5 email tips to stop your messages from being ignored, according to experts who work with Facebook and Nestle

Lee Lazarus and Janine Kurnoff are founders of The Presentation Company.
Lee Lazarus and Janine Kurnoff are founders of The Presentation Company.

  • Janine Kurnoff and Lee Lazarus are founders of The Presentation Company which teaches business storytelling to big brands.
  • The sister duo says storytelling is key to sending great emails and ensuring you get a favorable response.
  • They say to use the email subject line as your story’s headline, and to offer context before making a request.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

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.

Janine Kurnoff and Lee Lazarus are authors of the new book “Everyday Business Storytelling: Create, Simplify, and Adapt a Visual Narrative for Any Audience.” These Silicon Valley-bred sisters founded The Presentation Company in 2001 and work with brands like Facebook, Nestle, and Medtronic. Follow them on Twitter. 

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If your successes often go unnoticed at work, here are 3 ways to speak up and get credit, according to an HR expert

woman wfh working laptop coffee sad lonely stressed
Introverts often have a harder time making their work successes known.

  • Beki Fraser, CPC, PCC is a business and leadership coach and HR expert.
  • If you usually work on your own and find your accomplishments ignored by colleages, Fraser says you may be an ‘introverted skeptic.’
  • It’s important for introverted skeptics to give their work a voice by engaging with coworkers more often and soliciting to feedback.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

In my 20-plus years as a leadership coach and a human resources leader at a variety of companies, I have coached hundreds of people who are introverted skeptics, the hybrid personality type that can be both an obstacle and an asset in the workplace.

Beki Fraser.
Author Beki Fraser.

As introverts, these individuals prefer quiet to concentrate, are reflective and comfortable being alone, don’t enjoy group work, take their time making decisions, and feel drained after being in a crowd. As skeptics, they don’t accept information at face value. They question and challenge, value evidence and proof, and seek out problems to be solved and work to fix them. 

Introverted skeptics tend to care deeply about the work they do and deliver thoughtful, well-reasoned solutions. They are often creative and have strong problem-solving skills including the ability to view an issue through multiple perspectives, connect dots, and identify opportunities, risks, and insights that others miss.

Challenges facing introverted skeptics

If you are an introverted skeptic, you may find yourself struggling because you don’t willingly engage collaborators or seek colleagues’ input – which may adversely affect the quality of your work or other peoples’ perception of it. You may be under-appreciated and overlooked because you don’t share your work and get support for your ideas as you go along. You may also become frustrated when people don’t embrace your solutions and recommendations – which were carefully constructed, but may seem to have come out of left field when they are finally unveiled to your stakeholders.

I often hear introverted skeptics express their frustration like this: “I’m not viewed as a strong contributor, because I’m labeled as negative or don’t speak enough in meetings. Of course, I don’t speak. No one is listening. I do great work and spend a lot of time doing things right, but I don’t get credit for the extras I contribute. Meanwhile, people who brag about lesser work and constantly kiss up get the promotions.” 

As an introverted skeptic, you tend to toil in solitude, immerse yourself in the challenge at hand, and build a solution block by block. It’s likely you find this type of work exhilarating and working collectively to be tiring – so you may hesitate to present updates or seek feedback until you’ve addressed every last issue and question. Like many of us, you’re inclined to spend more time on the tasks you love and less on the stuff that’s unpleasant.

Professional success, however, often requires the steps you tend to avoid when it comes to showing your work and lauding your own efforts

In coaching sessions, introverted skeptics often identify their communication style as an underlying cause of challenges on the job. The good news is there are three simple, repeatable steps that will help you properly show your work and thrive professionally. 

1. Engage stakeholders

With each new undertaking, determine who may ultimately be affected by the work you’re doing, who will have meaningful insights or points of view, and whose approval or help is required. Determine which relationships need to be managed – up, down, and sideways.

Commit to providing regular updates – even when there’s not much to report. This will keep your work top-of-mind among stakeholders, make them part of the project, and build understanding and buy-in.

2. Give your work a voice

Before you start work, share what you’re thinking and your proposed plan of action. This can be a simple email to those directly affected or, for large or complex projects, might warrant a group call or a presentation to your organization’s leadership. Ask for input regarding your approach, timing, and other considerations.

The bottom line is this: Your work doesn’t have a voice. It relies on you to share its value. Think of it like an uninterpreted data set that needs to be organized into a story to be understood and appreciated. When you keep that story to yourself, no one sees the value you create and your work won’t achieve its full potential. 

3. Listen with an open mind

Be sincere when you ask for and evaluate input. Don’t let your skepticism close your mind and learn to value different perspectives. Incorporating good ideas, and even so-so ones, into your work will give your colleagues a stake in the project and ultimately improve the final product.

On the other hand, work completed in isolation, even great work, will have less impact and do less to bolster your reputation. Share your work, share the results, learn lessons from the process, and share those, too.

With these simple steps, you give people the opportunity to see what you’re doing, understand why you’re doing it, and help you succeed. Your work will be aligned with other efforts and the organization’s overall strategy – so it can have more impact. Showing your work will showcase your initiative and talent, grow your reputation as a collaborative team player, and increase appreciation for your contributions.

