How to Create E-Mails That Generate Action

When face-to-face communication isn't an option, it's critical that your e-mails get read and are the impetus for getting things done

You probably began your day scanning your in-box to identify the messages demanding your attention. What compelled you to open the messages you did? Was it the generic subject line stamped URGENT? The red exclamation point? Of those e-mails you opened, which ones influenced you to respond and/or take action? Then there are the e-mails you didn't open—and the ones that you never will. What's happening with the e-mails you send? Are they generating the actions they should?

When face-to-face communication isn't an option, your words and the structure of your e-mails need to be effective and powerful. The challenge is getting your reader to open your message, read it, and take action. The tone communicated through your choice of words, grammar, and sentence structure will determine if you build or jeopardize a relationship and succeed or fail to influence others to take action. Here are four steps to help you create e-mails that get read, have impact, and motivate people to take action.

1. It's critical that your subject line grabs attention. Avoid the generic ones: Important, Urgent, Follow-up, Looking for your response. A subject line needs to provide the takeaway of your message. This isn't the time to be mysterious, cagey, or anything but clear and direct.

2. Design a message that is visually appealing and easy to read to keep your reader's attention.

• Immediately communicate your purpose.• Get to the point. E-mail isn't for writing articles.• Use bullet points to add emphasis to your words.• Write in short sentences and paragraphs.• Highlight, bold, and italicize your key points and ideas.• When scheduling a meeting, provide up to three dates and times for your reader to choose.

3. Tailor your message for the recipient and not for the entire organization. Although this might seem obvious, it's one of the most commonly overlooked steps. How often do you receive e-mail and find that your name is just one of many CC'd? How often do you send e-mails like that? The extra time you take to send the right e-mail to the right person(s) will be made up in results. When you tap into what is important to your readers, you begin to influence them to take action.

Take at least five minutes to identify what's important to your readers by applying the acronym K.N.O.W.

K – what do your readers know about your topic?N – what do they need to know to take action?O – what is their opinion on your topic?W – who are they?

When identifying "who," consider the following:

• What do they know about your topic?• What do you want them to know about the topic?• What are their expectations?• How will the action you want them to take benefit them?• What preconceived ideas do they have about your topic?• What is their past experience with this topic?• What's important to your readers?• Why is this message being delivered now?• Will your message have more information than your readers need or want to hear? How will you prioritize your key points and ideas?

4. Create your message with a clear, concise objective. Structure your message in a way that immediately communicates your purpose, action, and benefits. As a result you minimize miscommunication.

• Opinion: To influence and build trust, first share your opinion about your topic. Without this step, your readers will be confused about where you stand on the topic and what you're asking them to do. "To stay ahead of the competition and build your business, it's important you apply the proper closing to a sale." The word important emphasizes your opinion.

• Specific Action Step: When you specifically communicate the action you want readers to take, they'll be able to make a decision immediately. "Sign up for the one-hour Effective Closings to a Sale workshop today."

• Benefits: Your readers want to know "What's in it for me?" Benefits are the most persuasive element of your message. "When you sign up today, you'll begin to receive immediate sales tools for increasing profits, building relationships, and expanding your clientele."

We've taken advantage of the real purpose behind sending e-mail messages and have lost touch with best practices. Most of us are oblivious to how our readers interpret our messages. Before sending your message ask yourself: "Is what I meant to say understood?" "Did I communicate enough or too much information?"

The success of your message will depend on the effort and planning you put forth:

• What action you want your reader to take and the level of influence your message will have.• What possible interpretations your reader may have based on your writing style.• What results your message will have based on who will receive it.

When the stakes are high and you're hesitant about how your reader will respond, send a voicemail first with the key takeaways. In your voicemail, indicate you'll include this information in an e-mail. Here are some examples of when the stakes are high and a voicemail may be needed to add explanation:

• Negotiating fees, services, etc.• Building a relationship with a potential client for the first time.• Resolving a challenging situation.• Asking for clarification.• Don't use e-mail to discuss confidential information. If you don't want it posted on a bulletin board, don't send it.

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