Guest blogging on Jerry Weismann’s blog today

I’m guest blogging today on Jerry’s Weissman’s blog on how his core presentation concept of “less is more” is also very applicable in another key communication medium these days: email.

Readers of the Power Presentations blogs are well aware of the importance of the Less is More principle as it applies to presentation content as well as to presentation graphic design and animation. Some of the posts have also shown how the principle even extends to include merchandising and iPhone apps. Another important extension is to email.

With the pervasiveness of email as the primary form of communication in business today, mastering this communication medium is vital for a successful career. Here is how the Less is More principle elegantly applies to email in two key areas, Style and Structure:

Style: A slide is not a word document—neither is an email.

In a presentation, it is very annoying—if not patronizing—when presenters read long-winded sentences directly from their slides. It is equally annoying to receive long emails that transform a normally effective and direct communication medium into a tedious task of deciphering.

For email communication to be effective it has to be brief and to the point. Don’t try to mimic a verbal conversation or a full report. A simple rule of thumb is to have the gist of your email appear within the text shown in the preview pane of Microsoft Outlook (also called “reading pane”). Your recipient should be able to known what is expected of him or her in one glance. Ideally, the entire email itself should fit within this preview.

Obviously, this applies to regular email communication, and not to more complex communication, such as a division-wide strategy update, or sensitive subjects, such as a personal matter.

A slide bullet point should read “Positive 2010 market outlook” rather than “The 2010 market should show positive sign of growth in our core markets.” In that same way, an effective email should be succinct. Write “FYI: Mr X forecast the market to grow 10% in 2010,” and not “I would like to share with you the latest figures on the market our company focuses on as they have been communicated lately by Mr X. As you will see the market should grow an expected 15% in 2010, at least this is what Mr X believes, after last year’s decline.”

Structure: Just as a presentation must have a logical sequence, so must an email.

Knowledge worker coach Sally McGhee teaches the “MPS PASS” model which, amongst other things, recommends that an email should have the following structure:

  • Purpose of the email: tell the reader why you are emailing up front, with the context following. This will help your recipient decide on the spot how much time and how quickly he or she wants to answer your email.
  • Action items: Do you expect the recipient to read only, to reply, or to deliver a specific outcome? State what you want.
  • Supporting information: Then add all the supporting information required, succinctly.

In conclusion, if you apply the Less is More principle in your emails, you can get people’s attention, receive responses on time and be perceived as efficient by your peers. A Microsoft executive once told me, the people with whom you are communicating are smart. If they need more details, they will ask for them. This is true both for presentations and emails.

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