One of the most difficult parts of working with other people is getting the right information. Sometimes it pays to have all the information in one place. One form of this idea is the Briefing Book.
Briefing Books are usually used to give a speaker an overview of a topic before they begin an interview or debate. It’s not an in-depth tutorial, but more of a refresher before the meeting. It will include an overview of what the topic is, what questions are likely to come up and the appropriate answers, an agenda for what should happen, and background info for all the people involved.
For example, in 1963, President Kennedy’s advisors prepared briefing books for a meeting in Honolulu with representatives of the South Vietnam government. It’s what the advisors would review before the meeting to make sure they were prepared with the latest information. It’s very practical instead of academic.
- It starts out with travel plans and a short summary of what to expect: the meeting should be about 8 hours, in a specific room room, with about 100 people.
- It goes on to outline the agenda for the meeting, where each topic has a 3-4 line summary. You can see that if you walked in to the middle of this meeting, you could find your place in the agenda and get up to speed quickly.
- The next section is a political review of the situation, recent events, topics for discussion, and a list of “problem areas”, which look like questions that need to be answered. There are also lists of people expected to be there, with their title and a 1 line summary of their experience, or a description of their position. Some of the leaders also have a separate, longer description of their background. There is also a military summary and a list of maps and charts.
Looking at this briefing book, you can see it was a LOT of work. However, given the importance of running this meeting smoothly, you can see how important it would be to give everyone the same background.
Back to making our lives easier: When would we ever need this?
This much preparation is really only necessary for big meetings where you want to have all the facts at hand. For job negotiations or contract discussions, for example, having an org chart of the other company, pics and bios of the leaders, a list of recent competitors and acquisitions, and salary surveys for your area would be pretty handy. Having answers to common questions pre-planned and written down that are consistent with your message would be invaluable.
It’s all work that we know we should be doing, but a briefing book is a handy, time-honored way to put it together. Using a structure like this can help you spot holes in your research, and once it’s put together it’s a concise record of the picture you had at the time.
Here are some other links:
- Example Briefing Book with explanations.
- Example from Harvard Business School in a Policy Writing class
- Here is a generic briefing book from the Tax Policy Center. Instead of focusing on a specific event, it gives background on the topic of taxes.