Displaying articles for: 03-18-2012 - 03-24-2012
If you’re like a lot of us, you get so much email every day that you might spend as little as 15 seconds scanning a message to determine how it applies to you. Now, imagine that other people are reading your email the same way. If they can't quickly identify the purpose of your message, they’ll probably delete it or leave it in the Inbox for "later" - if later ever comes.
In this article, I give 6 tips to ensure that your email messages are read and get the attention they deserve.
1. Make the purpose of the message clear
When recipients receive your email message, they should be able to see at a quick glance how the message relates to them and why it’s important. They may be looking at a preview of your message in Microsoft Outlook or on a Windows phone or Windows Mobile device, such as a personal digital assistant (PDA). Or they may see only Subject lines in their Inbox. If your Subject line is confusing and irrelevant, your email will surely get deleted in a hurry. Here are some examples of what can be included in Subject lines to make sure the reader opens your mail:
- A standard subject heading such as "Action Requested," "Response Requested," "FYI," or "Read Only," depending on the action indicated in the body of the message.
- The meaningful objective or supporting project that the message relates to, for example, "FY '05 budget forecasting."
- The required action if applicable, for example, "Consolidate departmental budget spreadsheets."
- The due date if applicable, for example, "Due by July 7."
An example of an effective Subject line is "Action Requested - Consolidate all department spreadsheets for FY '06 budget and return to me by June 15th."
2. Tell recipients what action you want them to take
Be completely clear about the actions you want the recipients to take. Be specific and put all the material that is related to an action in one place. To get even faster responses, talk about how the action relates to the recipient's objectives, and always give due dates. It's also important to clarify what type of action you want the recipient to take. There are basically four types of actions you could request. If you make this level of detail clear, the recipient will be most likely to read the email and take the action right away. The four actions include:
- Action: The recipient needs to perform an action. For example, "Provide a proposal for a 5% reduction in Travel & Entertainment expense."
- Respond: The recipient needs to respond to your message with specific information. For example, "Let me know if you can attend the staff meeting at 9:00 A.M. on Friday."
- Read only: The recipient needs to read your message to make sure they understand something. No response is necessary. For example, "Please read the attached sales plan before our next staff meeting on August 12th."
- FYI only: The recipient should file your message for future reference. No response is necessary. In fact, even reading the message is optional. For example, "Enclosed for your records are your completed expense reports."
3. Provide the proper data and documents
Make sure you give recipients all of the information they need to complete an action or respond successfully to your request. Your co-workers shouldn't have to come back to you asking for information, whether it is a supporting document or a link to a file on a shared website. You can include supporting information in the body of the message, in an attached file, or in an attached email. In Windows Live Hotmail, you can use the Quick Add feature, which lets you search for and insert content such as images, video, restaurant details, maps, and movie times into your email messages, without ever leaving Hotmail. In addition, if you want recipients to fill out a form, it's a good idea to attach a sample copy of the form that shows how it should be filled out.
4. Send the message only to relevant recipients
Target your message to the appropriate audience. Only people who have to complete an action on the Subject line should receive your message. Be thoughtful and respectful when you enter names on the To line. People observe your thoughtfulness and the results are more effective. Here are two simple questions to help you filter the To line recipients:
- Does this email relate to the recipient's objectives?
- Is the recipient responsible for the action in the Subject line?
5. Use the CC line wisely
It's tempting to put loads of people on the CC line to cover your bases, but doing so is one of the fastest ways to create an unproductive environment. Here are some things to consider when using the CC line:
- No action or response should be expected of individuals on the CC line. The recipient needs to only read or file the message.
- Only those individuals whose meaningful objectives are affected by the email should be included on the message. If you are not sure that the information is related to a co-worker's objectives, check with that person to see if they want to receive your email on that topic.
6. Ask "final questions" before you click Send
The final thing you want to do is check your work to be sure you are supporting meaningful actions. Sending clear, well-defined messages can reduce the volume of email you send and receive, encouraging correct action, saving time, and limiting email trails. Make sure you ask the following questions before you send the message:
- Have I clarified purpose and actions?
- Have I included supporting documents and written a clear Subject line?
- Did I write the message clearly enough that it does not come back to me with questions?
- Am I sending the message to the correct recipients?
- Have I run the spelling checker and edited the message for grammar and jargon?
Bonus: Don't send junk email
One of the quickest ways to get onto your recipients' "delete radar" is to overwhelm them with meaningless email. Responding to email with "I got your email, thanks," or sending out lots of irrelevant data that you think they might want to know about is a quick way to create a track record of sending unproductive mail.
To summarise, it is incredibly easy to create an unproductive culture using email. Follow these guidelines and you can be sure you and your team are able to keep focused on meaningful objectives and don't create email overload.
For more information on email solutions, take a look here.
This is a guest post from our frineds and the Microsoft Small Business Blog
There’s an old saying, ‘Power corrupts but PowerPoint corrupts absolutely.’ Well, don’t blame the tools, blame the workman. A good presentation can make the difference between winning a deal and wasting an afternoon in a meeting room. It’s worth doing it well. These tips and resources should help turn you into a presentation hero.
(Image courtesy of the awesome Presentation Zen blog by Garr Reynolds)
- Study the best. TED is a great place to watch people at the top of their game give interesting and effective presentations.
- Get good advice. I like slidelogy by Nancy Duarte (who work with Al Gore on his Inconvenient Truth presentation) and Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds. Read and inwardly absorb.
- Get training. I learned a lot by doing a day’s training with Butterfly, a theatre company that also does corporate training. They use acting techniques to help people connect with their audience more effectively. (Full disclosure: my wife is artistic director.) But even a rehearsal in front of a constructively-critical friend can be useful.
