We’re drowning under the weight of more communication than ever. If it’s not Slack, it’s Teams, or a Whatsapp group you can’t shake off. Throw in a handful of social media accounts to keep on top off, and the volume can quickly get too much.
And all this is before you have even opened your email, with its endless inbox that you never quite seem to manage to empty. Email, with all that blank space and no word or character limit, is where things can quickly get very long winded and go very wrong.
We have all experienced the dreaded moment where you open a message from someone with a tendency to write the long one. The classic TL;DR scenario. Some even add a snappy, TL;DR summary at the start of the email equivalent of War and Peace. But it doesn’t help. Somehow you feel obliged to at least scan the whole message with that sense of FOMO kicking in, and before you know it you end up reading the whole thing.
So, what’s to be done?
Chris West, founder of Verbal Identity and author of Strong Language: The Fastest, Smartest, Cheapest Marketing Tool You're Not Usingrecently extolled the virtues of a very simple trick to Supper Club members.
First up, he urged anyone writing anything (and anyone with a keyboard is a writer) to remember that readers are human and to treat therefore them that way. Use simple, plain language, free from jargon. Think of what they’ll be doing when they read something you have written, and therefore what frame of mind they’re likely to be in. This is sound advice for all writing, whether it’s a tweet or a whitepaper.
But it is even more essential for email. Here, the odds are that yours is one of a regular tsunami of messages, from friends, colleagues, customers and suppliers, investors, prospects and even random strangers offering to help the recipient get rich, quick.
The then is to respect how busy your reader is. Keep your email to three sentences and each sentence to no more than 14 words. With the exception of adding an appropriate salutation and a clear sign-off, that’s all you need.
The three-sentence email
And while there are several different exponents of similar “Three Sentence Rules”, each with a slightly different take on what to include where, for West the ideal email should consist of the following:
Sentence 1 - Remind what the story is
Sentence 2 - Tell them what’s changed
Sentence 3 - Explain your recommendation (the call to action)
Stick to this rule for all emails and there’s a chance that you may yet cut through all the noise, get heard and get the reaction that you want.