Beware The Emotional Email
There’s a term in information technology (IT): Problem In Chair Not In Computer (PICNIC). Apparently, it’s commonly used by IT support-desk staff when they’re rolling their eyes at simple user error. And it’s the same for your emails.
Are you so busy blaming your recipients for screw-ups that you don’t stop to wonder if you’re also to blame?
Emails sent in a heightened emotional state can cost money, jobs or reputation. Emails sent while drunk can cost all three. Don’t let that happen to you:
- Let the sun go down on your email
- Ask yourself, ‘Would I say this to their face?
- Show your email to someone else with no skin in the game
Ditch The Stiff
Stiff, stuffy, formal language creates a brick wall between you and your audience. It confuses and alienates.
Want to know a sure-fire way of never getting a response to your email? Start like this:
- I’m writing to introduce myself…
- I’m writing to tell you about my business…
- I’m writing to ask if you would participate in our survey…
Why is this such a killer? Well, it’s all about you and nothing about the recipient.
So how do we get off on the right foot with our emails? It’s all about the chat.
Less me, me, me, more you, you, you.
Who, What, Why
#1 Who am I writing to? What are they interested in? How do they like to communicate? Have I received an email from them – was it long or short? Formal or informal?
#2 What do I want to happen after I send this email?
#3 Why should they care? What’s in it for them? What’s the curiosity factor? How will my email make their life or lives better
If you spend just a few seconds thinking about your recipient before you start writing, you skyrocket the chances of your email being opened and replied to – a big return on investment for your time.
Re: CSR programme
My name is Ben Morelli and I am from a company called Charity Begins At Work. I have been investigating your organisation’s current charitable initiatives and I believe that there’s an opportunity for you to support local charities and engage your employees more around charitable work.
I feel very passionately about our opportunity to help others less fortunate than ourselves and I would like to explore with you the idea of setting up a company-wide corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme. Please can you let me know when you have time in your diary to meet with me to talk through my ideas.
Title: An idea for client relationship superglue…
Your LinkedIn article on strengthening client relationships got me thinking.
Energy businesses like your clients are increasingly focusing on their charitable initiatives. They’re looking to partner with vendors who have a strong track record in this area. So, I have some ideas how a CSR programme could help you, your clients and your community.
Can we grab thirty minutes to chat through this on Wednesday or Thursday next week?
Please let me know when is good for you.
Much better, right?
Write To Connect, Not to Impress
Stop doctoring your words. You have a headache and go to see your doctor. She says, ‘You have sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia. It can be treated by the temporary cessation of ingesting sub-zero items.’
Re: Board presentation feedback request
I am writing to request your feedback on the attached presentation. Please note, all comments should adhere to aforementioned Board presentation guidelines.
Kindly return your comments at your earliest convenience to ensure that the presentation is delivered in a timely manner.
Re: Board presentation – your feedback by Friday please
Here’s the Board presentation for you to take a look at.
Please send me your feedback by Friday, following the guidelines I sent earlier.
It’s still polite and professional, but much easier to read, and warmer and more engaging in tone.
Six tips for a more conversational tone:
- Use contractions – ‘it’s’ instead of ‘it is’ and ‘you’re’ instead of ‘you are’.
- Swap jargon-y business words like ‘utilise’ and ‘commence’ for their easier-going cousins ‘use’ and ‘start’.
- Avoid the passive voice – ‘Employees are invited to participate’ – and use the active voice instead – ‘We’d like you to take part’.
- Use ‘we’ and ‘you’ to create connection – it’s like saying someone’s name.
- Ditch old-fashioned filler words and phrases like ‘with regard to’, ‘needless to say’, ‘it is important to note’, ‘for all intents and purposes’ and ‘at all times’.
- Don’t be afraid to break the rules – despite what your English teacher said at school, you can start sentences with ‘and’ and ‘because’, and/or use sentence fragments, eg ‘Why? Because Q2 is looking soft.’
There’s a huge value to white space on the page because it allows our important words to stand out.
Phew. See what Kim means?
The next time you sit down to write, remember the value of the heavenly white space on your page to draw your reader in and to get your message across.
Use these six steps to make your emails irresistible to read:
- Start with a short first sentence. It’s an easy entry point for the reader, indicating this won’t be a difficult email to get through.
- Use short sentences throughout. Ideally sixteen words or fewer (harder than you may think). If you must use a longer sentence, think how you can break it up with brackets, colons or hyphens.
