I’ve had the pleasure to work for several high-impact and well-known figures in the mycology and medical fields. Over the years of being a research assistant and science educator, I’ve handled an extraordinary amount of email inquiries: speaking and interview requests, research collaboration proposals, business proposals, technical questions, requests for personal advice and mentorship. And throughout that time, I’ve come to understand what makes emails compelling and engaging, and how to effectively communicate a message or request. Here are some of the key points to consider when you’re emailing someone for the first time.
1. Be concise and respect their time
People who get a lot of emails don’t have much time to read emails, and novella-like emails decrease the likelihood of a response. Email with a precise and easily grasped question or inquiry. Don’t tell your life story for 3 paragraphs. If you’re emailing someone short on time, you’re better off making it short, sweet, understandable, and respectful.
On that note, if your inquiry is one where a staff member can respond, don’t request that your email be answered only by the [high profile person in charge]. This will just delay the response. Does Obama personally answer emails on how to register to vote? No. Will Jaime Oliver email you detailed instructions on egg-boiling if you ask? Doubt it, because someone else can, easily. Be open to getting a response from another individual.
2. Use the subject line and an email signature
These are basics of email communication etiquette, and using them means that you care about who you’re emailing. In a long list of emails, those with [No Subject] in the subject line or without names or signatures almost automatically means lower priority. Because it just doesn’t seem like you care enough to bother otherwise.
On that note, don’t put the whole message in the subject line, or shout at the reader in all caps. Both are totally unprofessional, but still occur with enough eerie regularity for me to take the time to write about it.
3. Be respectful
This is probably the most important point, and one I can’t underscore enough. People really respond to tone and attitude. In a social context of elbowing-to-get-your-way and shouting-over-everyone-else in order to be heard, the qualities that stand out are respect and creativity.
You are not entitled to free mentorship from a well-known person, or a personal phone call, or an interview. Additionally, the staff for well-known people are not stodgy firewalls that you have to find a clever way to penetrate and circumvent. They are hired to help with all the overwhelming information requests and inquiries, and can often be an ally and friend for your cause.
In other words, watch how you interact with the ‘little people’, because the ‘big people’ often decide if they want to interact with you based on your attitude and behavior. I’ve had many people disrespect me, and arm-twist and try to shove past me to get to a high-profile figure. Do you know where those people went with their request? Nowhere, because people don’t want to interact with jerks and people with entitlement issues. You’re emailing to make connections, not burn bridges. Don’t be the embodiment of the “Super Important Mean Person”, because it’s an aged archetype that’s rotting away with the Cabbage Patch Kids VHS tapes and low-fat diet trends.
This is all by way of saying that the best email tactics are being clear, authentic, respectful, and just plain human. If you want to make a connection with someone, just be real and be yourself, and communicate from the heart.