How to Make Better Instructions That People Remember

how to make better instructions

Whether you are training new employees or teaching a potential client or customer how to use your product, effectively communicating information to others is critical. If you understand how to make better instructions that people remember, your team will perform better and your clients will get more out of your partnership. In short, everyone is successful!

Marketing events are finite experiences, and by nature require different instructions based on campaign, location and more. Over the course of a year, an event marketing professional creates an immense amount of different instruction sets. In addition, when working with temporary staff members who may not be familiar with your brand, you must instruct them in a way that allows them to, in turn, educate potential customers. To create an effective marketing event, you need to make better instructions. And to do that, you first need to understand how the human brain works.

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The Magic Number Seven

Number 7 in making better instructionsIn 1859, Sir William Hamilton conducted a small experiment. He tossed a handful of marbles to the ground repeatedly. After that, he quickly judged how many marbles landed each time. From these experiments, he learned that he could only judge up to seven marble locations without any confusion.

Since then, psychologists have conducted similar memory tests and arrived at the same conclusion. It seems that the human brain can only hold up to seven pieces of new information at a time. This is one of the reasons our phone numbers are usually seven digits long – to make them easy to remember.

So does this mean your staff can only remember seven instructions at a time? Well, not quite. The main lesson is to use this information to make better instructions that are easy to understand. Here are a few ways you can do just that.

How To Make Better Instructions

1. Remember to K.I.S.S.

If you’ve worked with engineers before, you’re probably quite familiar with this acronym. The most impactful version is Keep ISimple and Straightforward. To visualize this, let’s say one of your rookie staff members is in charge of setting up your event footprint. His goal is to place your booths right in the middle of venue.

Instead of giving confusing instructions like this:

“Start the set up of two booths five meters apart and thirty feet away from the last store on the right of the East Wing.”

You should K.I.S.S. by telling him this instead:

“Goal: Set up two (2) booths. Where: In the exact center of the mall’s pavilion. Other instructions: The distance between booths should be five meters.”

As you see, the second set of instructions is simpler, but by no means is it shorter. Your goal in creating your instructions is to make it so simple that even a 5th grader can understand them.

making better instructions

2. Add Mnemonics

A mnemonic is any technique that helps you remember a piece of information. The previous K.I.S.S. acronym is one such example. Rhymes (ex. “i before e, except after c”) and actions (ex. the right hand rule) are other common forms of mnemonics. Come up with a catchy mnemonic for your directions. Can you play with the letters of a certain word? Can you turn it into a funny sentence?

For example, instead of asking your audience the following:

“Please pick up your trash and dishes from the tables and chairs after using them and before leaving.”

Just tell them to:

“CLAYGO or CLean AYou GO.”

Make it fun by asking employees to come up their own mnemonics. Then ask everyone to share them with the group.

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3. Give Written Instructions

Sometimes, you can’t help but give long and detailed instructions. We know, writing out your instructions can be a lot of work. But it’s better than jeopardizing the event, right?

After briefing your team, give them a print out of your instructions. You could even email them a copy to print themselves. With a printed copy, they’ll have something to refer to even if you’re not around. It’s also useful for tricky situations like getting local permits or learning venue regulations. And if they need to stick to certain responses to questions, they now have a script to help them remember.

Keep in mind that physical reference materials might work best. Your staff may not be able to use smartphones or laptops while working, and in many cases you don’t want them to. Plus, print outs don’t need to batteries or WiFi to work.

making better instructions manual

4. Simulate Scenarios

When people make immediate use of new information, it moves from short term to long term memory. Help your staff use your instructions immediately through a combination of role-playing and repetition.

Take on the role of a potential visitor. Ask questions that they will need to answer often. Tell them to repeat their responses. Also, ask them to repeat the instructions you just gave them. Get your employees to engage with your instructions as much as possible.

5. Ask for Clarifications

Our last tip is also the most important one. Even if they appear to be fully engaged, don’t fall into the trap of assuming people understood your instructions. Be sure to ask your team for clarifications and questions after giving your directions. As mentioned earlier, people remember better if they interact with the information they receive. This includes asking questions about your instructions.

This also becomes a form of feedback for you. How can you make your instructions clearer and easier to understand in the future?

Making better instructions clear

In summary, you will make better instructions by:

  • Considering how the brain works
  • Keeping them simple
  • Helping staff use your instructions immediately
  • Providing written copies of your directions
  • Asking for clarifications

By following these best practices, you will be able to deliver clear directions that your audience will easily put to memory. Before you know it, they’ll be the ones reminding you of your instructions!

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