What a 2LT needs to know about briefings

Hello future leaders of our United States Army.  My name is Michael Fraley and I am attending the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth and I have been given the opportunity to share some experiences with you. 

A little about me.  I was a regular Army Ordnance officer for 10 years with an additional two years in the Kentucky National Guard.  I attended Eastern Kentucky University on a 4-year ROTC scholarship.   I have served in multiple leadership, staff, and command positions in Germany, Oklahoma, Iowa, and taught ROTC in West Virginia.  I am currently serving as an Army civilian with US Army TACOM with the New Equipment Training group.  I have briefed at many different levels including 4-star generals, the Sergeant Major of the Army, Senior Executive Service leaders and many levels inbetween.  I have multiple years as an instructor for soldiers, cadets, and civilians and have experienced most things that can happen in a classroom short of a death (close call) and a birth.

SUCCESSFUL  Briefings begin with being prepared.  You have to know more about your topic than your audience and the only way to know your audience is research.  One of the first questions that you should ask is “who am I speaking to and what is the primary message I want to pass on to them.”  You are in a position of power and authority simply because you are the speaker. 

Your audience expects to learn something from you and they will give you the benefit of the doubt that you are the “expert” on what you are going to present.  This is absolutely true until you have been introduced and you are standing in front of them and say “Hello”.  Now your audience will be interested in you and only you.  They will look at your appearance, your haircut, your clothing, your mannerisms, if you bring coffee or water to the podium, if you are fidgeting, if you are sweating, if you mumble, if you are a statue behind the podium, if you talk to the slides, if you read the slides, if you say annoying phrases over and over and over (uh, ok, right).  They are consciously or unconsciously trying to find fault.  Not nice, but reality.  The secret to winning this initial skirmish is to get their attention  up front and focus on your presentation, not on you.  Some folks can tell jokes (make sure you have a sense of humor and it is an appropriate joke) some folks play a movie clip, some folks just start talking about their topic.  BLUF: Use the technique that is right for you and try not to be someone you are not. 

I know this is a lot of pressure knowing that your entire audience is looking at you trying to find fault, but knowing this up front will actually give you the edge.  You will be prepared, you will be rehearsed, your appearance will be flawless, and you will have done the research ahead of time to prepare you for the sharpshooting that will begin, hopefully, at the end of your presentation. 

The number one fear of most people is public speaking.  It is OK to be scared, it is OK to be nervous, it is not OK to be unprepared.

    • kuarmyrotc
    • September 4th, 2009

    My name is MAJ Brian Heverly, an ADA turned MP Officer. I have had the privilege of serving at the Division level as a Lieutenant. Briefing in front of folks that waaay outranked me was quite daunting at first. However, there are a few things that will make your briefing process and the actual briefing go a lot smoother. Now, some folks will tell you all sorts of tricks: Stare at the back of the room, don’t make direct eye contact (bad idea), imagine your audience naked (not always smart), the list goes on. The easiest thing that I have found is to take a deep breath and remember, if you put the brief together, you are probably the most knowledgeable one on the subject in the room. With that in mind the briefing goes a lot smoother. Be precise is another tip. More likely than not the commander you are briefing is a busy person; they don’t have time for too much background or too many details. Make your point and move on to the next slide. Speaking of slides, they should speak for themselves…if you aren’t there, the audience should be able to figure out what you mean to say. If there is a decision that you want the commander to make then mention it up front so he or she can be thinking about it while you are briefing. Just a few ideas that have worked for me in the past.

