learning Consultant

Briefing skills are absolutely essential in today’s business world. Whether it’s a report to your team, your boss, or to a large group of decision-makers, knowing how to deliver a solid message—and to be believed and trusted—is key. We’ll get into the details of great business presentations in a later post, but, for now, we’ll focus on briefing skills.

Briefing versus Presentation: What’s the Difference?

A briefing is a presentation, but it has something that sets it apart. A briefing is simply a short presentation with a specific, narrow purpose. Briefings are generally of four types: Information, Decision, Project, and Staff.

  • Information: An information briefing informs the listener in order to gain their understanding.
  • Decision: A decision briefing’s objective is to get an answer or a decision.
  • Project: A project briefing provides an update on milestones, reinforces decisions, and provides details and guidance for a project.
  • Staff: A staff briefing looks for a coordinated effort among those responsible for the project.

Be Brief, Be Brilliant, Be Gone

The old military briefing advice applies in the business world, too. An enormous problem with many briefings (and longer presentations, too) is that they’re not…brief. The briefer talks too long and provides too much detail in the formal part of the report. Saving the research details, charts, and in-depth data for a Q&A session or later review pays enormous benefits, particularly if your audience is pressed for time (and what audience isn’t?). Brevity is your friend. As Voltaire said, “The secret of being a bore is to tell all.”

How Do I Structure a Good Briefing? Alan Monroe’s Motivated Sequence

Alan Monroe was a professor of public speaking at Purdue University. Monroe’s famous “motivated sequence,” first detailed in 1951, says the first step is to state the problem the listener or reader is having. If the briefer is trying to get the audience to realize there is a problem that they may not yet recognize, then the briefer has to explain the problem and describe what may occur if the problem isn’t remedied. The audience might initially feel powerless or overwhelmed, but the motivated sequence emphasizes actions the audience can take to resolve the issue.

The five sequential steps are:

  1. Attention: The attention step is audience-focused and uses an attention-getter to catch the audience’s attention.
  2. Need: The topic names the psychological needs of the audience members. Monroe believed that it was most effective to convince the audience that they had specific needs that were being addressed by the presentation.
  3. Satisfaction: Specific and realistic solutions to the problems raised in the previous step are presented to the audience.
  4. Visualization: The solution is then described in such a way that the audience can visualize both the solution and its positive effects.
  5. Action: The audience is then told how to solve the problem using the solution(s) previously presented.

Let’s look at Monroe’s system with an updated version and examples.

AIDA: An Easier Formula for Developing a Compelling Brief

AIDA is an even quicker version of the motivated sequence: Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action.

  1. Attention: This is a “hook” that gets the audience to pay attention. It’s a phrase or very quick story that engages the audience intellectually and emotionally. Example: “We’re going to lose 18% of customers in the next 90 days. There’s nothing we can do to prevent it, and it’s completely our fault.”
  2. Interest: Example: “The reasons for customer loss are clear, they’re stark, and I’ll show how it happened. The good news is that we can regain those customers—and even increase our customer base—if we take the actions I outline.”
  3. Desire: Example: “Here are the steps we can take—at minimal cost—to not only restore our customer base but to renew their confidence in us as their go-to provider.”
  4. Action: Example: “I’m going to outline who does what, when, how, and with what resources. We’ll measure the results and I guarantee we’ll see our customer numbers turn around.”

You’ll notice in the above example that it requires no PowerPoint, Visme, Prezi, etc. No fancy graphics or visual stunts. At this point, we don’t even need graphics. Let’s explain why.

The Mind Works by Ear, Not by Eye. It Also Works by Emotion

In their groundbreaking book, “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind,” Al Ries and Jack Trout studied numerous aspects of advertising and how the human brain responds to advertising messages. In their review of scientific research, they found that while our attention might be grabbed by an image, we make sense of the image—how it’s understood, absorbed, and retained—through words. The old idea that humans are “visual creatures” was stood on its head by research.

Ries and Trout said: “The ear drives the eye. There is much evidence that the mind works by ear. That thinking is a process of manipulating sounds, not images. As a result, you see what you hear, what the sound has led you to expect to see, not what the eye tells you it has been.” It’s scientific research that validates the old phrase, “You don’t know what you think until you put it into words.” Images don’t help us think; words do.

The point that Ries and Trout made is that, if you want your message to be understood, accepted, and stick, it’s your words that will carry the day—not images, not graphics, not PowerPoint.

Sure, you might use some very simple, colorful graphics that directly support your main idea, but remember the adage: Don’t be upstaged by your visuals. You and your words are the message.

Also, use language that’s rich in emotional meaning. People don’t have emotional connections with abstract words and phrases like “protocol, infrastructure, granular, and synergy.” “I feel your pain” has emotional meaning, but “I can relate to your situation” doesn’t. We’re trying to speak to people’s guts, not just their brains.

What’s Your One Big Idea or Takeaway?

  • Answer the one big question for your audience: “Why? Why are you here? Why am I here?” And then provide the answers to those questions as quickly, clearly, and succinctly as possible.
  • You have to have energy and enthusiasm in your brief. Words alone won’t do it. As we noted above, you also have to have an emotional connection. An emotional connection is established with careful word choice and your energy—your passion for your message.
  • Talk conversationally. Don’t use jargon or complicated logic. Your audience usually knows less than you do, which is why you’re there. Don’t be afraid to simplify your message initially. You can always expand and complicate things later, during Q&A.

Briefing Skills Help You Shine

Briefings are a great way for you to gain valuable experience as a trusted source of data, information, knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. Putting time and effort into getting better at briefing skills will pay benefits long into your career.

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