Email Communication: What Works, What Doesn't
So now we're gonna, I think this is gonna be kind of interesting and fun part of the class, we're gonna talk about examples of good and bad email communication. Fortunately, we're gonna start with a good one first. So what I've done is written a fictitious email from a fictitious art director at The Washington Post. His name is Dante McWilliams. And this is a very typical kind of email you will get from a potential client. And a little bit later in the class we'll talk about what you can expect when a client makes the initial contact with you, or a potential client, so we'll dive into this a little bit deeper, but this is a very typical email. Dear Lisa, my name is Dante McWilliams, and I'm the art director at The Washington Post. We have an editorial project in the entertainment section of an upcoming Sunday edition. I love your work, and I think it would be a perfect fit for this assignment. The job would start Monday, and I wanted to see if you were available. Thanks so much for you...
r time. I look forward to hearing from you soon, Dante. Okay, here's my response. Dear Dante, thank you so much for reaching out to me about this assignment and for your kind words about my work. I am very interested. I have a few initial questions. So as I'm reading this, pay attention to what I'm doing here that is effective. I have a few initial questions. Can you tell me more about the timeline for the assignment? You mentioned that it begins Monday. When would the final illustrations be due? How many illustrations does the assignment include? If you are able to share, what is the subject matter of the assignment? And what is the fee for the assignment? I'm also happy to get on the phone to discuss details if that's better for you. I'm available tomorrow anytime. Thank you again. Best wishes, Lisa. And I give my phone number. That's not my actual phone number, in case anybody was wondering. (laughs) All right, okay, all right. So let's talk for a second. What works about this email?
Well, I noticed first quickly that you responded that you do want the job, you do want the work. You acknowledged that, that sounds great. You also thanked him for the compliment for your work, so those all sound like good starters.
Yeah, yeah. So I acknowledged that I'm interested. I haven't taken the job, exactly said I want it yet, because I have some questions and I might not be able to take it, but I'm interested, and expressing interest and enthusiasm out the gates is important. They might be inquiring with a few people so you wanna really express that you're interested, especially if you feel like it's a good opportunity. And I also said thank you. Thank you for reaching out to me, and thank you for your compliments about my work. What else works about this email? What else did I do?
You asked for all of the details.
Yes, maybe not all the details, and we'll get into that more later, but a lot of details that I would need.
Well, and you put them in bullet points so I think that helps people to visually see they're not just gonna answer the last question and then-
Right. How many of have ever gotten an email? I mean, if this happens to you all the time, this is sort of a silly question, where you're like, you get the first paragraph and then you can't read any further because there's too many questions and too much information in one paragraph, so organizing your emails into really succinct points and questions is actually super helpful to the person. I used to have an illustration agent and sometimes (laughs) I would write her these emails that had way too many questions jumbled together. I've gotten much better at my communication in the last ten years, but probably not so good at it ten years ago, and she would respond within, she would cut and paste my email into her response so that she didn't miss anything, 'cause I asked so many questions, and she would respond in a different color. (laughs) And now I find myself doing that sometimes when somebody writes an email that feels overwhelming or not well organized. So having a well organized email works. Yeah?
One other comment from online is that you ask what the fee is.
So you're being very up front about
Yes, I'm being direct. Believe me you need
Yeah, which can be hard.
to know that. Don't be shy about asking. We're gonna talk about that a lot later in this class, like fees are important and they should determine, they should be one of the main factors that determine whether or not you accept a job, and so I ask up front and I haven't always been confident to ask up front, but I now do that and I recommend that people do that. Find a way to ask. Yes.
So at what point do you ask about like the content of the illustration?
Great, so you could ask that. I could have also said, I think I asked, I think I asked, let's see, I'm trying to go back, clicker's not working. Yeah. I think I asked, if you're able to share what's the content? But you want to know the creative brief, you want to know eventually what it is they want you to do, in what style, and all of that, and we'll get into that later. Sometimes initial emails are just basic information and then if the fee works for you and the timeline works for you, then you can sort of follow up with a second email that asks a little bit deeper questions. But usually within the first or second email. Okay. Let's see, I did it. All right. Just to review this email shows gratitude. We talked about that. Succinctness, we talked about that. Enthusiasm, interest, politeness, and yet I'm still formal. Treating the relationship formally, friendliness, and I didn't talk about this as one of the principles of effective communication, but there's also a call to action in there. I say, hey, I don't say like call me tomorrow, I say, I'm available tomorrow if you want to talk on the phone, like I'm throwing the ball into Dante's court. I'm letting him know I'm available, so now I'm making it easy for him, right?
