10 ways to get the most from briefings

A significant percentage of my job is taken up in attending product briefings, and over the years I've developed this system of techniques to help me get the best from them; I hope they'll help you too.

01 Research Obvious, I know, but you'd be amazed how many 'colleagues' turn up at briefings without knowing the most basic facts, and just embarrass themselves by asking needless, naive questions. Often, you'll have a pretty good idea of the subject of the briefing; you may even be given some information by whoever it was that set up it up with you. If it's on a yet-to-be announced product or service, poke around the Internet – try blogsearch.google.com to see what bloggers say – and find out what the rumours are; this will help keep your questions relevant. Even if you don't know specifically what's to be discussed, familiarise yourself with the company and any existing products in its portfolio.

02 Prepare two good questions It's almost certain that some questions will arise in your mind during the briefing, but it's a good idea to think of couple of relevant queries before it starts. Everyone's familiar with the awkward silence that greets a presenter's optimistic "So, any questions?" so in some senses, you're being polite by asking the first question; others may follow your lead. Just make sure the questions you come up with aren't things you could learn by just looking at the company's website – your initial research should help this stage.

03 The basics Sorry, but: know where you're going – maps.google.co.uk or your local alternative can help – turn up on time, and know who you're meeting.

04 Take notes Good and relevant notes are the obvious outcome from a briefing. Everyone takes notes in their own way; creative types often like mind-maps, some stick to outlines, and yet others like to record the whole thing for later transcription. Me, I like to use the notebook view in Word for Mac. It allows me to record the whole meeting while taking notes in outline view, and as new topics are added, chapter markers are inserted into the audio which means I can easily jump to what was being said as I was writing a particular note. In particular, note down any questions that occur to you; nothing is more frustrating than knowing there was something you were going to ask, but forgetting what it was by the time the Q&A session rolls round.

05 Press packs It's worth taking notes even if some kind of information pack is available, but always check to see if one is; you'll usually find neat summaries of information such as product matrices and pricing, and a press release with quotes from some suitably big cheese in the relevant company.

06 Make yourself known Briefings are often a valuable opportunity to network with senior personnel from the companies you deal with. As well as some of the tips below, one of the best ways of making yourself known is to engage with speakers as they're presenting. Many journalists stare at their pad or look around the room, or worse, chat amongst themselves. You should keep 'offering' to make eye contact with the speaker. Even more effective than this is nodding subtly as the speaker makes points; they'll often actually use questioning intonation (called HRT) or specifically ask for affimation. Your nodding after these 'questions' serves to calm the speaker's nerves, and you'll also find that he or she will increasingly begin speaking directly to you, without ever making a conscious decision so to do. This helps you remain memorable without being too obvious or obnoxious.

07 Follow up on the day Even if you have to dash off after the briefing proper, make the time to chat to the people there representing the company whose briefing it is. Never assume they know who you are; even if you're senior yourself within your organisation, it's only polite not to put the company representatives at a disadvantage; after all, you'll almost certainly have been introduced at least to the speakers. Introduce yourself briefly, and it doesn't hurt to be a little more relaxed at this point. You're reminding the company of your existence, of what you do, and of what you mean to it.

08 Business cards Always carry business cards with you, which should at least include your name, job title, company you yourself represent, and details of a couple of methods of contact. Offer one to each of the relevant people, but remember that this is an important chance to gather contact details yourself. Don't go so far as to withhold your details if the other party won't give you theirs – that would be cutting off your nose to spite your face, never mind rude – but as you're handing yours over, ask for one in return. If getting one particular person's details would be a sufficiently useful coup, and he or she tries to fob you off without parting with their details, a little gentle prompting – "You don't have any cards? Oh, just note your email address down on the back of one of mine." – may be appropriate, but don't make yourself offensive.

09 Take your product along If you're there representing a magazine or newspaper, ensure you have a recent copy of the publication in your bag. That way, not only can you remind people why you're there and who you represent, but you can remind them what values your publication stands for, and if necessary point out specific sections or examples to illustrate these. The same point broadly applies outside the media industry; you may get into a discussion with people and wish you could show them the product you represent, and if you don't have one with you, you're missing an opportunity. It should go without saying that you should never hijack someone else's briefing, but it pays to be prepared.

10 Follow up back at the office Once you're back at your desk, drop a note of thanks to whoever arranged the meeting, thanking them for the opportunity and asking that they invite you to subsequent briefings. Email those who gave the presentation too, thanking them for their time, and asking any questions you didn't get a chance to put to them during the briefing. Ensure this email contains your full contact details in the signature, and consider attaching an electronic address card such as a vCard.

Do you have your own tips for getting the best from product briefings? Take issue with anything I've said? Please let me know in the comments.