Effective communication with staff and members is critical in the club business and e-mail message communications are no exception. Since the advent and popularity of e-mail, formal memos have become somewhat rare – perhaps even obsolete at some clubs – and e-mail messages have replaced the “Inter Office Memo.” And yet, we have historically treated e-mail messages as an informal form of communication. It is time to elevate the business e-mail message to the important status that it deserves and pay attention to the effectiveness of this simple yet crucial form of business communication.
To that end, I have listed (with a little help from my friend, Keith Cronin) some favorite e-mail composition tips.
- Start from the bottom and move up. When I create a new e-mail message, I typically start at the bottom by writing the message, then add any attachments, then write the subject line and finally address the message at the top. This simple routine helps prevent sending the message before I add the last point that I forgot to mention or the file that I forgot to attach. It also helps me write a more meaningful subject line.
- Write a more effective subject line. Think of the subject line as the headline of an article. It should be descriptive, generate interest, and provide an indication of what action is required of the recipient. Here are some subject line do’s and don’ts:
- Do write an entire phrase or sentence that describes either the content or the purpose of the e-mail.
- Do include any related action item or deadline in the subject.
- Do look for ways to include the function of the e-mail in the subject line.
- Don’t start discussing a new topic without changing the subject of the e-mail to reflect it. You know what we are talking about here – replies that go back and forth and, when a new topic is brought up in the body of the reply, the subject of the message doesn’t change. Now you have a chain of e-mails that have nothing to do with the subject. By the way, you can change the subject of an incoming e-mail in Outlook. Open the e-mail message by double-clicking it in the Inbox. Select the subject text to edit it. Type the preferred subject and then close and save the message when prompted.
- Don’t be overly dramatic. Don’t label an e-mail “URGENT” unless it truly is. You’ve heard about the “boy who cried wolf” haven’t you? Along these same lines, don’t mark every outgoing e-mail in Outlook as High Priority and don’t request a receipt for every e-mail message you send.
- Don’t be in such a hurry. Take an extra 30 seconds to review the subject to improve its chances of being opened and your chances that it will have the desired impact on the reader.
- Don’t skip the subject line. Don’t send an e-mail message without a subject. I often won’t read a message if there is no subject line – especially if I don’t recognize the sender’s name or e-mail address.
- Write the e-mail message with your reader in mind. Put yourself in their shoes and understand their perspective on the topic. You have to focus on the reader if you want to communicate with him/her effectively and elicit the appropriate action. Consider their level of understanding of the subject. Don’t use acronyms if the reader is not familiar with their meaning. Here are some important things to consider about your reader:
- How will they read this? Will they be reading it from a mobile device or a computer? If you think they may be using a mobile device to read the message, make sure it is short and to the point.
- What is their level of understanding? A junior employee might need more explanation than a seasoned manager. You may need to go into greater detail with someone who is unfamiliar with the business.
- What is their level of interest? If you’re dealing with a member, don’t assume they’re your biggest fan – or your biggest sympathizer. Show them that you are concerned about them, not yourself. Likewise, when writing to a busy executive/board member who doesn’t need to know every tiny detail, keep it brief, and focus on the business impact and rationale of whatever you are writing about.
- What is their relationship to you? If it is a board member or committee member, don’t be too familiar – be respectful and professional. If they report to you, offer them guidance and support.
- Who else may end up reading this message? Think of an e-mail message like a post card – anyone can potentially read. As soon as you hit the Send button it is out of your control and can be forwarded on to anyone. When in doubt, pick up the phone instead. Remember, e-mail is forever.
- Keep your e-mail message brief with the most important information and a call to action first. Put the most important information at the beginning of the message. Don’t “bury the lead.” If the message is long, summarize it at the top and then expand on the topics in the body of the message below. Dispense with pleasantries – if you want to wish the reader a great week, do so at the end of the message.
- “Chunk” your message. By “chunking” I mean rather than writing out your message in long, explanatory and wordy paragraphs, keep your paragraphs brief and use bulleted lists. Your reader is more likely to review your War and Peace-like e-mail if it is broken up into easily digestible paragraphs and bullets. When was the last time you sat down and read a 30 sentence paragraph? I didn’t think so.
- Use headings within the message. If you are creating a long e-mail, break it up by adding headings for each section. Organizing it in this way will make it much easier for the reader to review.
- Don’t cover multiple topics in one e-mail message. This will help keep your e-mail messages brief and will make it easier for you and your reader to search and retrieve e-mail messages by subject.
- Spellcheck your message. Outlook has a built in spelling feature. You can activate it to run every time you click the Send button or run it manually by pressing the F7 function key on the keyboard. To set the spell checker to run automatically in Outlook, select Tools, Options and then click the Spelling tab (Office 2007 or prior version) or select File, Options, Mail, and then check the box Always check spelling before sending (Office 2010).
- Edit and proofread your message. Spellcheck doesn’t always discover inconsistencies and the wrong usage of a word in your message. Proofread your message to check for errors and flow, and to ensure that you have written the message as clearly and concisely as possible. Write the message as if you would say it and then reread it and remove any extraneous words. By simplifying your message you make it easier for the recipient to read and comprehend and quicker for them to respond.
Follow this list of recommendations to improve the effectiveness and clarity of your e-mail messages and share it with your club staff and board to improve communications club-wide. It may not decrease the number of e-mails you receive, but it will certainly make it easier for you and your readers to review, organize, and act upon them. – LC
Lisa Carroll is Relationship Manager at Kopplin & Kuebler, LLC, The Most Trusted Names in Private Club Executive Placement(www.kkandw.com)and Owner of Carroll Quality Alliance, LLC, Promoting Quality of Business and Quality of Life through Technology and Communications Training (www.carrollquality.com) She facilitates CMI workshops for CMAA Chapters and provides remote, webinar-based software training for Clubs and their staff.
Additional Source: Keith Cronin
Keith Cronin is the Executive Communications Manager for LexisNexis. He is also a friend, fellow ukulele player, published author, and the drummer for Clarence Clemons’s band until Clarence’s recent, untimely passing. For more information about Keith visit www.keithcronin.com.