How to Brief, Briefly: Infographics as Briefing Tools

In my work as a management consultant, I’ve lost track of how many PowerPoint slides I’ve put together, edited, spliced, diced, and repurposed over the years. After a while, they all seem to run together in a blur of bullet points and slide transitions intended to break up the monotony. However, I recently experimented with using an infographic as a briefing tool instead of a PowerPoint deck, with great success. In this case, the data and content on which my client was briefing lent itself to an infographic, as his presentation clearly followed a formula of “Situation, Desired Result, and Options.” More importantly, my client desired a more innovative briefing tool that would stand out from the traditional executive briefings to which his audience was accustomed and sparked an interactive conversation.

In building this infographic as a briefing tool, I identified the following best practices:

  1. Get a second opinion.

While infographics are a great way to brief decision-makers, they aren’t always the right way – you’ve got to know your audience. For example, a lawyer may not respond as well to an infographic if he or she is expecting a policy memo or brief. If you’re not sure how your audience will respond to an infographic, get a second opinion from someone who works for or with your audience or who has briefed him or her before. If you get nodding heads and decide to proceed with the infographic briefing, it never hurts to…

  1. Have a backup plan.

Even if your audience is open to infographics as a briefing tool, it never hurts to have a backup plan and come prepared with either a PowerPoint deck that corresponds to the infographic, or a memo that builds on your infographic. Building a corresponding deck shouldn’t be a huge lift, if you build the same graphics and text from your infographic into structured PowerPoint slides. Having a backup plan could help put your audience at ease if he or she is accustomed to receiving a policy memo during a briefing presentation and make him or her more open to your innovative briefing ideas in the future, making your backup plan unnecessary in the future.

  1. Use graphics to tell a story.

An infographic that is mostly text is no different from a policy memo, and probably takes longer to format than a Word document. Take the time to build out creative and informative graphics to aid your presentation. Focus on telling a story instead of turning bullet points into images. For example, I like to outline the problem or situation in the top section of the infographic using lots of images, arrows, and section numbers to guide the reader’s eye. Then throughout the rest of the infographic I tie the options or solution I’m advocating back to the initial problem. You may find that tying the problem and the solution together is even easier with graphics than long memos – check out this blog and this blog outlining how infographics and dashboards can help tell a story.

  1. Don’t let creativity compromise clarity.

Infographics are a great executive briefing tool, but they are useless if your message is lost in the shuffle of too many images, colors, fonts, or words. Whatever briefing mechanism you use, your time is wasted if creativity compromises clarity. It never hurts to structure a flow to your infographic by including section numbers or arrows guiding the reader’s eye, denoting each section with a specific background or font color, or including section titles if appropriate. Check out this blog for more tips on developing clear infographics that communicate your value without compromising clarity.

  1. Develop (and stick to) detailed talking points.

After you’ve developed your briefing infographic, you may be tempted to think that it’s good enough to stand-alone. While that may be true while you’re admiring it at your desk, you don’t want to be caught in a scenario where you don’t have a response when your audience asks you to explain it. Along with developing your infographic, develop detailed talking points that speak to each section and provide any necessary context. As with traditional briefings, be prepared to answer questions as you go and explain the nuances of specific graphics. For instance, if you’ve included graphs or charts in your infographic you may be asked to explain what the charts signify, or why you used certain color designations – sometimes, using the color red versus the color blue can have unintended connotations. It’s also even more important when presenting with an infographic to stick to your talking points and ensure they flow logically from one section of the infographic to another. If you aren’t confident in your delivery, your audience may not be open to infographic briefings in the future.

How have you used infographics as briefing tools, or what other innovative briefing tools have you developed?