Being able to communicate effectively is one of the most
essential skills anyone can possess.
No matter what it is you need, what it is you do, or where it is
you want to go, your ability to communicate in such a way that
actually warrants the response you desire— and in the timeframe
you hope to receive it — is vital to your success.
Here’s how to be a more effective communicator before shooting
off an email:
1. Ace the subject line.
This one’s simple. Either I know you already (and would recognize
your name in the “from” field), or I don’t. Of course, if I
already have a pre-established relationship with you, I’m
probably going to be more inclined to open your email and see
what you have to say. If I don’t know you yet, you’re going to
need to pay extra special attention to what you put in the
Have we met before? If so, remind me
where. “It was great to meet you at SXSWEdu last year.”
Do we know someone in common? If so,
remind me who our connection is. “Jarrod from Waymore Capital
suggested that I reach out to you.”
Do we share a similar
background/experience/interest? If so, tell me what
that is. Have time for a quick question from a fellow futbolista?
Don’t know me yet, but need something? Take the
time to look into my background, and try to draw a connection
that you can use in your subject. “I started my career in Teach
for America, too. Here’s where it led me.”
Regardless of what category of sender you fall in, here are some
general tips for writing subject lines that help grab the
Include their name in the subject line: Mandela,
Synthesize the main thing(s) you’re interested in getting
a response to: Mandela – interested in attending
the Women in Startups event?
Include a deadline: Mandela — interested in
attending the Women in Startups event? RSVP needed by Sept 3rd.
Ok, great. You’ve gotten me to open your email. Now comes the
hard part — figuring out what content to put in the body of your
message that will actually get me to respond. Here are some tips.
2. Keep it brief.
I’d prefer about 250 words, but definitely do not surpass 500.
Please don’t underestimate how busy people really are, and how
many requests they likely get from others. With that said, you
always want to be respectful of the recipient’s time, and if you
are, they will likely take notice and respond out of
appreciation. Also, if you’re not sure what 250–500 words looks
like, here’s a guide.
3. Be upfront with your ask.
What exactly do you need or want? The more specific you can get
the better, like: “Would you be willing to review the two problem
and solution slides on my 10-slide pitch deck?”
4. Be clear about your deadline.
It can be as direct as: “I’d greatly appreciate it if you could
get back to me by Wednesday, September 2nd.”
5. Make the recipient care.
The key question you need to be able to answer is
Why? — Why should I spend my time on
this? There are two reasons why your answer to this
question is so very important:
We are all innately selfish. It’s not that we
don’t care about, or have genuine concerns for, other people — of
course we do. It’s just that we experience life from the
first-person perspective, and more times than not, we are the
star and focal point of our own show. With that said, if you’re
going to make a request of someone, you’d better know how them
helping you will play into the story they have of themselves. For
example, if you know that I value mentorship, you will likely
want to stress that the value proposition for me getting involved
is that it will give me the opportunity to help youth or aspiring
We have a finite amount of time here. That’s the
truth, and that truth has to be respected. We are each just one
person and there are only 24 hours in each day. Be cognizant that
the more outward success one achieves, the more others will
likely start approaching them with asks or needs. Understanding
this as the sender, will help you be more conscientious of the
other person’s time and make sure your request is as to the point
and meaningful as possible.
6. Before you hit send, ask yourself these 2 questions:
Do you really need me, or can you do this on
your own? Before you make any request, truly ask
yourself, Have I done everything I can to get what I need on
my own first? From the recipient’s perspective, it can be
pretty frustrating when you receive an email from someone with a
question that they could have easily answered on their own if
they had taken the time to do a simple Google search or look
through some of the discussion boards on Quora.
Is there someone else better suited to help you?
Be sure to really get clear on whether or not the person you’re
writing to is, in fact, the best person to answer your question
or give you what you need. Perhaps there is someone better out
there to help you. It’s important that you are just as mindful of
whom you’re writing to as you are of what
you’re writing about.
7. Finally, don’t expect a response.
If 100 people take all of the advice I just shared and go out and
apply it today, I will have 100 more emails in my inbox. That
doesn’t mean I will actually be able to get to all of them in the
time requested. With that said, it’s still important to
understand that whenever you’re writing an email, you’re actually
making a request. And by their very nature, a request can either
go fulfilled or unfulfilled. There’s no guarantee.
Again, I’m not claiming that what I just shared will work for
everyone. I’m simply stating that this is what has worked for me
and several others I know. No matter what strategies you decide
to enlist, I truly do believe that if you put in the work to
learn how to write a great email – and follow up strategically if
you don’t get a response the first time – you will develop the
ability to quickly and succinctly get someone’s attention, keep
it, and ultimately, elicit the response you desire. And in life,
that is an invaluable skill to have.