Here on HTWB we have looked at email a few times in the last four years, but its criteria have evolved since its early days and it makes sense to keep up with the way that has been happening.
Consequently if we want to get results from the emails we write and send now, they have to be even more targeted and focused than they were a mere couple of years ago, or they are likely to get lost in the junk file or accidentally deleted.
Do any of these comments ring a bell with you …
People don’t read your ordinary, day-to-day work emails properly?
Don’t even open them until it’s too late?
Only act on the first topic in the mail and ignore the following three?
Send you the wrong information, not what you need?
Put simply, they’re just suffering from “information overload,” wading through “info-sludge,” and can’t cope with day-to-day business/community emails that ask them to remember a meeting time and tie their shoelaces at the same time.
And now that most of us read and write emails via our dinky smartphones, tablets and other less-than-verbose media, the problems have been compounded: shorter text displays, even shorter attention spans.
Here are some tips which usually work for me
1. Ask yourself if you really do need to send an email. We become so entrenched in email that we will send one rather than walk across an open-plan office or up a flight of stairs to share the information face-to-face. We use our phones to do anything from count our calories to guiding us on car journeys to, yes, sending emails … but seldom actually use them to make calls which is what they started out as. Hilarious irony, but also tells us something: why don’t you just call him or her? I have even sent emails to my son in his room the other side of the house to tell him dinner is ready. If we were all to send emails only when there really isn’t a better alternative, the bandwidth saved would be phenomenal.
2. The most effective way to get your email noticed is to warn them it’s on its way. This isn’t always practical, of course, because it usually means you need to phone them either before you send the email or afterwards to they check their inbox, but this can have limited effects, especially if you only get through to their voicemail systems which they may well overlook or skip over too.
3. Don’t try to be clever with your subject line. You could head your email with lots of exclamation marks. You could write the subject line all in caps, although that’s considered shouting, ergo rude. With anything but the blandest of statements in your subject line you could well be relegated to the spam folder whether it’s written in caps or ancient Greek. Stick to plain and simple.
4. Never hit “reply” without changing the subject line. So often in email communication you find yourself discussing the latest Daniel Craig movie when the subject line, which started out in perfect innocence, says “Have you seen this amazing new tanning spray?” That works with your friends, but won’t work with a busy executive who is scanning through his/her emails on a rainy Monday morning. If you want action from your email, change that subject line (see below).
5. Change the subject line to something that kicks butt. Obviously as this is not a sales email environment we’re talking here, you don’t need to agonize over how to put over an immediate benefit for the reader. Nonetheless, if your email is a 7th regurgitation of “FW … FW … FW … Our management meeting last Friday” it’s not going to get as much attention from recipients as it would were you to head it “Why my plan will make us hit our targets next quarter.” Use a new twist to an existing thread of emails to highlight your perspective.
6. Only email about one issue at a time. I know you want to share 3, 4 or more issues with your colleagues because it saves time, but trust me (and here speaks the voice of painful experience) in email format they only absorb one issue at a time. Don’t expect people – especially those who use smartphones and other, small devices – to read on through more than that. And so…
7. Set up a fresh email for each topic you need to share with them. This achieves two important goals: one, it flags up the most important issue you want the recipient to deal with and two, it means that the recipient will not need to worry about other issues that could crop up further on in your email. S/he will find it easy to focus on what you want them to.
8. Use simple, no-sh*t, uncluttered language. No matter how august and intellectual your business or community interest might be, forget it in an email. Email is all about simplicity – getting things done without a fuss. Keep your language simple and go straight for what you want your recipient to do. Any long-windedness in emails tends to be ignored … and that’s no bad thing.
9. Keep the length right down. As I said above the reality is, people tend only to read the first few lines of an email before losing interest, and/or filing it “to read later” which of course they never do. If you keep your text short so it’s read “above the fold” (without the reader having to scroll down) you’ll find you get much better results.
10. At the end of your (very short) message, repeat what you want recipients to do. No matter how much you may feel you have emphasized what you want recipients of your message to do as a result of your email, whack the main point down again. It can’t hurt, and may just get you the more successful results you want.