Your Email Client is cheating on you!
Sit down, I think we should talk. I've discovered something about your email client that I think you should know. It’s a harsh truth but I've got to share it. It’s the emails you’re sending — they are poor, and they are taking up too much of your time. It’s not your fault. Your email client is secretly working against you. I can show you how to fix that.
I want you to do an experiment. Open up your work email, for the vast majority of us in large organisations that’s probably Outlook. Now look at the Sent folder and pick a message at random. If you've not changed Outlook’s default setting’s you’ll see who the message is sent to and the subject of your email:
Now, assuming that your recipient didn't know you, if this was all that they could see about you and your email, would it convey the message you wanted? Would you be enticed to open the email and see more?
The chances are that it doesn't completely explain the point you wanted to make. Open up the email and double check.
Have you ever replied to an email in a long conversation where the subject line no longer makes sense? Or forwarded an email to someone without changing the subject line to explain why you are sending it?
The subject line is the first thing people see when they receive your email, yet most of us don’t give it a second glance. Sometimes we even struggle to think of a title the email we want to send.
Is it just the Subject Line?
You’re right – that’s a bit unfair. After all, most people will see more than just the subject line when they receive your email. In fact Outlook can show you a preview of the first three lines of your email. Let’s turn it on and check to see how our email looks now. Go back to your sent folder, click the “View” ->“View Settings” (1) -> “Other Settings…” (2)-> “AutoPreview” and “Preview all items” (3). Then click “OK”.
Take the same email and read the subject line and AutoPreview. Does this new view with the extra information convey the message you wanted? Would you be enticed to open the email now and read more?
This is what most of us see when we receive an email. Even if we haven’t got the Autopreview configured it is human nature to scan the email quickly, focusing on the start of the email. We almost always read the subject and first few lines before deciding to either read more or delete the email. If your key message isn't here it may not be read at all.
Other Email Clients
It’s not just Outlook that provides an Autopreview, other mail clients do it too. If you check your email on an iPhone, Android or even Windows Phone you’ll see a similar Autopreview:
These Autopreviews normally exclude formatting, font styles, images and tables. Optimising your writing for the Autopreview is not easy, and not natural. When you compose a new email in Outlook (or almost any other mail client) you see one view of the email – the view you want. But your recipient sees the message in a completely different format. Not only that but it displays your email in this bland format alongside a sea of other emails, all of which are competing for your readers attention. That’s not fair, and in this case Outlook is cheating; letting you think that the email you’re sending is going to be read in exactly the same way as you've written it, when in fact it almost certainly won’t.
That’s why I created the “Email Preview” plugin. I very much wanted to scratch my own itch and ensure that the emails I send deliver the message I want. With the “Email Preview” plugin I mimic the Autopreview behaviour to show you what your reader will see when you send the message. This way, as you write the email you can correct it there and then. While the Autopreview format your reader will see is still poor, at least you know what they will read.
The “Email Preview” plugin is fresh out of my Mind-Flip “labs” and in order to get some feedback on it I've released it for free. Please check it out and tell me what you think. You can find it here: http://better-emails.com/buy (the URL says buy, but it is free at the moment).
If you’d like more tips and tricks on writing and dealing with email please check out the series of blog posts on this subject which I’ve shared on my web site: http://better-emails.com/blog
A bit about Chris
I’ve worked in the technology industry for 15 years from Mobile phones to Cloud software, from small start-ups to large multinationals and I’ve seen email cripple many people along the way.
Banner Image Credit: Created by me — but inspired by an image originally by Sean MacEntee.