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Write to get a response

Standing oration
Write to get a response
By Kristian from Speakers Loft • Issue #28 • View online
A few simple rules will make your communication more effective.

There is a popular myth that when elephants grow old, they wander off to the mythical elephants’ graveyard. This boney place is an El Dorado for adventurers, who have searched far and wide for its riches in ivory.
But there is no such place.
A contemporary equivalent of this would be the big email graveyard that is of enormous value due to its supposed riches in business opportunities. 
Somewhere out on the net are the immense amount of emails that never get a reply. And they’re worth a ton of money.
Unlike the adventurers’ dreams of an enormous ivory stash, this graveyard is real. And it’s on our computers.
In all likeliness, the missing replies are our fault. How often do we stop to think about the psychological principles behind good email writing?
Probably not that often. And why would you, there are trees, coconuts, coffee, love, dogs, waterfalls and many other marvelous things to spend your mental resources on. In fact, good for you if phrasing email isn’t top of your mental list.
But again, there is value, so let’s look into it.
The framework for efficient email communication is always based on the following content:
What is the problem (why does this piece of communication even exist)
What is the action intended (how do we get rid of the problem)
You can (and should) blanket that in storytelling, metaphors, images, and more. But never compromise as to the above two elements.
When neither of these are present, it’s easy to zone out.
(That’s probably why it’s never really exciting to hear about other peoples dreams, even when they include dragons, zeppelins, crocodiles, and angels).
That should be interesting, but it rarely is. Make sure your emails are not like that.
There are a bunch of psychological elements that you can use to increase the chances that your email doesn’t end up in the eternal night of the email boneyard.
We’ll look at them in turn.
Make them a habit, so you don’t have to think about it every time you write an email, a pitch, or talk to someone on the phone. Make efficient business communication your second language.
Say ‘because’
In a bit of old school research conducted back in 1978 (for a bit of reference, this is the year Grease came out), Ellen Langer, a psychology professor at Harvard, showed the power of ‘because’. Her team found that this simple word was sometimes more important than the reason following it. Let me clarify:
In the year of the study, 1978, copy machines were a big deal. Computers and printers were not everywhere (imagine that!), and as a result, people queued for copy machines. Professor Langer instructed her team members to cut in line, using different wording:
Excuse me; I have five pages. May I use the xerox machine?
Excuse me; I have five pages. May I use the xerox machine, because I have to make copies?
Excuse me; I have five pages. May I use the xerox machine, because I am in a rush?
Note that while being in a rush is a decent (but not great) excuse to cut in line, the same is not true for a person that has to make copies. Copies would arguably be on the agenda for everyone waiting in line for a xerox machine. Accordingly, that reason should not work.
But it did.
Using the first phrase resulted in about 60 percent allowing the team members to skip in line. Using the word ‘because’ raised compliance to 93 and 94 percent, respectively. Or in other words: the reason the followed the ‘because’ was pretty much irrelevant and in both cases giving a reason significantly increased compliance.
The researchers noted that when the ask increased in size, the importance of the reason given increased in importance. That is, people were less likely to accept people cutting in line because they ‘needed to make copies’ if they had fifty pages rather than five. 
The research team suggested that their findings pointed to a kind of heuristic (which is a fancy word for mental autopilot). It means that people continue on cruise-control when they hear the word ‘because’, and only allocate mental resources to saying no, if the ask is too big. It makes sense in a busy environment for our minds to sometimes use autopilot.
You turn on the autopilot of other people by using the word ‘because’.
You can use this to get people to take actions you want, but make sure not to make your ask too big. Ask them to sign up to your newsletter or follow you on social media, or reply to your message.
Asking for someone to spend $5000-$10.000 USD on hiring you for a speaking engagement is too big an ask. Asking them to get back to you on an email is probably not.
Tell a joke
Before you start telling me why the chicken crossed the road, consider that everybody wants to sell us things all the time (speaking of that, if you believe in cooperation between speakers and want to join our family go here). For that reason, most of us have our guard up. It is a shame really, because they may be trying to sell us something that we want or need (although we don’t know it yet).
Humor is a brilliant tool for helping people put their guard down. By taking the time to goof around a bit, you show that you are also human and that you are relatable.
(A speaker doing this well is Jeremy Nicholas. I find his newsletters to be quite funny, so he might be a good case study if you want to go down this road).
A word to the wise, though: you are only as funny as people find you.
Don’t overdo it and be aware that other people may not share your sense of humor.
Keep it mild and light-hearted, or don’t do it at all. Those are your options. A thing to consider is also that you need to keep it simple, so don’t write overly long emails to get a good pun in there. It ties directly into our next point.
(And yes, I do see the irony in recommending short emails at this point)
Short and simple
Usually, a workday is less than simple. The inbox is on fire, co-workers are doing drive-by meetings, and there is fish for lunch in the cantine.
You need to filter efficiently, so the receiver of your message don’t have to. If you don’t, you’re akin to a chef at a restaurant serving unprepared food. Don’t. 
People who fail to keep it short and simple often simply want to do a good job of equipping us to understand a situation at hand. So they overload us and effectively short-circuit our mental wiring. The intention is good; the result is bad.
When you do this, people are unlikely to respond to your emails. Not because they don’t want to, but rather because they’ve no idea where to start.
I have learned this the hard way.
If you ever get a response to an email that only deals with part of what you asked in the first place (we do), then take a step back and consider if maybe you put too much in the email in the first place? Maybe you should have been a more stringent editor and cut away more stuff.
One answer is better than no answers. So keep it short and to the point. That will get you a much better response rate.
Don’t be afraid to do as the writers say and ‘kill your darlings’. You may love a specific phrase of pay-off that you always use. Don’t include it just because you like it. If it serves no purpose, kill it.
And on that cheery note, I better end this entry.
That’s all for now. I wish you tons of success in your business pursuits and remember that you have tons of speaker colleagues.
See you with a new edition in a week. Thank you for reading. Keep speaking.
Did you enjoy this issue?
Kristian from Speakers Loft

Standing oration is a bonfire for public speakers. Huddle around with the rest of us, as we talk about living and working as a public speaker. We're also creating

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