Kevin Lloyd: 8 Keys to Sending Email People Actually Read

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"The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place." - Marlene Caroselli

After reading that quote recently I began to rethink all the tools we have to communicate our messages. We have more than enough communication platforms at our disposal. Despite our experience or options to get our message out, this thought reveals that it never ends.

Email is one cog in the communication wheel. Due to familiarity and overuse, we risk growing sloppy using email. Good enough sweats the basics that anyone can do. Excellence sweats the details others dismiss or overlook. Email can be a detail that sets someone apart 1% from those who overlook it.

I want to help you practice excellence with email. These ideas will help you not waste people's time, be more effective as a communicator, and send emails people will actually read!

Decide if an email is merited and well-timed.

Sometimes you need a conversation. Other times a text will do. Before you click send on your email, make sure it fits the moment. Never, ever, ever use email in place of a difficult conversation. Frankly, that is poor leadership. Courage is displayed in conversations, not hiding behind a screen. 

Every Sunday I type a handful of emails reviewing our weekend church services. Because timing matters, I choose not to send some until Tuesday morning. Why? Because I work on a church staff. We are all tired and raw after working all day Sunday. Often the emotional state of the receiver is not ready to hear what I have to say yet. Choose wise timing.

Sweat the subject line.

A study of President Obama's 2008 presidential campaign showed the most opened email sent to his subscribers had a subject line simply saying, "hey." No doubt the simplicity raised people's curiosity and felt personal. 

The busiest people sometimes only read the subject line. Hook people with creativity here. If possible, communicate your main idea. Generate interest that make you stand apart in a crowded inbox. 

Flavor your message with steak sauce.

I love steak, but you put some A-1 on there and it goes next level! Dry, fact laden emails get lost in a sea of things people will get to later. Make your notes count by leading off with some kind of flavor. Use your first 3 sentences to tell a quick story, share a fact about your cause that makes the information you're sharing have teeth, or add an image just to make people laugh. Someone has opened your email, make it memorable by making it interesting.

Don't be a novelist.

People scan emails. The key to making your email effective is to make it scannable. Resist the urge to use too many words. Stick to the main details. Opt for bullet points over paragraphs. Bold the ideas you need to stand out the most. The key to writing quality email copy is: Be Brief, Be Brilliant and Be Gone.

Write like the grown-up that you are.

The Bible says Jesus loves your childlike faith, but people do not love reading your childlike writing. Use proper grammar, complete sentences, capitalization and form coherent thoughts. Keep your copy all one color instead of all the colors of the rainbow. Resist over dramatization of ideas such as, "It will be so so so amazingly awesome!" Communication reflects qualification. Write as if you deserve your position.

Add value.

Someone has given you a handful of minutes to hear what you have to say. Honor people's time by offering some sort of value add. I do not like to send a note without including a link. This is my way of saying "thanks" for taking a few minutes for me. If you are emailing a group of parents, tell them about a book you read on raising great kids. Perhaps your note is to volunteers, include a bible verse reminding them their service counts in eternity.

Call people to action.

If your information is worth people reading, give people something worth doing too. Recently I received an automated note from an internet cable service. While the information was sales in nature it ended with a random, disconnected challenge simply saying, "Go encourage someone today...just because!" I loved that! Know what I did? I intentionally encouraged someone that day. My point? Always call people to some action.

Remember the P.S.

Simply put, people always read the P.S.  I do not know why, but it's true. My theory is that it somehow feels personal. Regardless of why, capitalize on it. Always add a P.S. and communicate something important. Consider adding your most vital piece of information to your P.S. and see what happens.

No doubt you have a full email inbox. Read them with a critical eye. Use your learnings to craft emails people will actually read today.

Happy writing!


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Kevin is a coach for couragetolead.com. He is also the Associate Pastor at Newbreak Church in San Diego, California, and the founder of LeadBravely.org. Kevin specializes in strategic thinking, financial health and developing teams. He lives in San Diego, California, with his wife, Melissa, and two daughters.