- Use short paragraphs with plenty of clear space between them.
- Change your line spacing from 1 to 1.15 or 1.5. Most email providers will let you do this quite easily in your top toolbar – it makes a huge difference to ease of reading.
- Think about how your recipient might read your email: on mobile, desktop or tablet. Your email might look fine when it’s stretched across your fancy 34” widescreen monitor, but on your recipient’s mobile, it might look like an essay. So, reduce the size of the window that you draft your email in – right down to mobile phone size if you can. You’ll then be able to judge how your email will look to your audience.
- Keep your font size legible – 12 pt for emails is ideal.
Don’t Rush Headlines & Subjects
Writing your headline before your email is like choosing your dessert with your aperitif – you don’t know what you’re going to be in the mood for just yet. Your subject line is one of the most vital bits of your email. Don’t rush it.
The same apply when you sign off your email. Think about your recipient, your context and your personality to decide what’s right for your specific email and reader.
The HEC Hamburger Technique
H is for hook. This is your top bun. It’s got to look enticing enough for your reader to want to take a bite (read the rest of your email).
E is for explanation. This is the meat of your email (or your plant-based alternative, of course). It’s where you fill your audience up with just the right amount of tasty information.
C is for call-to-action (CTA). This is your bottom bun, which makes it easy to pick up your burger and start chomping.
You need to write HEC Hamburger emails. Email is kind of an emeal.
H Is For Hook
Here’s the hook horror hall of fame:
- I hope this email finds you well – what else can your email do? Tap dance? Extra points deducted for being weirdly formal.
- As per my last email – congratulations, Mr/Ms Passive Aggressive, you’ve given me a guilt trip in just five words.
- I hope you’re well – blander than a bowl of quinoa.
- I hope your well – need to bleach my eyeballs.
- Allow me to introduce myself – no, you’re not a Count at a Viennese ball trying to woo a debutante. And by the way, I don’t care who you are (remember Chapter 3 – it’s not about you).
- I have an offer you can’t refuse – oh yes, I can. I really can.
- I’m Prince Rahim from the Kingdom of Duban seeking your help with a money transfer – just no.
Now here are some easy hooks you can steal:
For people you know well:
- Hope your daughter had fun at her birthday party.
- Are you feeling better?
- Did you survive the webinar marathon last week?
For people you want to get closer to:
- Sarah Edwards suggested I get in touch.
- I see you’re a [insert sport team] fan like me.
- I saw your blog on customer behaviour – agree with your point on diversity.
For busy people:
- Here’s the data you asked for.
- I can help with your presentation problem.
- I have the answer to your question on X.
For hard-to-reach people:
- You won’t like this…
- Last time I said this to someone, they fired me.
- You might think I’m crazy, but…
For people you need to get excited about something:
- Well, this came as a surprise!
- You’re going to love this.
- I have an idea for you.
For straightforward people:
- We can solve the tech issues, but not until Friday.
- I’ve secured the meeting for next month.
- I want to introduce you to X.
For confident and egotistical people:
- I noticed you recently did X.
- This reminded me of you.
- I’d love your advice on…
For people with short attention spans:
- Did you know [interesting statistic]?
- Had your coffee yet?
- How do you feel about X?
E Is For Explanation
Communication sent does not equal communication received.
If you can’t explain your point in a couple of sentences, then you probably don’t understand it well enough.
- Make only one point per email.
- Cut out all non-essential information. (Be ruthless!)
- Think short and tweet (just 140 characters).
C Is For Call-To-Action
The end of your email is where you get to ask for what you want. And you need to be as clear and direct as you can.
A strong email CTA:
- Asks for one thing only
- Is direct and doesn’t beat around the bush
- Offers a clear, specific and manageable next step
- Has a timeframe
- Is short – one sentence ideally (two–three max)
Help – I have too many things to ask
If you absolutely must ask for more than one thing in an email, put them in a numbered list separated by theme
EXAMPLE OF AN HEC HAMBURGER EMAIL
Re: Easier appraisals
[Hook – get the recipient interested] Appraisals are going to be a whole lot easier this year.
[Explanation – share critical information] Next week you’ll be sent a new appraisal form that’s quicker and simpler to fill in. There’s a 360 option, where you can ask for feedback from colleagues with just a click.
[CTA – what do you want them to do?] Watch out for the form in your inbox next week with more information.
Your Subject Line Holds All The Power
No one will read your email if your subject line sucks.
