Listening and following directions are important skills. Giving clear verbal instructions is also a skill, and it helps others understand your point and follow your instructions. The best verbal instructions make sense and use appropriate language. Speakers also should be sure listeners are attentive enough to focus on the message.

Giving Good Instructions

Get your audience’s attention before giving the instructions so the message has a better chance of getting through. Maintain eye contact with the individual or as many members of the group as possible. Give information in chunks, using as few steps as necessary. Use positive language such as “Put the circle there” rather than “Do not put the square there.” Be specific, and avoid using words that might be misinterpreted. For instance, “Be good” gives little direction, while “Stay on the sidewalk” provides specificity. Giving some context for the direction helps the receiver understand and remember it, as it connects with what the person already knows. Give concrete rather than abstract examples of what you want listeners to do. Encouraging listeners to repeat your instructions, preferably in their own words, is one way to verify their understanding of the directions.