From Annie who says, talks about numbering versus bullet points of your questions, and I was curious of that as it sets a different tone, like if it's one, two, three, four, versus just the bullet points.
You'll notice in my presentation here, I use a lot of bullet points. I like bullet points. Sometimes, I feel sometimes that numbering is a little lecture-y, you know? Like lecture-y is not a word, but you guys know what I mean. Like, one, two, three, four, I think there's an appropriate time and place for numbered lists, but I think that's that level of too formal, you know? But you want to keep it friendly, so that's a really great and interesting question. Okay, so now for what not to do. So I'm going to show you several examples. These are actual, real examples that my producer and I put together from past experience, so they may seem extreme to you, but these things happen, so it's important to look at them. Okay, so same email from Dante, I'm not going to read it to you again, he's the art director at The Washington Post, he's got an editorial project, upcoming Sunday edition, wants to know if you're available and interested. Hey! How's it going? This project sounds really cool! I'd love to work on it! Lemme know the details when you have a chance! Peace! L. Okay, what's wrong with this? Well first of all, you can also say what's right about it. What is working and not working about this one?
You express interest.
Yeah, I express interest. I'm like enthusiastic. (audience laughs)
So you did express interest but it's too informal. It's too, it's like you're talking to your friend. That you know well.
And I don't know Dante from Adam. You know? I've never talked to him before, so it's a little too informal, I've also got a typo in there, keys should be capitalized. (laughs) I mean these details matter, never ever start an email with somebody you don't know that's, hey, exclamation point, maybe a few months into the relationship or a few weeks into the relationship if you guys have formed a good, strong, collegial relationship. Yes?
Lots of exclamation marks. Lots of question marks.
It looks like a text message to me. (laughs)
And actually there's a time and place for exclamation points, for sure. Especially in texting, because texting is really hard to show emotion and sometimes we use exclamation points to convey enthusiasm, and I think they have a place in email as well, but you don't want to overuse them. Okay. This is literally a response. So, I think I can do it. How much does it pay? So what's wrong with this one? You guys should just hold onto the mic and pass it back and forth, 'cause I'm gonna keep asking you questions.
You didn't capitalize how.
I didn't capitalize how. (laughter) Okay, what else is wrong with this one?
It's two sentences.
It's two sentences. What's also missing from this?
My name. What else?
Well, I, the client will know whether he can do it or not because it says you think you can do it, but to me, it shows that you don't know if you're sure whether you'd be able to do the job or not.
Right, which is fine, but 'cause sometimes we don't know whether we're going to be able to do a job or not, but it's sort of like this vague statement, right? It's also missing a salutation. (laughs) If we're going to be formal, we want to make sure we say, dear Dante, or hello Dante. Yes?
And Caroline says, it is unclear what the assignment is and yet you're already agreeing to do the job, and you don't have any details, which is unprofessional.
You haven't asked any questions! Except how much does it pay. What message does that send?
I only really care how much it pays. I'm ambivalent about whether I can do it or not so. Okay, here's one. Hi, period. I got your email. The project looks cool. I think I can do it. I'm in the middle of another big project right now. And my mom is having surgery in two weeks, so I need to be sure I'm available for her, but I should be able to work on it. I should be able to work this in. It would be great to work with you. When do you want to start? It. (laughs) How much does it pay? Lisa. So there's a lot of things. There's a few things that are okay about this one. But let's talk about what not to do here.
Mainly the personal details about the surgery, they just don't belong
Yeah, too much information.
In the professional realm.
Don't overshare. If you are in a working relationship with a client, and you're mom's about to have surgery, it's fine to tell your client that, but you don't even have a contract with this person yet. They don't need to know why or why not you are not available. That is too much information. Let's just keep it simple and succinct, so that's great.
It would be a benefit, I would think to not reveal that so they think you're very busy and in demand.
Right. In fact, it's probably better not to reveal that. That's also true, and also we don't want to make them feel like you, even if I did take it, that I might not be fully present with the job because I am having problems in my personal life. That's something you want to kind of keep out of the scenario, especially in the beginning. If something happens and you're in the middle of a working relationship, something happens in your personal life, you need to share that, especially if it's going to impact your work, but this is a totally different situation 'cause you're just reaching out. So what else is not working so well about this one?
Well you asked when do you want to start, and he said it starts Monday.
Right. So he's, I'm asking a question that he's already answered, right? And that's one of the things we're going to talk about in a little bit is this idea of reading over the details of an inquiry email so you're not asking about something that's already been told to you, all right? There's also so many typos in this one. Carelessness, you know? This person is obviously checked out. I guess that would be me, if it's an example of a (laughs) response from me. All right. Let's talk about another one. Okay, this one looks like it might be good! But you just wait. Dear Dante, I received your request. I'm open to talking further about your project. However, I should say I recently took a project with another department at The Post and things didn't go very well. (laughter) Communication was poor. The team seemed scattered and they were always late in getting me the feedback I needed to meet their deadlines. So I do feel hesitant working with your company again. That said, I know each department is different so I'm willing to consider this project with you. Let's schedule a time to discuss the detail. Best, Lisa. Phew. All right. What's going on here?
