Face-to-face communication with line managers is most people's channel of choice when it really matters. That's why briefings and other face-to-face interactions are central to employee engagement.
BE CLEAR ABOUT YOUR PURPOSE
Be clear about what your briefing is aiming to do. What is the desired outcome? Is the briefing about delivering a set of key messages or is it more about achieving buy-in? What do you want people to leave with – knowledge, motivation, inspiration, pride? Be clear about where you want to end up, or you might get lost along the way.
A QUESTION OF BALANCE
Prepare your agenda to reflect the items your audience believes are the most important. Don't automatically schedule commercial priorities over and above people priorities – the audience is likely to have more commitment to commercial priorities if they can be confident the people issues are high on the agenda too. And mix local news with corporate items, linking everything back to the big picture for the organisation.
KEEP IT RELEVANT
Try and identify the “What's in it for me?” element of each agenda item. Drill down to identify the effect/benefit/impact/input required at a grassroots level. If staff understand the relevance to them as individuals, they are more likely to engage.
GET TO KNOW YOUR MATERIALS
You will often be given a set of briefing materials – maybe a core brief or a set of slides. Spend time going through this material well in advance (not five minutes before the meeting) and prepare how you will handle the briefing. Make sure you are entirely comfortable with what you are being asked to do before going ahead.
SING FROM THE SAME HYMN SHEET
Liaise with other managers to ensure consistency, even if it's no more than sharing your communication materials. Where the same news is being communicated in other areas, try to schedule events concurrently – this avoids the possibility of Chinese whispers that can damage even the best-laid plans. If you are one of several speakers at an event, make time to collaborate and share content with colleagues beforehand. That way you won't steal each other's thunder and you can build on what others say. If you're all using slides, it presents a more united image if you use a common template.
BE CLEAR ABOUT THE BENEFITS OF ATTENDING
When inviting people to a briefing, paint a picture of what the audience can expect and what is expected of them. Don't leave people in doubt as to what the briefing is about and what they will get from attending.
GET THE PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT RIGHT
You can't always get a meeting room, but you can always make the communications environment as conducive to engagement as possible. So get the basics right. Not too hot, or too cold. Not too noisy. No interruptions. And nothing going on behind you that is more interesting than your briefing, for example a window with a view out to the park, or a notice packed with information on the bonus scheme.
DELIVER ON TIME
Deliver briefings on time. Be well prepared and don't be the last to arrive. Never cancel a planned briefing without a very good reason. Your people could misinterpret the reasons for the cancellation. They'll guess at your motives and they won't always get them right
A QUESTION OF STYLE
Once you know the content of your briefing, think about the style in which you deliver it. Should this be a formal slide-based event or is it more appropriate to use a round-table discussion format to make it more interactive? Be creative – especially if you want to involve people or engage them in a subject that's dry and detailed. Think about your own presentation and facilitation styles and make sure you, and other speakers, are prepared.
ADOPT THE RIGHT TONE
Make sure your tone reflects the content you are delivering. If this is good news, sound happy. If it is bad news, your tone of voice should reflect that. Newsreaders are a great source of inspiration. Watch how they do it and build the bits you like into your personal style.
SPEED AND INTONATION
Vary the speed of your delivery to give light and shade to your face-to-face communications. And think about your intonation. Your audience will take a cue from the emphasis you place on certain words and from the pitch you use. Want proof? Think about the last time you heard the classified football results. You can predict the result from the intonation of the voice.
DON’T JUST READ THE SCRIPT
Don't just read out your materials, bring them to life. Elaborate on them, add local examples. It shows you know your subject and it encourages your audience to listen to you rather than read the slides.
START WITH A BANG, FINISH WITH A FLOURISH
People remember the first and last things you say, but often “check out” in the middle. This effect is called primacy and recency. So, start with a bang. Tell people what you are going to tell them and what the benefits of listening will be. And make sure you end on a high too, often by reminding people of your key messages. You should spend just as long thinking through how you are going to end as you do thinking about how to get started.
ALL IN THE TIMING
Statistically, the optimum length of a briefing, in terms of message retention, is around half an hour (well, 27 minutes to be strictly accurate). That may be longer than is practical, but if you have the luxury of longer then break the session up into smaller modules. You can only ever have one beginning and one end, but you can have too much middle, when you'll see people checking out mentally.
WATCH THE NEWS
News shows are a great way to remember some of this stuff. They last around 30 minutes. They begin with the headlines (tell them what you are going to tell them – utilising the primacy effect). Then they tell you the news. Then they end by repeating the headlines (telling you what they've told you and taking full advantage of the recency effect).
STOP THEM CHECKING OUT
Sometimes you can look in to the eyes of your audience and find the lights are on, but nobody is at home. To keep people engaged, try positioning some material in the middle of your briefing that you know the audience will be interested in, and refer to the fact that you'll be getting to this bit in a minute. It does wonders for keeping people on the edge of their seats (the front edge that is!)
WATCH THE NEWS II
Bang in the middle of the news on independent TV, just when we are most likely to check out, we are given further reason to do so because of the adverts. The solution: “Still to come in the news tonight...” We are tempted with all sorts of reasons to stay tuned. This technique works so well it has been adopted by news shows on channels that don't have adverts.
WATCH YOUR BODY LANGUAGE
Your words only account for about seven to ten per cent of communication. The rest comes from the way you say it. So try to match your body language to your message. For example, don't say you are keen to hear people’s views because they are very important to you, while looking like you'd rather they went away. People are good at reading body language (as a species we've been doing it longer than we've had vocal language), and they'll spot inappropriate body language in seconds. Watch your language and don't come across as a fraud.
LEAVE TIME FOR QUESTIONS
Dedicate at least a third of the time you have allocated for your session to questions. Resist the temptation to simply fill the time with your voice. However eloquent and entertaining you might think you're being, for people to be engaged they need a chance to ask questions, contribute their views and ideas and test out what they've been told. Include time for informal discussion and Q&As to break up the formal presentations. Interaction helps develop an open and engaged culture.