Be at the decision points.

June 30, 2008

On Saturday my husband and I slathered ourselves with sunscreen and ventured off into the Columbia River Gorge. On our way back from Latourell Falls, we intended to complete what we thought was a trail loop that would return us to the parking lot. But the forks in the trail weren’t marked, and we had to guess which way to go.

Are you as “directionally challenged” as I am? Unless I’m staring straight at a sunset or a known landmark, I don’t know my north from my south, east or west. We kept choosing the widest path, the path that looked most officially maintained. (I am such a northwesterner. Only the coarsest among us would sully the natural landscape by veering off the maintained path!) But that path took us to the historic Columbia River Highway, some ways up the road from where our car was parked.

A sign sure would have been nice. Something to tell us what was ahead, no matter which path we chose. “This way to the parking lot” or “This way to the next waterfall” would have been perfect. So it got me thinking, as a professional communicator, that’s where I need to be for my reader. I need to be at the crossroads. I need to be at the critical junctions where the audience has choices to make. It’s not my job to make the choice or influence the choice necessarily. It’s just my job to inform them what’s down the path. What could I learn if I took just a few minutes to think about what my audience will experience? What would it mean to them if I were there, present and talking with them at points that might otherwise be confusing?