- Keep it short. I like Guy Kawasaki’s advice: stick to the 10:20:30 rule. Ten slide, 20 minutes, 30-point text (and no smaller).
- Less text, more image. Cartoonbank, Shutterstock, iStockphoto, Open Stock Photography, are all good sources of pictures for presentations. A well-chosen image with a few words can have more impact than a page full of bullet points.
- Slides are for illumination, not support. The audience came to hear you speak. If they wanted to read off a slide deck, you could have just emailed it to them. Never, ever read text off a slide. Keep your attention on the audience.
- Ask questions. For small groups, stop regularly – every few minutes – and ask questions to keep the audience engaged. Even with larger groups you can use a show of hands to get feedback and tailor your talk to their needs.
- Tell a story. Show what the problem is and how you will solve it, using Barbara Minto’s Pyramid Principle.
- Focus on what’s important. You don’t need to cover every single fact or detail in your presentation. In fact, the more you select and focus the presentation and the more you add your own expert analysis, the more effective it will be. If you try to say everything, you end up saying nothing.
- Be yourself. Prepare. Then forget preparing. Just relax. Imagine you were talking to friends or family in an environment you find comfortable and friendly. Like dogs, audiences respond to nerves with nerves and friendliness with friendliness. Trust me. It’ll be fine.
Giving a press interview is easy. It’s not like public speaking and it’s not like being cross-examined by Jeremy Paxman. Or at least, it shouldn't be. A good interview is like a focused, directed conversation between two professionals. I used to be a freelance journalist and I still interview lots of people for my work at Articulate Marketing, so these tips are based on more than ten years' experience on the other side of the interview.
- Be yourself. Be concise and answer the question put to you. The more natural you sound, the better the interview. See my article: Being human is overrated (except when you’re writing).
- Let the interviewer lead. If they seem to want you to talk more, talk more. If they sound impatient and keep interrupting, be more succinct.
- Don’t talk too quickly. I have a theory that one reason why George Bush played so well in the American media is that he talks really slowly. There is some evidence to suggest that has psychological overtones of confidence and power. It also makes people listen harder. It gives you more time to think and the poor journalist more time to write notes. (Read why interviews go wrong for a better understanding of what can happen.)
- Don’t be put off by tape recorders. Some interviewers use a tape recorder and work from the recording and some will write notes during the interview (I do both).
- Agree an agenda and schedule. Agree at the beginning how long the interview will last and some kind of rough agenda so that you get through everything in the time available.
- Don’t ask for questions in advance. It is reasonable to ask a journalist what sort of questions they may ask and what topics they want to cover when arranging the interview, but don’t ask for a list of questions in advance – they won’t have it and even if they do, they won’t send it to you. It’s not that they want to catch you out, it’s just that they want your answers to be fresh and spontaneous, not rehearsed.
- Do your own research. Read the interviewer’s other work, Google them, read the magazine or newspaper the article will be published in. This is much more useful than preparing cod answers to cod questions.
- Do think about what you would like to say. Think about the kinds of things you want to communicate and the sorts of questions you are going to get asked but don’t write prepared statements.
- Remember what the interviewer wants. Usually they want three things: 1) a better understanding of the topic, 2) something new and interesting to say to their readers and 3) quotable quotes that will punctuate the story. If you don’t give them good, human quotes, they’ll make up Frankenquotes.
- The interviewer is human. My best interviews come from a natural rapport with the interviewee. If they are defensive, it makes me defensive but if they are friendly, I am friendly. It’s just human nature. Part of my job is to put my victims at ease but I need something to work with.
- Pick your time well. I am terrible before 10am and after about 5pm. Try to pick a time when you will be relaxed and ‘on form’.
- Be accessible. Give the journalist a phone number and an email address. Don’t hide behind a PR company because they will add extra time and extra cost to every interaction. Try to be flexible about arranging the interview. Don’t be like the publicity-hungry airline executive I interviewed once who gave 24 hours notice of an interview, cancelled on four hours notice, rescheduled to the next day promising an hour but only gave fifteen minutes. And then complained that he only got a one page article.
- Turn up on time. If I arrange to interview ten people, there will always be at least one who doesn’t show up or who doesn’t answer their phone. Some try to reschedule, some disappear. I schedule lots of interviews during an interview day and if someone misses their slot, I normally can’t fit them in later.
- Don’t ask to review the article. For corporate work, this is usually possible though time-consuming. For journalistic interviews, it is a practical and often a contractual impossibility. It complicates the production cycle, most writers’ assignments specifically forbid it and editors fear that people will get all nannyish and try to rewrite a piece to turn a good interview back into a bland, committee-written press release.
- Prepare yourself. Have a friendly journalist or PR ex-journalist do a mock interview with you. Get some media training (although please keep some personality and candour afterwards – don’t turn into PR puppet). Think about what life is like for a freelance journalist.
There are two things to be wary of in an interview. These are tricks that unscrupulous journalists sometimes use but mainly in the tabloid press.
- No such thing as off the record. Unless you know and absolutely trust the interviewer, don’t say anything ever that you wouldn’t want to appear in print. A good journalist will respect an off the record comment or an inadvertent slip; but the only guarantee comes if you don’t make them. However, don’t do what one of my interviewees did once: ask for the entire interview to be off the record and then complain to my editor when he wasn’t quoted.
- Don’t let the journalist put words in your mouth. Some people think this is a legitimate tactic. For example, “your industry is in a terrible mess and only a bloodbath will sort things out, wouldn’t you agree.” If you don’t disagree they might put those words into quotes as if you said them. So, listen carefully to what they say and if they ask a question in that format, do a Tony Blair and say “I’m not sure I agree with that entirely. What I think is …”
This is a guest post from my personal blog, Bad Language.