The corporate world communicates via email. Those little messages residing in everyone’s mailboxes contain status updates, action items, and decisions. On any given day, I might send and receive over 100 messages. For some of you that might be low, for others it’s high.
So how do you effectively communicate in a medium when you’re competing with so many other messages, pressing deadlines, and a desire for more work/life balance? Throw in the popularity of Blackberries and things get even more complicated. Why? Have you ever read a message on a Blackberry? Even a two sentence email looks too long on a Blackberry screen and thus increasing the chances of the email (or at least the bottom half of it) being skipped.
A comedian knows, as Hamlet did, that “brevity is the soul of wit.” That’s why Jerry Seinfeld will spend hours figuring out how to turn a 12-word joke into 7 words–he’s learned that a comedian must be economical with words.
The classic joke is “A horse walks into a bar and the bartender says, ‘Why the long face?'” It’s not “A horse walks into a bar. It was a nice bar, maybe a bit too loud. There were peanuts on the floor. Bob was the horse’s name…”
Short and tight–concise. And just as a comedian must be concise, so too must anyone writing an email that they want to get read. With that in mind, here are six steps to more effective emails:
1. Put the Important Stuff First
Always put the most important points first. That way if the recipient does only get part-way through the email, they’ve at least gotten the most important parts.
2. Shorten Your Messages
To do this, use as many acronyms as possible… OK, I’m kidding–remember Einstein: “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.” You want to drive clarity, not people to an acronym finder. But you should use shorter, more concise words (as one of my computer science professors preached, “why ever use the word ‘utilize’ when you can utilize the word ‘use’?”).
3. Take advantage of the Subject Line
If you tell me what an email is about in the subject line, I don’t always have to read it. For example an email titled “Life or Death, Please Respond!!!!” can be completely ignored, while “Cute puppies” requires delicate attention to detail.
4. Lose the Niceties
I’m all for people being polite and friendly, but it significantly increases the length of an email. Have you ever read an email chain between CXO’s at a large company? Rarely are they more than one or two sentences long. You don’t really need a salutation–I know who the email is addressed to (aka me). And you don’t need a signature at the end, I know who it came from. While this doesn’t apply for people you’re just starting to interact with, it certainly applies in regular, back-and-forth communication.
5. Use Headers and Formatting
Though formatting won’t really matter on a Blackberry, for any message longer than a paragraph, you should begin using headers and formatting such as bold and italics. Throw bulleted and numbered lists and you’ve just helped the recipient understand what’s important and what else is supporting material.
6. Reconsider Sending an Email
The easiest way to cut down on email clutter is not to send it. After all, email isn’t always the most efficient way to do things–consider a phone call or Instant Message where appropriate. If my house is burning down, please take the time to call me. An email with the subject “Things are heating up!” is not that helpful, even if it is marked high priority. And while that may be a silly example, how many crises or “fires” at work have you or other people tried to solve via email?
So remember, if you want your email read, keep it clear, simple and concise. Questions or comments? Send me an email…