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The Bigger Picture

First, consider what is at stake for the boss in assigning you this project:

You are bringing the boss information and probably suggesting action steps. If the boss decides to make a decision based on your input, the business, for which he is responsible, will change to some degree as a result of the meeting.

So the big boss needs to be reassured that you're deeply into the subject; that you've done your homework; and that you are reliable, responsible, and trustworthy. Your boss's personal reputation is at stake. It always is. New data always involves risk.

So does working with new people. And, unless the boss has worked with you a lot in the past, the boss may not know how to read you.

This is what is at stake for you:

You are in the spotlight. The boss will be examining you closely, making judgments about you. If you do well, your career will be impacted positively. If you drop the ball, you probably will not be able to recover with that company. It's not fair, but it's real. You can't change the way the system works.

So you'd better give it your best shot. Nothing else is more important to your career than how well you handle this kind of special assignment. And your "Brief the Boss" meetings will be the setting in which the boss evaluates you, your thinking, and the state of the project you are on.

Consider this the background as you approach the meeting. Here are the steps we teach in our Communispond Executive Presentation Skills programs:

Step 1: Reestablish the priority of your project.

The best way to do this is to actually quote the boss. Quote a statement he made to you about the importance of the assignment and its timing.

Remember what we said above, "The more of the boss you get into your presentation, the more impressed the boss will be with you."

Recognize that the boss has other things vying for top level attention. A lot has happened in the company since you got your spot on the calendar a week or three weeks ago. Your assignment may not be as urgent now as it was then.

But it's your project and you think it should be. Quoting the boss on the subject reestablishes the project's importance:

When we met last week you said ._._.

Step 2: Lay out the agenda. Make it short. Make it time-bound.

The agenda is headlines only. Once again, you're thinking of your boss's time. You are pleasing your superior immediately by showing that you are prepared and in control. Define up front the items you are going to cover. Any boss who wants to add or subtract topics will do so right there.

And if the meeting is short, "God bless you, my child" is what the boss will be thinking.

Briefing Format (Meeting Time—Twenty Minutes)

  1. Top-line digest of the research

  2. What conclusions we can draw

  3. Suggested next steps on the project

Put the agenda on a chart—no more than four items. It should stay visible for the entire meeting. The boss sees where you are and where you are going. You can recap using the agenda chart. He or she can refer back to an earlier item using the chart. Everyone is a winner.

Step 3: Flesh out the headlines with vital details.

The vital details are those the boss needs to know in order to make sound decisions. But be selective. Give only "need-to-know" details. If a boss wants more, a boss will ask.

What makes details vital? Details are vital when changes are indicated. Details are also vital when the boss wants to be able to predict outcomes, or wants you to.

No data dumps, please. Be selective. You're not holding back because of ignorance. You are holding back because of knowledge, the knowledge of what's important. Less is usually better than more . . . unless asked. Then be prepared to discuss the subject in as much detail as the boss deems necessary.

Step 4: Stick your neck out. Suggest action.

Many times you are only being asked for an update, a status report. Sometimes you are being asked for a recommendation. In both situations you should recommend the course of action you think is indicated.

And why is that? It's because the whole business process is about change and adjusting to change—about problems and finding solutions to problems—about opportunities and moving quickly to take advantage of them.

All of these circumstances require action. Remember the great statement of Aristotle:

Knowledge is not power until it is turned into action.

The way to make a real difference in the boss's life is to recommend actions to improve the situation that you just gave your report on. That way you have turned knowledge into power, assuming the boss agrees. If he or she doesn't, don't be surprised if the boss goes on to explain his or her own solution or his or her preferred next steps. Either way you will be the catalyst for action on the part of the boss. As such, the boss will appreciate your contributions and perceive the meeting was a good one.

And, hey! That's not all bad.

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