Insider is taking Juneteenth observed off. To prepare, I crafted an out-of-office message to let my contacts know I won’t be checking email tomorrow – and educate them on what the historic event is about.
Juneteenth recognizes the end of slavery in the US, when the Emancipation Proclamation reached Texas (then the most remote Confederate state) on June 19, 1865.
I took my usual OOO template and added a link that explains what Juneteenth is. Here’s what I wrote:
Thanks for your email! As with a growing number of companies across the country, Insider Inc. has closed today for Juneteenth observed.
I encourage you to read the linked article on the holiday if you’d like to know why this decision was made and why it’s so important to the company and its staff.
I’ll be sure to respond to your message when I’m back in the office on Monday, 6/21.
Big-name companies such as Twitter and Nike have declared Juneteenth a company holiday as corporate America facesbacklash over racial inequality. Other organizations like Microsoft have designated it a “day of listening, learning, and engagement” and canceled meetings.
45 states recognize Juneteenth as a holiday. The House just passed a bill declaring it a national holiday – it now sits on President Joe Biden’s desk to be signed into law.
Inboxes are overwhelming, particularly for busy managers, key stakeholders, and VIP executives that everyone wants a response from. Most of us are bombarded with dozens of emails each day, if not more, and can’t afford more than a few seconds to glance over each one before moving on. So if you want to cut through the noise to reach decision-makers and move business forward, focus on structuring every email (and we mean every email) with a story strategy.
Adopting good email strategy – the kind that gets a response – is often the result of years of experience. To save you some time, we’re sharing our five top email strategies, purely based on classic story structure.
1. Find the right balance between brief and meaningful
Before diving into your email storytelling strategy, we want to dispel a very common myth – that emails must be super-short to get answered. This isn’t true. When emails are too brief – perhaps just requesting some immediate action – they will often be ignored because they actually “get to the point” too quickly. They lack the context that gives recipients a deeper understanding of why you’re reaching out and what you need from them.
Additional information can actually enable the reader to make a decision more quickly. If they’re confused, or your ask seems complicated, they’re more likely to put off the answer you’re looking for. Still, being overly wordy is also a sure way to get your email ignored.
Make sure you find the right balance between brevity and key details in your emails. The reader should always be left with a clear idea of what they need to know and do with your information – and why.
Data suggests the ideal length of an email is between 50 and 125 words. Emails this length had a response rate above 50%.
2. Always have a headline and put it in your subject line
Good emails should tell a story. Good stories have a headline. Ergo, your email needs a headline! And where should said headline reside? Right up top of course, in the subject line.
Unfortunately, it’s very common for people to squander this opportunity for an attention-grabbing headline and instead use boring subject lines such as “Meeting follow up” or “Project update.” These generic tags tell your recipient very little and probably won’t grab their attention.
Maximize the prime real estate of your subject line instead and introduce the big idea of your email story. Your big idea is the key information – the ‘what’ of your story – that you want your recipients to remember the most. So, instead of “meeting follow up,” you could say “Reconnecting on next steps for sales kickoff next month.” Instead of “Project update,” you could say, “Project X is on target but needs additional design resources.”
Focus on your single biggest, most consequential, or most insightful piece of information. Put this headline in the subject line to give your email the best chance of being opened.
3. Your email opener must provide context
As we mentioned above, jumping too soon into your ask without providing context will leave your reader confused. Context is key so they can process your information (or request).
In storytelling terms, context is the combination of setting, characters, and conflict that build the arc of a story. For example, if the email is a follow up to a budget meeting from last week, the setting must take the reader back to the “scene” of last week’s financial discussion, the important “characters” affected by budget decisions, and the chief conflicts affecting those characters.
This look back is critical to remind them who and what’s at stake, and what decisions must be made.
4. Repeat your big idea
Being overly repetitive is the death knell for any email, however, restating your single big idea is the power move of any great storyteller. When you remind readers of your key takeaway – the ‘what’ of your email story – you cement it in their brains.
The best way to get in that one-two punch is to establish your big idea first in your headline (i.e. your subject line), then repeat it after you’ve established your context.
5. Always unveil your resolution last
One of the hallmarks of a poorly structured email is when it begins with your recommendations or your call to action without any context. As we mentioned above, many people believe that keeping an email as short as possible is best. So, they just state upfront what they need from the recipient: “Please approve this budget,” or “Can I get your feedback?” or “Need approval for a new hire.”
These requests are all part of their resolution, the answer to a certain conflict. If the resolution comes before the conflict, the recipient is less likely to buy into why they should complete your request. So instead, have this element last in your email.
We thank people all the time. We thank them in person, on the phone, and in emails. It’s a social custom. Good graces. Parents and school teachers tell their children all the time: “Mind your P’s and Q’s. Remember to say ‘thank you.'”
Plus, experts explain that practicing gratitude is one of the best ways we become happier human beings. The question is: When you’re typing that business sign-off, is your gratitude just a platitude – or are you being authentic and really expressing thanks?
So many people write an email and sign off with something like this:
Thank you for what? While research has shown emails that express gratitude are answered more often, what about those emails that aren’t answered? Is it because your gratitude wasn’t genuine? Or maybe it was lost in a cliched email that looks like everyone else’s and you’re hoping your “thank you” makes up for it?
Inauthentic gratitude reminds me of how professors or emcees act when a veteran is in the group. At some point, when that hero’s military service is made known to the group, the meeting leader tilts their head, clasps their hands and says, “Thank you for your service … ”
From the veterans I know, that gesture isn’t considered sincere. If we are going to thank veterans, be real. How about, “Thank you for making sacrifices to protect our liberty and borders. I thought about joining back in the day and chickened out. I’m thankful for you and how you protected us … ” With veterans or anyone for who has helped us: Be specific.
Be more specific
Avoid writing gratitude platitudes in your email sign-offs if you aren’t thankful or there’s nothing to be thankful for. Instead, get more attention and make an impression on your recipient by adding a qualifier, like one of these:
Thank you for allowing us the opportunity to be of service.
Thanks again for all your collaboration on this with us. We understand it’s a distraction from your regular work and there are a lot of moving parts.
Mike, we appreciate your partnership and take our commitment very seriously to bringing you the best solutions for ABC, Co. We understand there is a lot at stake and our aim is to continue earning your trust.
I find that when I take the time to be more specific about what I’m thankful for, I not only get a better response from a client or colleague, I build a better relationship with them. No one likes empty platitudes (including you, right?).
So the next time you’re closing an email, be polite and be specific. If you’re really thankful, say thanks. If there’s nothing to thank someone for, choose another ending. However, if you want to build a relationship, add what you’re thankful for.
This article was first republished by Business Insider in December 2019.