The Delightful Way

Effective Communication Briefs
May 31, 2007, 1:16 pm
Filed under: Productivity

Today, I was assembling templates for daily briefings/memos and came across an old article regarding the Presidential Daily Briefing given to President Bush regarding the Bin Laden Threat:

I speak specifically to the design of the document. It’s clearly inefficient in its purpose to communicate the assessment of threats against the United States. While a better designed document might not save the world, I believe it would help the President (Bush or otherwise) to quickly and more effectively assess the information given to him.

Read the rest at: Airbag – A Better Tighty Whitey.

The Challenge of Effective Presentation

I think he makes several good points. What is particularly challenging, however, is preparing reports/briefs/memos in such a way as to highlight truly important information — making them easily scannable.Things like paragraph separation, indentation, lists, and formatting can make a difference.This is quite a challenge! Add to this that users don’t expect this presentation, thus the design must be such that it grabs their attention.Case Study

On one of the projects I was working on today, I needed about three decisions from my supervisor before moving forward. I assembled a memo with a couple pages of background data and handed it to him. He scanned the first page, without resting particularly on any item, then flipped to the back page. For both pages of data, he had to take a couple seconds to establish context. Finally he flipped back to the front, figured out what I was needing, asked me several questions, discussed some options and then made a decision.How could I have streamlined this process?

  • By more clearly indicating what I needed.
  • By providing context.
  • Through better identification of background information.

Essentially, I should guide the reader through the thought flow/decision process. This is challenging because it requires intent focus on both the design/presentation factor and on what is actually said or written.

Formatting Flow

The author must map the thought process they want to instigate, and then create a document that sets off this process.A lot of this has to do with eye movement—on a single page, the eye will naturally follow a “Z” from the top right to top left to bottom right to bottom left.A designer can control the eyes through formatting elements. A break in the rhythm grabs eyes, dominant elements grab eyes, and continuing elements direct them. Through careful use of these principles, it should be possible to direct eyes where I want them to go—to the most important information.

Making Sense of Information

So, then, what is the important information in this case? I believe that it consists of the following, in more or less this order of importance:1.      Document meta: From, To, Date, etc. This enables the recipient to quickly assess whether or not it is relevant.2.      The context; i.e., “Here is the situation, remember our previous discussion, here is what has changed since then, etc.”3.      The data supporting your conclusion (in a summary form).4.      The decisions that need made.This information must then be presented in a creative manner that is straightforward and directs attention to what is important. I’ve come up with a memo template in Word that accomplishes this fairly well. There are two versions you can download:

Please, comment on how you can see improving these. I see a couple limitations right off of the bat: 1)These are limited to decision-request memos; surely there are dozens of other situations possible; 2) This works well for a single page memo, but what happens when the information requires multiple pages? 


2 Comments so far
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I like the numbering with clear bold titles for each section. This tells me exactly how many sections I need to focus on and I can quickly see what decisions need made so that I can read the document accordingly. I think it would work in multiple pages as well.
I wonder how well these memo/briefs would work in my current organization. There are some creative applications possible. I really got a kick out of the article you referred us to at the beginning of this entry.

Comment by MEK

Good blog Sam.


Comment by Jordan G.

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