    As far as staff roles…you will come across a wide variety of methods on division of labor amongst the staff. That will be a product of the commander or XO, as he “runs” the staff. In brief, the S1 takes care of all things admin, OERs, awards, visitors, the CDR’s schedule, etc. The S2 is your security person, they take care of intel when deployed and mainly security clearances when at home station. The S3 is the center of the universe in most instances. Nothing happens in the BN without he/she at least knowing about it. Now, sure there are some admin things and maybe some supply actions that the S3 won’t know about but as far as anything that happens amongst the companies, to the BN or that the BN does usually starts with the S3 as he/she is the training hub. Different types of units will have different size S3 shops. The size is usually derived from what that staff section would be responsible for when deployed as well as what it has to do and how often when at home station. The S4 does all of the supply stuff, but also supervises, in some units, property accountability, maintaining the property book, doing FLIPLs, etc. Finally, the S6, the SIGO. This person is usually a Signal Officer and is basically responsible to ensure anything that plugs in or you need to push-to-talk is working properly. This guy or gal is sometimes the hardest working and least appreciated person in the BN. Now, depending on the size of the unit there are several “special” staff folks that you may run across…the CHEMO (chemical officer), the BN Medic, the Battalion Maintenance Officer, the Battalion Motor Officer. These are specialists that focus on their lane and that is about it. Now, when it comes to putting a plan together they are definitely consulted but usually don’t have a huge role to play. If you have any questions about those “special” folks, let me know. In fact if you have any questions about what Mike or I wrote, don’t hesitate to fire off a reply. Take care and good luck the rest of the semester

    • samson69
    • September 8th, 2009

    What I took from the useful information on 2LT briefings is that, “All people have a common fear in public speaking”, knowing that the majority of the population does not like it as much as I do makes me more confident in this subject. The part of public speaking that I have trouble with is making dull or uninteresting topics, entertaining for the audience to listen to.

    • deathstroke13
    • September 9th, 2009

    I also took out of this and the required reading that public speaking, knowing your job and relvent information are the keys to being a successful staff officer. I’m a fairly confident public speaker as long as I know the information I am presenting, however; I am assuming that once we have been put on staff that we will have a better understanding of how these meetings work. Correct me if I’m wrong but I’m thinking that staff positions are mostly research.

    • Sigfried
    • September 9th, 2009

    My problem would be the same as stated in the book about feeling confident about my brief. I do not have a problem with standing up in front of others and speaking, but do get intimidated about whether or not someone in the audience knows more than me on the topic and I have incorrect information.

    • John Wayne
    • September 9th, 2009

    I am normally confident in my public speaking abilities. I do get worried that I might joke too much or use too much sarcasm so that I am not taken as serious as I like. I would like to find a good balance and figure out what works best for me. I also admit that I get intimidated when speaking in front of those that I believe are already more knowledgable on the subject.

    • Ahhhhh!!!
    • September 10th, 2009

    Public speaking is not an issue for me, although sometimes I may go in front of a group with too much confidence, whether I really know what I am talking about or not. I also now have a new appreciation for what an S-3 does and is ultimately responsible for based on what the 2nd post said. Thanks for your time and willingness to share lessons that you have learned throughout your careers with us.

    • Ahhhhh!!!
    • September 10th, 2009

    And Joe, use a name that isn’t your email address!

    • Smooth
    • September 10th, 2009

    I agree that the biggest thing is being prepared. I do fine in public speaking as long as I know exactly what I am talking about, and have prepared for it. If I’m unsure of myself on a particular topic or have not put any time into thinking my way through a briefing/speech, I do get nervous and it throws me off. Briefings are obviously an important part of an officer’s job, and being comfortable in public speaking situations is necessary in order to communicate effectively while giving briefings.

    • CDT Coco
    • September 10th, 2009

    I like the quote by MAJ Fraley, “You have to know more about your topic than your audience and the only way to know your audience is research.” This makes a lot of sense. I get nervous when I speak in front of people. I have noticed, however, that the better prepared I am the less nervous I am, if at all, after I begin.

    • awarriorpoet
    • September 10th, 2009

    One thing i have notice about my briefing style is: I only put out a few points that i really need to get out, so it seems like i don’t really know my subject. I don’t go into all the little details that most people do. Should i keep it like that or make it more fluffy?