Beki Fraser is a certified business and leadership coach who worked 15 years as an HR leader for a variety of companies. She holds an MBA from the Yale School of Management. Learn more on her website.

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4 decision-making tactics that can help you master the art of making better choices

business woman thinking coffee
Our decision-making skills deteriorate over time if we don’t properly manage stress and distractions.

  • The best entrepreneurs are great decision makers, especially when they’re facing countless tough choices on a daily basis. 
  • Smart decisions are objective, informative, aligned with your core values, and made with neutral emotions. 
  • Practice strategies to reduce decision fatigue and stay neutral by walking away, meditating, or consulting outside perspectives and experts when faced with a tough choice. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Entrepreneurship is, in large part, reliant on decision making for success. After creating your business plan, you’ll have a blueprint for what you want your business to be and how you’re going to develop it; but moving forward, you’ll be faced with countless tough decisions.

On a small level, how do you want to prioritize your day? How are you going to negotiate this deal? On a larger level, who are you going to hire for this position? How will you challenge this new competitor? How are you going to pivot the business to escape bankruptcy?

It’s no surprise that some of the best entrepreneurs also happen to be the best decision makers. They’re able to take any decision, big or small, and address it in a way that’s both objective and appropriate. That doesn’t mean they make the right call every time; we all make mistakes, and successful entrepreneurs are no different. But over time, their decisions tend to lead them in better directions.

So what actionable steps can you take to make smarter decisions in your business?

Read more: I’m a partner at Menlo Ventures. Here are my 3 most important tips for startups to make sure they’re not leaving money on the table.

What is a smart decision?

First, we have to define what a “smart” decision is. Smarter decisions tend to have a few things in common:

  • Objectivity. Good decisions are objective, based on facts and logic.
  • Stoicism. Decisions shouldn’t be influenced by raw emotions (in most cases).
  • Full information. The more information you have, the better.
  • Alignment with goals and values. Good decisions should be aligned fully with your company’s goals and values.

How can you achieve these qualities in your decision making?

Reduce decision fatigue

Decision fatigue is a simple psychological concept that many of us underestimate, but the more decisions we make in a given period, the weaker our decision-making abilities become. Over time, we become bogged down with stress and distractions, and ultimately make worse decisions for ourselves and our businesses. This even occurs with tiny, seemingly inconsequential decisions.

Many famous entrepreneurs and leaders, including Barack Obama, Richard Branson, and Mark Zuckerberg, have strategies in place to reduce decision fatigue by stripping away unimportant decisions. For example, you might wear the same thing every day or have the same thing for breakfast. It may not seem like much, but over time, making fewer decisions each day can make you a better decision maker.

Get all the facts

As a leader, it’s important to be decisive, but it’s also important to have all the facts before you move forward with any decision. Are you sure that all the information you have is accurate? Are there any details you might be missing? What are the alternatives?

Read more: I started my new role as LinkedIn’s CEO during the pandemic. Here’s what I learned from my first 6 months on the job.

Get to a neutral emotion

When it’s time to make a final decision, you have to remove emotion from the equation as much as possible. If you’re making an impulsive call about an emergency situation, this can be extremely difficult. However, there are a number of techniques that can help you, such as:

  • Walking away. Sometimes, moving to a different physical location is all it takes to shift your mindset. If you’ve ever experienced road rage, you know that as soon as you’re parked, away from the road and out of your car, the situation doesn’t seem so bad. Try walking away and thinking through your decision in another, less intense location.
  • Meditating. Many people swear by the power of meditation. Simply taking a few minutes to reflect on your own state of mind can be enough to dissolve the emotions that might otherwise influence your decision.
  • Considering the decision from an outside perspective. You can also get a better sense for the objective reality of the situation by considering it from an outsider’s perspective. A common trick is to make your decision as if you’re advising a friend: If one of your closest friends were in this position, what would you tell them to do? You’ll suddenly consider more variables, and you’ll feel more detached from the situation (in a good way).

Talk to other experts

While the final decision is yours, it can be helpful to learn about the perspectives of other experts in this area. Do you have employees or partners who can share their ideas and gut feelings? Do you know of mentors or experienced professionals you can call for some quick advice? If you don’t have anyone to personally contact, you can substitute reading or podcast listening; what do other experts have to say about this situation?

“Good” decisions and “bad” decisions aren’t defined by the outcomes to which they lead; instead, they’re defined by the process used by the person making them. You can make better decisions by reducing decision fatigue, getting more information, clearing yourself of emotion and talking to other experts. This doesn’t guarantee all your decisions will work out, but it will increase each decision’s likelihood of success.

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Think twice before writing ‘thank you’ at the end of business emails – you’ll get a better response being more specific

working laptop coffee shop freelance
A simple “thank you” can seem disingenuous over email.

  • Thanking people and showing gratitude is important and can help you feel happier yourself. But when you’re writing a business email, try and stay away from platitudes.
  • Don’t use a simple “thank you” to wrap up your email, it’s boring and can come across as disingenuous.
  • Instead, express gratitude for something specific or add a qualifier that they’ll remember you by, such as a detail about a previous interaction. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

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,

[Your name]

Avoid platitudes

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.

Read the original article on Business Insider