Subject lines are appetisers. If your email itself is the hamburger, then think of your subject line as an amuse-bouche – the little pre-morsel that gives an enticing flavour of what’s to come.
Six tasty techniques to get your emails opened
- When you need to get feedback on a document.
- Board report – data for section 5?
- Quick question on slides 12–15.
- Your advice on proposal – 15 mins max!
- When you need a meeting with someone you don’t know well
- Katie Jones reckoned we share an interest in…
- Your LinkedIn post – question on…
- Your take on brand purpose?
- When you need to remind someone to do something
- Sarah – send slides by Tues am pls
- [URGENT] Team – submit self-appraisals by COP today
- Leanne – pls email feedback on Board report by 2pm
- When you need to get important information out quickly and clearly
- Cancelled: 2pm call w/Megacorp
- Croissants in kitchen – help yourself!
- Change of venue: lunch now at Harry’s
- When you need someone to do something they don’t want to do
- Get paid faster!
- Five-min review needed (then Project X can get signed off)
- Quick favour to ask (and great news)
- When you’d normally write FYI
By the way – never do that. First – do you need to send this email at all? And/ or do you need to send it to everyone on your list?
If you decide it is important, think about what you want the recipient to know or do, and put that in the subject line. If this is evergreen information that people will need to refer to in the future, make sure your title relates specifically to the content. For example:
- Exec decision on recruitment – what you need to know
- Five-min read: why appraisal process is changing
- Meeting with Megacorp: highlights
No more ‘just checking in’. No one wants to be reminded of the fact that they haven’t done something. So ditch language like ‘Further to my email of 25 April’ or ‘I’ve written to you on fifty-eight previous occasions’ if you want to get a reply.
And remember – you don’t know what’s going on in someone else’s life. They might have fallen ill, suffered a bereavement or have another good reason for not replying to your email. So play nice.
The most annoying phrases used in work emails:
- Not sure if you saw my last email… 25%
- Per my last email… 13%
- Per our conversation… 11%
- Any updates on this? 11%
- Sorry for the double email 10%
- Please advise 9%
- As previously stated… 6%
- As discussed… 6%
- Re-attaching for convenience 6%
The four steps for successful follow-up
- Go back to the scene of the crime
Did you use your HEC Hamburger Technique? Did it have a seductive subject line and a clear CTA with a deadline? Chances are, you might not have made the next steps easy enough for your reader.
If you keep on forwarding the same rubbish email, you’ll get the same rubbish results.
- Step away from the keyboard
Ask yourself if email really is the best method for your follow-up. A simple phone call can work wonders.
- Use your two-syllable secret
The word ‘because’ is a miracle worker when it comes to getting people to act. Studies show we’re conditioned to comply when people give us a reason, however spurious it is.
Need to get clients to process dull paperwork? Give them a reason why (‘Because it means we won’t have to keep pestering you for information all the time’).
Want to get invoices paid? Tell clients why prompt payment is so important to you (‘Because it means we can pay our suppliers faster and get your project finished quicker’)
- Craft a clever follow-up
OK – time to write! Use everything you’ve learned so far, think about your audience, your HEC Hamburger and subject-line techniques, and craft a thoughtful, guilt-free follow-up.
Try this on for size:
Re: 20 mins in your diary (max, I promise!)
I know you’re up to your eyeballs with year-end reporting, so I’ll make this quick.
I need 20 mins with you this week to get your feedback on the branding project. This is so we can launch in time for our annual conference.
Does Wednesday am or Thursday pm work for a quick phone chat?
Variations for your follow-up
Offer an alternative to move forward in a less time-intensive way for your recipient:
- If filling out the questionnaire feels like too much of a headache right now, how about we jump on a ten-minute call on Friday afternoon?
- If your plate’s too full at the moment and you’d rather revisit this next month, just hit reply and say ‘Next month’.
- Let me know if you need me to follow up with one of your colleagues/ team instead to get this information.
Make an assumptive close:
- If I don’t hear back by Friday, I’ll assume it’s a no for now.
- If I don’t hear from you by the end of the week, I’ll assume you’re OK with this final draft.
- Hi – it’s your annoyingly cheerful colleague seeing if we can get this meeting in the diary.
- Did you get buried under a pile of unpaid invoices?
- I realise I’m a pain in the backside for asking, but a quick reply would make my day!
There you have it. The secrets of brilliant email follow-up (the secret often being don’t email at all).