      • M. Fraley
      • September 12th, 2009


      my opinion. Focus first and foremost on what message/point you want your audience to walk away with from you. If it is two item, for instance, you could walk up to the podium, show a slide, state clearly “I want you to know that there is a difference between true north and magnetic north and technically be finished. However, research has shown that the retention level of the majority of folks is severely limited based on seeing or hearing about an item once. The “fluff” advantage is it gives your topic interest, provides you the opportunity to present your information in more than one way, and sometimes just adds interest to a briefing. Rule of thumb … Tell them what you are going to tell them … Tell Them … Tell them what you told them. Interspersed with fluff and a good hello and good bye.

    • kuarmyrotc
    • September 10th, 2009

    We’ll get your briefing technique semi-up to speed (as in many things in the Army you will need to do some work on your own time to get really good). What you need to learn during this class is what you have to know if you are put in any of the staff positions that book covers on pages 168-169. If you haven’t read these pages by this evening I will do to you what a commander would do to an unprepared staff officer. LTC Basso

    • dolemite75
    • September 10th, 2009

    I agree with John Wayne, I am very comfortable with my public speaking abilities but sometimes I may joke or use sarcasm too much. I’m really used to speaking in public in a civilian setting and sometimes i know that that is not acceptable in more formal army settings.

    • Johnny B Green
    • September 10th, 2009

    When briefing or just speaking in public, I find myself rushing through what I want to say in anticipation to get my point across. In doing so, my speaking rhythm increases and I feel my key points may not be emphasized. Obviously rehearsing and intensive preparation will help identify issues, but are there any suggestions to help me establish a better rhythm.

    MAJ Fraley and MAJ Heverly, what are some other successful techniques that you have come across in dealing with your initial introduction to your audience? I’m referencing the initial skirmish between speaker and audience.

      • M. Fraley
      • September 12th, 2009

      Hi Johhny B.

      Ah the initial skirmish; hate to say it but it is situational.

      Positive audience: no worries, say good morning, tell them what you are going to tell them, and drive on with a confident smile

      Neutral Audience: say good morning, tell them what you are going to tell them, and drive on with a confident smile

      Hostile Audience: say good morning, tell them what you are going to tell them, and drive on with a confident smile

      If you don’t have as much faith that this will work, let’s focus for a moment on the hostile audience. In this instance, you will be either providing them with bad news or your previous performances have been a little lacking. In the first case, bad news doesn’t get better over time, tell the audience up front that you are going to give them some bad news, pause to give them time to get set, then tell them the bad news. No fluff, no slant, just the news … as it is. The follow up portion is key where you give them the opportunity and encourage them to ask questions about the bad news. Have a written script prepared so you do not forget key facts.

      If the audience is hostile becasue of your previous performance, find out why you were so terrible. Someone in the audience doesn’t hate you and will let you know what you said or did that annoyed the audience the last time. You can tell, by looking folks in the eyes, what they are feelilng.

      Normally, people want you to do well. Particularly in the the Army. Your leaders will want you to breif well and will be eager to provide you with pointed feedback. Just remember, it is feedback from their point of view.

    • Supercalaburfragbalistic
    • September 10th, 2009

    I found most of these issues could have been fixed in a public speaking course. I took one and still have a hard time remembering everything that is needed to be covered when I do go over slides or what not. Rehearsals are an excellent way for me to get through everything and working out the incongruence’s.

    • shake and bake
    • September 10th, 2009

    What are some of the attributes of an officer briefing that (Maj Fraley and Maj Heverly) you’ve seen during briefings that make a brief both interesting and understandable?

      • M. Fraley
      • September 12th, 2009

      My opinion. sexy slides are not as impressive as they were 10 years ago. My favorite briefers are those that

      1. Speak clearly and slowly (enunciation is a good thing)
      2. Have a logical flow to their brief (Agenda slides ROCK!)
      3. Smile and look me in the eye (I am not going to yell as loudly if you look me in the eye)
      4. Have simple slides (4 or 5 lines; keeps me focused on your points)

      My least favorite briefers

      1. Mumblers and speed speakers (particularly those with a pronounced accent)
      2. Those that read the charts to me (annoying; I can read)
      3. Sloppy dress and presentation (distracting)
      4. Spelling errors on the slides (distracting, now I am looking for more spelling errors and not paying attention to you)
      5. Busy slides (if an animation or photo or effect does not add to my retention (a/o you getting my buy in/approval) do not put it in the packet.

