by Steve Adubato, PhD
You have to hold a public briefing or meeting to inform a particular audience about some important or pressing matter. It's not exactly a press conference, and you aren't the President, the governor or Rudy Giuliani, but a public briefing can be very similar to a press conference. So whether you are an employer talking to employees, a school superintendent or a principal speaking with parents, or any professional who must conduct a public briefing, consider the following tips;
Introduce yourself and those who are part of your support team who may be answering specific questions as specialists or experts in a given area. Don't assume people know who these people are. Establish their credentials right from the beginning.
Deliver a brief statement, which should also be available in print. This statement should identify your main message and a brief description of the key points you want to communicate. I emphasize the words "brief" and "key" because you must be disciplined in how much information you communicate. People want and need only so much information. The more points you try to make, the less likely you most important points will resonate with your audience.
Establish the ground rules for how and when questions can be asked. Don't allow your audience, no matter how revved up they might be, to take control of the event. The key is for your organization to be in control and ensure that things remain calm and focused. The best thing to say is, "I'm looking forward to your questions, I only ask that you present them one at a time. That requires each of us to be courteous of others. I assure you I will answer every question, if you give me the opportunity."
Don't talk over a questioner. It's rude and only raises people's frustration level. Allow each person to get his or her full question out. Further, acknowledge the question and the questioner. Make sure that after you have responded the questioner understands your response, even if he or she doesn't agree. Get in the habit of asking, "Have I answered your question fully?" People appreciate that.
Clearly define the role of each person on the briefing team. For example, in New York City when Mayor Giuliani holds a press conference, police commissioner Bernie Kerik handles police matters, while the health commissioner handles specific health issues. The key is for each team member to know what they are expected to address and not step on the toes of their colleagues. If there is any confusion, the lead person conducting the briefing should take control and clarify things.
Don't argue or debate with questioners unless you see no other option. The purpose of this briefing is not to win an argument, but rather to share information and instill a sense of confidence that things are under control.
Even when you're not speaking, each member of the briefing team should remain alert, aware and listen to what is being said. Avoid being distracted or looking all over while another team member is speaking. You are a team and you need to look and act like a team.
Finally, while it is essential to have one main message, it is even more important to have one main messenger. That person must be an exceptional public communicator who is confident he or she can deal with any situation that arises. This person must not resent conducting the briefing, but rather appreciate the opportunity to share valuable information and ease people's anxiety or clear any confusion.