Think Before You Hit Send… Do Your Emails Send the Right Message?

Emily Schmidt, Award Winning Journalist & Communications Consultant

5 Simple Steps for More Effective Emails

A couple of months ago, an email from a talented client whom I had coached to prepare for a dream job interview popped up in my inbox late on a Friday afternoon.

It said the following, word for word:

“Hi, Emily.

I wonder if you have a few minutes next week for a quick phone call? (Or zoom.) I can give you a few of my reflections on this interview, and some feedback I’ve received that you might like to hear.”

I spent the weekend thinking about that email, worried I had somehow failed the client—potentially costing her a shot at the job.

Instead, on Monday morning, she said, “The feedback from the interview committee was great! You really helped me! Is it ok to recommend you to others?”

The difference between what I read in that email and what she intended in that email was as great as bombing or nailing the interview. And while it was a relief to know the feedback was great, this experience made me look at the emails I send to see if my messages are on point or off base for people on the receiving end.

Here is what I found—and how 5 simple steps can help you send more effective emails:


1. Be a Subject Matter Expert

According to a McKinsey study a few years back, high-skill workers spend 28% of their workday reading and responding to email. Think of that—more than 11 hours a week focused on your inbox!

That is a lot for anyone to sort through, so make your subject line stand out.

“Checking in” may suggest I can wait to read it.

“Document signature required” tells me in three words I need to act.

If there is any doubt about the importance of this, consider a company-wide email communications training session I once led. An attorney who worked for the company felt so passionately about the power of subject lines that he asked to be included in the training to share his top tips. He told colleagues the tips would make his life easier and make their lives easier too.

Take his leadtake the time to write a subject that matters.


2. Keep It Short

Mark Twain supposedly once said, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long letter instead.”

Remember that if you are spending 28% of your workday on email, the person reading it is probably doing the same. Do them a favor and take the time to make every word of your email count.

Do not include so much detail, or lay out such an argument, that the reader gets to the end and is not exactly certain what you had to say. If your message takes more than a couple of paragraphs to convey, condense it to the main points and the reason it matters to the reader.

If you cannot do that, chances are you may be better off picking up the phone or scheduling a quick video call for a conversation instead.


3. Do Not Make It Too Short

I worked with a CEO client who was proud of his email response rate. Send him a message, and he would reply quickly, even if he typed only a word or two. It was a leadership strength in accessibility. The problem was—his colleagues said those quick responses could be confusing. They would outline an email argument of pros and cons, and he may reply, “Sounds good,” leaving them uncertain which part sounded good or what action to take next.

On the flip side, he often initiated well-meaning and positive conversations with emails or texts saying something such as, “Call me.” He had the best of intentions, yet an out-of-the-blue message sometimes caused concern with colleagues. Much like the message from my client about her job interview, there was too much room for misguided interpretation. Using a few more words to say something such as, “I think you could be great for a project I’m considering. Call me when you have a moment.”, keeps confusion at bay.


4. Conduct Time Trials

Years in the news business, working overnight and early morning reporting shifts, made me an early riser, and I often do some of my best work and thinking before the sun comes up. I used to send emails then, too, until one day when a client asked if I was ok.

I said yes and wondered why they asked the question. They said they noticed the early time stamp on the email and wanted to ensure I was not burning the candle at both ends. What I saw as efficiency was viewed as potentially (and falsely) being overwhelmed.

Look at when you are sending emails: are you hitting people with non-urgent messages as soon as they wake up? Or if you are a night-owl, are you making phones ping with messages late at night?

Your work habits could be causing unintended stress for your audience as well as impacting your professional brand. Save as drafts or set up send times to make sure people are reading emails when they have the best chance of responding.


5. Test Your Tone

Check your inboxes and look for what some say are true signs of the time: 🙂☹️.

As more of our communications turn to texting, consider: what message do you want to send with pictures?

This question sets off heated debates in many communications sessions; workers in one generation may believe texting and using emojis is too informal and unprofessional. Workers in another generation argue it is quicker, more responsive, and conversational.

Before you send a text or emoji-embellished email to a colleague, take a minute to read it out loud, consider how the message may sound to someone reading it on their end, and see if it is something you would say face-to-face. Humor is especially at risk of falling flat when it is not conveyed with the benefits of body language or follow-up. Test yourself to ensure your audience ❤️s your message as much as you do.

The last year has taught us that communication matters more than ever, and that it is not always possible to see each other in person. So challenge yourself to make the most of your written communication.

Do you have questions? Text or email horror stories? Tips that work for you? Share them with Emily at, and we may share the best in a future BECO offering!

Emily Schmidt is an award-winning journalist and communications consultant who has told stories while floating in air, wading through floodwaters, and covering the race for President of the United States. As co-founder of Speaki2i, Emily uses her experience finding and delivering powerful stories which resonate with audiences to help her clients do the same.

Emily’s Emmy-award winning reporting has appeared on CNN, ABC, NBC, Bloomberg, and hundreds of news outlets around the world. Emily was often asked by people to help them learn to be comfortable communicating on camera and in their corporate culture. That is why she co-founded Speaki2i. Emily works with Fortune 500 companies, subject matter experts, trade associations and non-profits to help them develop and deliver messages with a lasting impact. She has led media training, public speaking and crisis management training for organizations in the US and on five continents.

Scroll to Top