Monday, October 8, 2007

Improve your Email (Bonus: Presentation Disasters)

In keeping with the upcoming workplace collaboration carnival, here are my three favorite ways to improve your office email skills right now [more reference/inspiration at Web Worker Daily and elsewhere online].

1. Wait at least 15 minutes before you hit "send" (5 minutes if it's truly an urgent reply).
During that time, work on another task and then reread the sender's original message. (Be sure to save a draft before you change tasks.) Make sure you have correctly understood what the email's author was saying and that you've answered his/her questions. Exchanging information is, I assume, the purpose of all email, but you might be surprised how often the wrong information gets sent in the race to hit the "send" button.

2. Use paragraphs and bullet points liberally.
It sounds crass, but a dense block of text can be intimidating to your reader (even for interoffice communication - admit it, how many times have you skimmed "for the main point" of an important but long email?). If your action items are buried 20 lines deep, you are less likely to get the information that you need. I'm a fan of the lyrical and winding missive when I'm on my own time, but I've long since learned to keep my work emails quick and direct.

A related recommendation is to use bold, italics, and even colors to clue team members into the structure of your email, especially if it's on the long side. If you can anticipate that your reader is just going to scan, you might as well set your writing up to get a semblance of your point across.

3. Rethink the need to send the email altogether.
Could (or should) you just research this information yourself? If it's really urgent, would a phone call make more sense? The time to complain about inbox bloat is over; do your part to fight it by reducing the amount of email that you send to the bare minimum.

Everyone's time is limited at the office, so make the most of the chunk of your day that is spent sending, reading, and replying to email. I'd like to recommend that you organize and archive your email for easy reference, but those tips could easily fill a series of posts, so look for that information in the future. A parting tip: turn on automatic spell check (your future will thank you).

Here's the bonus: Presentation Disasters (I challenge you not to laugh at - or relate to - these terrifying presentation moments. These stories make reading directly from PowerPoint slides slightly less offensive.)

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