Preparing and Presenting a Brief
A brief is one way of having a say in the development of ideas and policies that affect our lives. Having that say is a basic freedom entrenched in Canadian society, yet very few groups or individuals grasp the opportunity.
Perhaps the idea of preparing and presenting a brief seems intimidating as one task. Let's break it down into smaller parts and tackle one at a time.
A brief can reflect the ideas and opinions of an individual or an organization. In large organizations where there are paid staff, it is often those employees who work on the brief. In volunteer organizations, however, it is likely to be members who will prepare and present the brief.
If your organization has decided to present a brief, do not delegate the job to an individual, but rather to a group or committee. There's lots of work and it should be shared. Someone may be appointed to chair the committee. Members of the committee can then divide the workload, for there are more jobs than just writing the brief, as you will soon read. The committee should then work towards a target completion date for the brief, under the leadership of the chair, perhaps reporting back to the main body of the organization before the brief is presented.
This is the most difficult part of putting together your brief. Unless you have a clear notion of what you want to say, your brief will not be effective. A brief should have a goal. Here's an example. A village of 500 has lobbied over the past 10 years for emergency medical facilities to be closer than the 30 miles it currently takes to get to the hospital. Last month, a man was involved in a serious accident and died on the way to the hospital. Citizens are now organizing to lobby the powers-that-be.
What would be the goal of the citizens' brief? Do they ask for a 100-bed medical facility for their village? Do they suggest first aid training for all 500 residents? Do they seek financial compensation for the family of the victim? Each of these is quite different. Incorporating all three into a brief would be confusing to the people reading it. Focusing on one goal makes the brief easier to research, write, present, and more likely to get action.
There is nothing mysterious about gathering information to support your brief. The information is out there waiting for you to find it.
A good place to start is your local library. If they do not have what you want, librarians will try to get the facts from other libraries or at least steer you in other directions. Here's a list of other information sources:
It is crucial to be specific when requesting information. You may be discouraged if you've requested information, particularly from a large organization like the provincial or federal government, only to find out when you receive it that it's not what you wanted. Try again. Explain more fully exactly what you want. Do not be vague. For instance, don't ask for information on first aid when what you specifically want to know is how to tend a burn victim.
How do you know when you've done enough research? That's a hard question to answer. The research data will be used to substantiate what you will say in your brief. Quality, not quantity, will clinch the argument for you. Do not make the mistake of having irrelevant information in the brief. Be sure all the information or data you include is pertinent. If there are some facts which are borderline - you can't decide to put them in or leave them out - consider incorporating them in your presentation of the brief, or have them available as back-up at the presentation.
If the topic you are researching is an ongoing concern, as it is for the village described above, keep a file on the subject, adding relevant information as you or other members of your organization come across it. This will keep you up to date on the topic. Being up to date is an important part of being credible.
Briefs can be directed to provincial government task forces, federal Royal Commissions, or a county board of education. The important point for you to know BEFORE you write the brief is who will be reading it. Knowing your audience will help to determine how formal your brief has to be. A brief prepared for the Cabinet of Ontario will be different from a brief prepared for a township council.
Here's a good job for one of your committee members. Find out who the brief will be directed to and some general information about them, e.g., if they've received briefs presenting your point of view before, and what happened to those briefs. Also, find out if there are any rules of procedure required by the recipients of the brief.
Now you can put pen to paper.
There are several components to a brief. Here they are, in the order they should appear in your brief.
Include the title of your brief, or the subject you are addressing; your name or the name of your organization; the date; and the name of the group receiving your brief.
Aim for a one-page executive summary. It should highlight the brief's important points. If you do not include this, you run the risk of someone else summarizing for you. For instance, if a cabinet minister receives your brief and has time to read only two of its 15 pages, an assistant may write a summary for the minister. That summary may not highlight the points you feel are important.
Summary of Recommendations
If you are making only one or two recommendations, they could be included in the executive summary. If there are more, they deserve a summary of their own for quick reference for the busy reader. This is particularly helpful for public officials who want to know quickly what you want them to do.
Table of Contents
Of course, the pages in the brief should be numbered. Sometimes a brief is divided into chapters, but that's needed only when a brief is lengthy. Another suggestion is to number the paragraphs for quick reference during the presentation.
Information about the organization is included here, for instance the number of members, the objectives, and why you are interested in this topic. Also, you should introduce the matter(s) you intend to address in the brief.
This is the informational part of the brief. Don't brush over it, assuming no one will read all of it. Perhaps when the brief is presented it will appear that little time has been given to it. You never know, however, who will read it later and it does become a permanent record of your organization's stand on this concern.
Briefly address either a problem, or an opportunity yet to be taken. In the main body, describe the situation, discuss the barriers involved, and present realistic options.
Let's look at the example again. After research, the citizens discover a 100-bed facility would be expecting too much; the first-aid classes would take too long; and insurance has adequately compensated the family. But, an emergency helicopter service is offered to a village 100 miles away under similar circumstances. The main body of the citizens' brief would give some background on the situation, present the most recent accident scenario and suggest some reasonable alternatives. The alternatives could be: (1) a 20-bed facility; (2) first-aid classes for those interested; and (3) the helicopter service. Because the last is their preferred choice, they will use information they have researched to substantiate it as the best solution.
Don't take too long to present your information in the main body. Brevity is the key - people will ask for more details if they want them.
Wrap up the brief with a couple of concluding statements. You may also want to include a bibliography at the back.
Unquestionably, the best way to present your brief is typed, preferably double-spaced and either stapled or bound in some way. Find out how many copies you have to submit, where to send them, to whom and by what date. There may be a secretary designated as a contact person. He or she will let you know where and when you will be giving the oral presentation of the brief, if presentations are to be made.
The responsibility of presenting the brief should be delegated to the best person for the job. It doesn't have to be the organization's president or the chair of the committee preparing the brief. The person should be comfortable speaking in front of a group and have a good grasp of the topic at hand. A group of representatives can be sent, but a leader should be named so that people know to whom to direct their questions. The leader may then seek answers from other members of the group. The leader may do all the presenting, or the presentation may be divided among group members.
If it's your first time presenting a brief, then try to attend a presentation ahead of time and observe the set-up of the room and how the presentation is organized.
A specific amount of time will be allotted to each presentation. If it is 30 minutes, plan to present for 10 minutes and answer questions for 20 minutes. Most people on the task force, commission or whatever, will have received the brief ahead of time and at least read your executive summary. There is no need to restate everything in the brief in your presentation. NEVER read the brief.
If you are comfortable using visual aids, then add them to your presentation. Another simple yet beneficial addition is name cards in front of presenters.
And that's it. You've prepared and presented a brief!
Chances are when you are presenting your brief, there will be media present. Be sure to provide them with a copy of your brief and also make sure the media not attending get copies. Use your executive summary as the basis of a press release to send out with the brief. It will give the media a complete synopsis of the brief which they will find useful. Identify a spokesperson whom the press can channel questions to.
Here is a quick way of making sure you have included the major components in your brief
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