This is a common complaint I hear from senior executives. Over the years, I’ve received well-written communications (I will use this label to include emails, memos, texts, tweets, letters and all other written messages), as well as poorly composed ones. I notice that I always read the good ones and often skip the others. Here are a few tips I’ve accumulated over the years to help improve readership:
- First of all, why am I sending this communication? Should I? Often, I decide not to send the message after all.
- Pace your communications — or, maybe I should say, limit your communications. Avoid the “another email from Tom” reaction.
- Would I read my own communication?
- Make sure the subject line or the opening sentence is intriguing and/or catchy.
- Be brief, and be succinct. So many people seem to think longer is better, but that’s not the case. It often takes more time to be precise, but your readership will go up.
- Use bullets, headings and a lot of white space, so readers can scan the material more easily.
- Re-read your draft communication multiple times, to make sure it’s clear.
- Create an environment where your readers get something. Give them a tip, or some nugget of information that will help them be more successful.
- If you’re asking a question, make sure the reader(s) know you’re looking for a response.
- When appropriate, slip in a little humor (this is tricky; using sarcasm and/or referring to inside jokes can backfire and go horribly wrong).
- Assume your communication may be forwarded. I always ask the question, “What if my communication ended up in The Wall Street Journal?”
Hopefully, these suggestions will improve your readership. As you know, we’re all being bombarded with so many communications on a myriad of devices — and much of it is, indeed, junk mail. When your name appears, you want your readers to give your message priority status. I believe they will if you invest the time before hitting “send.”