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Radioactive writing


Premise: The key to success is communicating to the reader, not yourself.

English is my third language, so I am being quite bold to presume I can provide any advice on how to deliver material in that fine language. Still, I have repeatedly succeeded in getting the desired results using a minimal amount of words, be it an email message or a social network post, a survey or a presentation, a business plan or a corporate strategic action plan where it is imperative that everyone clearly understands the objectives and is willing to participate.

Three sentences is really all it takes to find whether a target is willing to engage, be it on a personal level or professional. Consider the following when you are composing an important email message:

  • Sentence 1: Opening statement – If you know the recipient, start of a personal note, if you don’t, find the common denominator.
  • Sentence 2: Disclose the reason why you are contacting the recipient and outline potentially mutual benefits.
  • Sentence 3: Suggest a follow-up that invites the recipient to reject the proposal without that hurting your relationship.

This may sound a bit cold and impersonal, but the fact is that lengthy messages are unlikely to be read. Usually they are left to be read later and eventually end up unread. When writing messages, matters tend to go wrong between sentences 2 and 3 as the sender begins to prove the concept in order to reduce the risk of rejection. Such messages tend to look like this:

  • Sentence 1: Opening statement.
  • Sentence 2: Beating around the bush a bit.
  • Sentence 3: Beating some more around the bush.
  • Sentence 4: The core issue; why you are contacting the recipient in the first place.
  • Sentence 5: Evidence why the issue should be of interest to the recipient.
  • Sentence 6: Further evidence why the issue should be of interest to the recipient.
  • Sentence 7: Even further evidence why the issue should be of interest to the recipient.
  • Sentence 8: Go personal leaving the recipient no means to reject the proposal without that hurting your relationship.

The first message can be read in seconds; the other takes a minute or more. The damage done using the latter approach is threefold:

  • It demonstrates lack of confidence (fear of rejection).
  • It demonstrates lack of clarity (fear clouds the ability to think).
  • It puts a wedge between you and the recipient (fear is weakness and causes recipient discomfort or irritation).

Business schools, especially in marketing, emphasize the use of normal language when communicating as most people have only basic vocabulary. That does not apply when writing to executives, Board members, investors and other professionals. People at that level are quite sophisticated and can take offense if an issue they understand quite well is explained to them. If they do not understand the issue, they will find out about it privately or simply ask for a clarification.

Snorri H. Gudmundsson, CEO, GC Venture Consulting

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