Are you familiar with the pain of reading emails that take too long to get to the point? Or maybe you’re writing those emails yourself and want to stop!
In this article I’ll show you how to get to the point of your email messages quickly so that your audience is more likely to receive the information you want to communicate.
Below, I’ve included a quick story and a prescription for getting to the point quickly in your business emails.
Story: What managers hate
I was giving a training on communication strategy to a group of managers the other day, and they expressed their opinion that the biggest pain point in business communication is email—no question, hands down.
The complaints this group voiced about email ranged from “I get way too much!” to “Why do people cc: me on everything?” to “Why do they use so much formatting?” But they complained the most about the long emails they get with no clear point or question to them.
We’ve all gotten those long emails with no apparent point, and our reaction to them is never good, right? We either suffer through them, annoyed that we have to dig for the point, the question, or what the person needs, or worse—we ignore them! Either way, if you’re the person doing the communicating, you need to generate a more positive reaction in your reader.
The prescription: 3 medicines
How do you avoid writing one of those long emails that wears on people’s patience? Three ways: Write a good subject line, include your BLOT, and provide the reader with an outline sentence.
1. A good subject line
In the real estate of space where people consume email messages, the subject line represents prime property. It’s not only the first change you have to grab the recipients’ attention so that they open and read your email message. It’s also an important opportunity to start conveying meaningful information. So don’t delay!
Yes, you could use the Subject: About the monthly meeting. But a vague subject line like this one creates more questions than it answers and also leaves the recipients wondering how important or relevant the message may be to them. Is this email just delivering general information about our monthly meetings? Is there an issue or a problem? Is the message about last month’s meeting? Next month’s meeting? Ugh! I guess I’ll have to open it, not sure I have time now, though.
Consider instead the Subject: Need your input for July 17 meeting agenda. Much more direct and clear. The sender needs something from me and I know exactly which meeting and what aspect of the meeting she needs my input on. I might even have an idea of the input she needs because she’s given me some good, specific context in the subject line. Now that I know what this is about, I can immediately start thinking of when I need to tackle this task.
2. Your BLOT
If you like the idea of starting to convey information in your subject line, then keep going with that theme when you start your message. As soon as you can, right after “Hi Anshul”, include your “Bottom Line On Top” or BLOT. (You may have also heard “Bottom Line Up Front” or BLUF—same thing.)
What’s your bottom line, though? You have so much information you want to convey, I know! Well, let me make it simple for you. With any communication you send, at the most basic level, you’re acting on your need for someone else to (1) know something and/or (2) do something. Boil down your first couple sentences to a BLOT that conveys what you want them to know and/or do. That’s it!
Your BLOT could be something like:
“I’m writing to let you know that we had a cancellation from one of the presenters for our July 17 meeting and that I need your input by end-of-day this Friday to decide what to do with the agenda for that meeting.”
In the rest of the message, you can elaborate on the background, data, rationale, specifics… Whatever you think the audience might be interested in knowing if they have the time to read. Just make sure you lead with the BLOT and not the other stuff.
3. An outline sentence
Sometimes just thinking about your email BLOT in terms of what you want your reader to know and/or do is enough to keep your emails short and to the point. Other times, though, you really do need to convey more detailed information in an email. For those situations, use an outline sentence that tells your reader what else you’ve included in your message beyond your BLOT.
In your outline sentence, tell your reader at a high level what else they’ll find in your message and in what order. I included an outline sentence of sorts in this article. Look for the sentence towards the top that starts with: “Below, I’ve included…”
To continue with the example above about the meeting agenda, your outline sentence could be:
“Below I’ve included information about what happened with the presenter who cancelled and listed two viable ways we can adjust the agenda for you to comment on.”
While an outline sentence helps your reader understand how you’ve structured your message, it can also help you get your thoughts organized as you’re composing your email. After all, to tell your readers how you’ve structured your message, you need to understand the structure yourself. More importantly, by outlining a clear structure, you give your readers the opportunity to scan your message and go right to the information that’s most relevant to them.
Use this 3-part prescription to help you get to the point more quickly in your emails and save your readers time and aggravation. Or maybe it could help someone you know. If so, let them know there’s a cure for the long, wandering-point email that pains so many who rely on email to get work done.
Guillermo Villar is principal coach with Cambio Coaching. He helps high-achieving individuals and teams communicate with Purpose and get the results they want.