Tips for giving directions

Now that you are a leader, here are some tips for giving directions.

It’s not always what you say, but how you say it that matters. Giving directions to young people sounds easy, but here are some tips to help you be successful. These tips can help you as a volunteer, employer, employee or parent.

When giving directions, avoid using the pronouns I and you; instead, try using pronouns like we, our and us. This can help those hearing your directions feel that you are all working together to a common goal. Using phrases like “I want you to” and “I need you to” can sound directive and may trigger negative feelings in your audience. A non-directive command can move participants to take action with a smile. A few phrases that you may want to try include, “Let’s get the chairs in a circle,” or “Our plates need to go to the sink when we are done.”

Another common mistake when giving directions is providing too many details all at once. Try providing one direction at a time, especially when steps may take time or be complex. This is also helpful when working with younger or older audiences. Be brief and specific in what you want them to do so they are not left guessing. It may be helpful to have a participant repeat or summarize the directions back so you can check for understanding. Sometimes we think our directions are clear, but we later find that we have not communicated clearly the task at hand.

Sometimes it is best to put it in writing, utilize a series of pictures, video, voice recording, text message or email so participants can refer back the directions as often as they need. This option allows for details to be shared in a way that visual learners can comprehend. This can be especially helpful when participants will be completing tasks on their own and they cannot check in with you if they have a question.

Remember to consider your tone, pace, body language and attitude as you present directions to a group. Your audience will be watching and taking their ques from you. If you are positive, the chances of the group being successful are better. If you make the task sound boring, difficult and unimportant, chances are the participants will too. So be sincere and consider asking others to only do things you would do yourself. As a leader, take the time to think through how you will provide direction; it can be difference between success and failure.

Looking for a place to put you leadership skills to the test? Take some time to check out our 4-H programs or connect with your Michigan State University Extension county office for more details. 

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