How Do You Give Directions?

I was off somewhere new the other day. I didn’t know the precise location but as these things often run, I was familiar with the rough area. All that eluded me was the final drive up to the destination.

So the person I was meeting emailed directions. Only a handful of years ago, a neat map would have been faxed, or more recently a glossy pdf emailed. Nowadays, you get a link to a web mapsite and gps co-ordinates.

Anyway, this person kindly included self-scribed notes.

I was surprised at their illegibility. A long uninterrupted paragraph listing all sorts of turns and road names. I was also struck at the lack of landmarks mentioned at each junction where action was required.

I set about converting this into something meaningful to me. I created eight bullets, all slimmed down from their original form, and all featuring a distinct, discreet part of the journey. I then blew up the font size and fit it all on a single sheet of paper.

I can’t quite believe it had never occured to me before that practically all directions are uselessly communicated. Thinking back to pre-satellite navigation days, I went astray several times myself, typically whilst squinting at speed on some piece of paper on my lap.

There’s also an interesting parallel with giving verbal directions to strangers requesting them in the street. How often do you feel more tangled up after such a transaction?

How can something so everyday, be so universally unfit for purpose?

And of course, there’s a chilling selling similarity here. Clarity of expression is a vital skill. With just about every document you produce, are you also unwittingly setting up your prospect to fail to arrive as simply as intended?

For each email, quote, proposal, slide that your prospect sees;

  • which landmarks are you forgetting to highlight?
  • where is the flow you seek being stifled?
  • how far is the journey?
  • what parts really need to stand out for a reader?
  • where’s the most likely place for someone following to get lost?
  • what do you see at the end?

An entertaining recruitment aside beckons. When interviewing someone, how about asking them to talk you through directions to their current office. Could it be that it gives you untold essential insight into how they think?

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