Updated: Dec 8, 2019
I teach people how to improve their communication skills.
One of the most frequent questions at my keynotes and seminars involves getting e-mail messages returned.
Email is a way to get things done and move projects forward, but it only works if you can get people to respond in a timely manner.
Before I offer a few ways to get more results from email, it's important to cover what you should not expect from email.
Here's what email is not good for:
Time-sensitive info or instant-exchanges
Conveying the nuance of tone and humor
Receiving nuance of tone and humor
Now let's quickly look at the linear sequence that allows email to perform for you.
How email works
It would be great if you could just email someone and get the perfect reply every time.
We all know that it doesn't always work that way.
The delivery rate determines the open rate. The open rate determines the read through rate. The read rate determines the reply or click-through-rate.
In other words, the recipient is not likely to reply to your message if she doesn't read it. She won't read your email if she doesn't open it. And she can't open your message if the email address is incorrect or she never receives it.
5 cool ideas for effective email
1. Be brief.
Getting to the point doesn't mean you should skip the greeting or not try to personalize the message. Leave out verbiage if it doesn't add value. As a rule, e-mail messages should not exceed 150 words. This section of this article, by comparison, contains about 375 words.
2. Most e-mails are too long, most subject lines too short. The subject line of an e-mail should be a mini-version of your message. Clearly state the reason for your e-mail and what you expect from the reader. Don't be vague or cute if you mean business. If brevity encourages people to read your message, the subject line gets people to open it. Shoot for 20-character subject lines, especially if you want it to be seen on mobile devices.
3. How you say it can determine when they respond.
If your message is important, ask for priority treatment. If you always ask for special treatment, recipients will stop paying attention to you. If you send too many e-mails or have a habit of "cc"-ing everyone in the free world, people may not give each message the attention it deserves. Be sure to include a call to action. A call to action might be the phrase "please do this today."
4. Reference time early in the message.
A strong call to action references time. Be specific when you request action. Ask the reader to respond by 2 PM ET and he or she just might.
5. Capital letters are a capital offense.
Although telegraph operators used capital letters, upper case is considered rude in the e-mail world. Some readers consider bad grammar and poor syntax offensive. People judge us by the words we use. Take care when composing and proofreading electronic messages. E-mail is forever. Bonus tip Don't be afraid to adjust the list of recipients if appropriate or even change the subject line as the email thread develops. This will make you seem on top of things and people will know that you are mastering the art of communication.
Employ attractive subject lines
Lame subject lines will keep people from opening your email.
Note how the subject line of "Friday" can be vastly improved with a little thought:
Friday, June 23
Need your info by Fri, June 23
Need your info by 5 PM Fri, June 23
Need your info by 5 PM ET Fri, June 23
Need your info by 5 PM ET Fri, June 23, pls
Having trouble getting someone to respond after repeated attempts?
Chris Voss, author of Never Split the Difference, suggests using the following question in the email subject line: "Have you given up on us working together?"
It's easy to blame others when email isn't working for you. But it's more productive to go to work on your own communication skills.