More details that were too much that had nothing to do with this new project that came in.
Right, like again, too much information, and also we're getting kind of negative here, aren't we? For no reason. This may very well be true. I mean, I have actually wanted to write this email before. Right? But I would never do that because I want to treat each opportunity and each individual I work with differently and this doesn't feel appropriate. So again, oversharing, overcommunicating, and overly negative. Is this going to make Dante want to work with you? No. Dante's going to be like, uh-oh, this person is a trip. You know? All right. So pro tip! Do everything in your power not to sound like a jerk or like you don't care. Okay, it may seem obvious, but always consider your tone. So email and text are especially tricky, right? Because they're written communication, you want to use an occasional, an occasional exclamation point and positive language to show that you're enthusiastic and that you care. You want to use salutations. Hello, Dante. Dear Dante. Instead of simply launching into your question or comment. You would be surprised how many emails I get from people, not from clients, but just from people wanting to know things from me or ask me advice that literally do not say, dear Lisa. And it makes such a huge difference when people have the sort of humanness about them and they're treating you like a human being and that's how you want to be with your clients and customers. Read the communication back to yourself. Do I sound professional and personable here? Once you're into the process, meaning you've signed a contract and you're already working with the client, if you ever find that you're frustrated or annoyed, take control of your emotions instead of lashing out or being rude. Always, I always try to like kill them with kindness so I did actually have a working relationship with a client a few years ago where I felt like the client was actually being really rude and condescending to me and my response to that was just to continue to be respectful and model respectful, kind communication. I at least could go to bed at night feeling good. I will never work with that client again, but I got through it. All right, if you feel yourself having an emotional response, take a breath. Any questions? Yeah.
I've had a client in the past who took the casual take that you used as a bad example. But I always think it's better to just stay professional rather than going down to their casual level. Do you agree that it's ...
I do agree and I think that's a little bit what Kenna had a question from the audience, the Internet audience earlier, similar thing, like often times the client is the one who takes the casual tone, right? And so we want to make sure that we are always doing, first of all, you want to be authentic, you want to be yourself, and some of us are like either we're raised with a certain level of formality in our communication or are just sort of more naturally that way. So being yourself is important, first and foremost. But second of all, I think you run the risk if you get too casual with the client that they might begin to feel like they can take advantage of you, and so keeping a certain level of formality is a really great way to sort of keep the boundaries where they should be, and again, every situation is different and you have to sort of assess based on who that person is, but if you're comfortable being really casual with a client who's also very casual, that's fine, but if your preference is to be more formal then that's also fine. Do what feels right for you. Yes.
Just a quick question on the salutations, you had dear and hello, but it now it's, are there ones not to use? (Lisa laughs)
I said earlier don't ever start the email with hey.
Hey, unless you're Swedish, (laughs) which is how they address each other, although informally, hey is a little bit like a lot of people from my mom's generation will say hey is for horses. Just don't say hey. So probably best to avoid that, but I think even like not even just using that person's name, but saying hello or dear or anything. If any of those sound too old fashioned to you, then figure out what works for you. I don't think it's gonna make or break your potentially, like the person's not going to give you the opportunity, but just to sort of use your best judgment in those situations. Okay. Pro tip. Get on the phone. So, we're gonna talk about this, we're gonna be like talking a lot about how often times when you're trying to decide whether or not to take an assignment, you're sort of asking all these questions and you might feel like you're bombarding the client with we have talked before about making a bulleted list because sometimes they give you very little information so there's a lot you need to know in order to decide whether or not this is something you want to move forward to discuss. So sometimes getting on the phone is really the best idea. They make it easier to get to the bottom line. If you're not a phone person, it might feel kind of awkward, but and not everyone's comfortable on the phone, but they can actually save time and a lot of back and forth email. So I often suggest, especially if it's a project that I'm really interested in or I'm already in the project, I'm in contract and I just have a lot of questions, I often suggest getting on the phone. All right, when you're in doubt if you're sending an email, if you're in doubt whether or not it's a good email, especially if you're new to this or it's a really important opportunity and you want to make sure not to screw it up, just ask someone you trust to read the email. I mean how many of you had somebody read an email for you before you've sent it before? Like, does this sound good? Do I sound professional here? It's always a great thing to do.