      Act like you want to be there, be passionate about what you are presenting.

    • Jack
    • September 10th, 2009

    I have found that when I give begin to give briefings that I seem to do a good job. Then, after I have been briefing for a while, I try to use the audience’s facial expressions to see if they understand what I am saying. Whenever I do this it seems that the audience is staring at me with blank expressions which cause me to assume that they don’t get what I am saying. When this happens I begin to repeat myself and “ramble” which to me makes my briefs less effective. Another problem that I have is that when I begin to ramble I also forget to make eye contact and I just stare at the back of the room.

    As far as the staff positions go I do agree that the S-3 has a major role in everything that happens within the unit but at the same time I don’t think that the other positions should be undervalued because it takes everyone working together to have an effective staff.

    • Pork Soda
    • September 10th, 2009

    I always find it easier to talk with subordinates. Maybe this is because I always feel that I have to be the one in control.

    I agree that being prepared is most important for a successful speech, brief, or class.

    • Blazer
    • September 10th, 2009

    I find it easier to look into the mirror and say what I plan to say s oI can practice eye contact and staying in the timeline. For example I dont use too many words or talk too fast and rush my speeech

    • stewiegriffin519
    • September 10th, 2009

    Public speaking is something that has scared me basically as long as I can remember. I agree with previous statements that doing your research helps. Also looking around the room but never really at someone, makes it easier as well. Anyone have any other tips? I’d gladly take some

      • M. Fraley
      • September 12th, 2009


      Try this

      Read out loud. Go to the park, take a book, and read out loud to the squirrels or anyone else in the area.

      Most folks have a fear of their own voice because they are not used to hearing it.

      When you do read aloud, and let me know when you have done this twice (separate days), read as if you are reading to your three year old child (niece/nephew); that way you have to read slowly and clearly.

      Trust me, this will help you immensely.

    • kuarmyrotc
    • September 12th, 2009

    awarriorpoet Says:

    Should i keep it like that or make it more fluffy?

    MAJ Heverly– to this I would say, keep it to the point. Having more information than you brief lets you answer off the wall questions and allows you to go more in depth if your audience wants you too.

    shake and bake Says:
    What are some of the attributes of an officer briefing that (Maj Fraley and Maj Heverly) you’ve seen during briefings that make a brief both interesting and understandable?

    MAJ Heverly–Lets see…keeping the brief on topic; bringing relevent analogies, different ways of looking at topics; finding a video or cartoon that makes your point is a great tip. Now, you can’t put 25 minutes of video in a 30 minute brief…I am talking something brief, possibly funny, but relevent.

    Johnny B Green Says:

    MAJ Fraley and MAJ Heverly, what are some other successful techniques that you have come across in dealing with your initial introduction to your audience? I’m referencing the initial skirmish between speaker and audience.

    MAJ Heverly–The only thing I would do is introduce yourself and your topic and begin the brief…some folks start with a joke or give their life history trying to prove why they are an expert. My take on this has always been that if you weren’t qualified to brief something…you wouldn’t be. There is an expectation on the part of the audience that you know what you are talking about.

    Jack is right about the staff being a team. The S3 usually has the largest work load as a “shop” not more important just more…they also usually have the largest number of folks working in it. The S4 or S2 may have less to do but they also have a lot less folks to get it done. Believe me (and Jack) it takes everyone working towards a goal to get it done and everyone is working hard…there really isn’t a staff section that gets to slack off.
    Great comments…lets keep this up.

    • M. Fraley
    • September 12th, 2009

    I am sitting here with a cup of really good coffee wondering what your reactions will be when Major Heverly and I get to brief you. As the blogging “guru’s” on briefings the stakes will be pretty high and our audience will be interested to see if we can live up to the hype.

    Some days I think about things like that.

    Bring it on KU.


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