In this extract from her new book ‘Email attraction: get what you want every time you hit send’, communications consultant Kim Arnold presents six handy techniques to ensure that your email gets opened
- When you need to get feedback on a document
Try one of these laser-focused subject lines:
- Board report – data for section 5?
- Quick question on slides 12–15
- Your advice on proposal – 15 mins max!
Why they work: They’re specific so the task feels smaller and more manageable than if you’d asked for ‘feedback’ or a ‘review’. ‘Advice’ works much better than ‘feedback’ if you want a response, because it makes your reader feel important.
- When you need a meeting with someone you don’t know well
Try one of these intriguing lines:
- Katie Jones reckoned we share an interest in…
- Your LinkedIn post – question on…
- Your take on brand purpose?
Why they work: They harness the curiosity factor with the ellipsis (…) and they focus on the recipient, not on you.
- When you need to remind someone to do something
Try one of these action lines:
- Sarah – send slides by Tues am pls
- [URGENT] Team – submit self-appraisals by COP today
- Leanne – pls email feedback on Board report by 2pm
Why they work: They use strong verbs (‘send’, ‘submit’, ‘email’) and are personalised – we home in whenever we see our name. They convey a sense of urgency.
- When you need to get important information out quickly and clearly
Try one of these all-in-one lines (you may not need the rest of the email):
- Cancelled: 2pm call w/Megacorp
- Croissants in kitchen – help yourself!
- Change of venue: lunch now at Harry’s
Why they work: They lead with the most important point – the change of venue, cancellation and croissants. Who wouldn’t want to read about croissants?
- When you need someone to do something they don’t want to do
Try a what’s-in-it-for-them line like:
- Get paid faster!
- Five-min review needed (then Project X can get signed off)
- Quick favour to ask (and great news)
Why they work: They make the action feel easy and show the benefit to the recipient of taking the next step.
- When you’d normally write FYI
By the way – never do that.
First – do you need to send this email at all? And/ or do you need to send it to everyone on your list? If you decide it is important, think about what you want the recipient to know or do, and put that in the subject line. If this is evergreen information that people will need to refer to in the future, make sure your title relates specifically to the content. For example:
- Exec decision on recruitment – what you need to know
- Five-min read: why appraisal process is changing
- Meeting with Megacorp: highlights
Why they work: They give a flavour of what’s to come in the rest of the email and show the reader how they’ll benefit from reading on. These days, most email platforms organise conversations in threads according to their subject lines. So, try not to change the subject line unless you absolutely have to. But if the topic changes dramatically from the original conversation, then it’s a good idea to start a new thread with a fresh subject line (as long as you say that’s what you’re doing).
The tyranny of ‘reply all’
Nothing tends to make people angrier than when their inbox suddenly fills with fifty-eight emails from people ‘replying all’ to specify whether they want the chicken, fish or vegetarian option for the holiday party.
Use your reply-all button behind glass that should only be cracked open in case of emergency, ie when absolutely everyone on the email needs to know everything you write. If your message is just for the sender, simply hit ‘reply’.
Never hit reply all and type:
- Adding Paul (when there are already fifty people on the email and you’re on your 276th message of the thread. You need a call or a meeting at this point).
- Vegetarian, please.
If you need extra incentive to avoid hitting the reply-all button, here’s a compelling reason. A study by energy company OVO found that in the UK, we send a whopping 64 m unnecessary emails every day*
It reckons if every adult in the UK sent one fewer ‘thank you’ email a day, we would save more than 16,433 tonnes of carbon a year – equivalent to 81,152 flights to Madrid or taking 3,334 diesel cars off the road.
So remember: send fewer emails, save the planet and make sure the ones you do send get opened with an enticing subject line
*’Think Before You Thank’ (Ovo 2019) https://www.ovoenergy.com/ovo-newsroom/press-releases/2019/november/think-before-you-thank-if-every-brit-sent-one-less-thank-you-email-a-day-we-would-save-16433-tonnes-of-carbon-a-year-the-same-as-81152-flights-to-madrid.html
Excerpt taken from Email Attraction: Get What You Want Every Time You Hit Send by Kim Arnold £12.99, Rethink Press. The Financial Times featured Email Attraction in their February 2021 round-up of the best new business books. “Save time and get results […] completely rethink how you churn out emails…”