Have you ever tried to drive somewhere you’d never been before with just some vague directions? You probably found it a little frustrating and were surprised that it felt like it took longer than it actually did. On the other hand, if you’d had a good road map for that journey, it undoubtedly would have made the trip less confusing. You could see exactly what roads to take, what the distance was between landmarks—you knew precisely where you were going and that made the going easier.

The concept of a communication roadmap serves the same purpose. It’s a powerful tool in all your communication interactions for all the same reasons: it lets your listeners know exactly where you’re going and how long it’ll take you to get there. It makes it easier for them to follow you.

Here are several common situations where a roadmap can be effectively put to use.

Presentations or speeches. There’s a classic adage about speech-making that says, “First tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em.  Then tell ’em.  Then tell ’em what you told ’em.” It’s a very effective organization formula. And the first part of it, “Tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em,” is, in essence, a road map—you’re telling the audience where you’re going with your talk.

Providing a road map near the beginning of your talk lets the audience know where you’re going. Saying, “Today I’m going to talk about dogs” may give the audience your topic, but it’s too broad. Saying instead, “Today I’m going to tell you about the three most intelligent breeds of dogs” gives your audience a context and lets them know how many points you’re going to cover. When the audience knows where you’re going, it’ll be easier for them to stay with you.

Meetings. The meeting is a necessary evil in the workplace. A crucial tool to manage the flow and content of a meeting is the agenda—which is a classic road map. Ideally, an agenda should be distributed prior to the meeting. That way attendees know ahead of time what items are going to be covered—where the meeting is going—and have time to prepare for their own participation. By letting the attendees know where the meeting is going, the agenda—or road map—is a powerful tool for creating a sense of coherence, purpose, and accomplishment.

Phone conversations. When you place a call to someone, it’s extremely helpful to preface the conversation with a road map so the receiver of your call can orient his thoughts.

Voice Mail. Prefacing a voice mail message with a road map serves two purposes: it helps the listener know right away what your message is about, and it also helps you, as the caller, to organize your thoughts. This can help keep you from rambling and enable you to get to the point, a great value to your receiver.

Written communication. A road map is appropriate for any written communication. Whether it’s a memo, a letter or an e-mail message, putting the purpose of the missive up front lets the reader know what follows: “I enjoyed meeting you last Friday and learning about your training objectives. Here is my proposal for your training solutions.”

When you let people know where you’re going, it makes it easier for them to stay with you.

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