Avoid IT: How not to inspire dread in your audience

Recharged after the weekend and eager to start my day, I was quickly skimming my emails to prioritize my tasks when I saw “IT”- the dreaded email from my department chair directed to “All.”  Most of my colleagues would have stopped there and deleted the message, but as a writing consultant, my natural inclination was to keep reading. I glanced at the subject line and opening sentence thinking “IT” might get better. The purpose was to announce a beginning of the semester kick-off meeting and happy hour, but the terse greeting (if ALL can be considered a greeting) was followed by the lackluster statement, “I am writing to…” My department chair didn’t mean to dampen my Monday morning spirits, and like many people, was probably immersed in his own “to-do’s” instead of considering the impression his words would make on me. 

Having just finished summer break, I should have been excited to attend and catch up with colleagues but instead felt like I was receiving a reminder to arrive 15 minutes early to my next dental appointment.  No offense to dentists, but cleanings are not on my top-10-fun-things-to-do list. Come to think of it, meetings probably aren’t either.  However, the “IT” should have engaged me from the start with a courteous, welcoming greeting. Greetings set the tone for our messages and often determine whether we’ll continue through to the end.  A sincere, courteous greeting with a pleasantry conveys warmth and establishes rapport, the same as walking down a hall smiling and saying good morning to the people you pass.  Referring to a person by name makes that individual feel even more valued and respected. 

Keep the emphasis on your readers by following the greeting with an opening sentence that frames the context from their perspective.  Instead of “I am writing to…”, contemplate how a sentence could be rephrased to a “you” perspective which focuses on them.  For example, “you are invited to….”  Better yet, describe reader benefits so they know what’s in it for them.  For example, “Friday’s meeting is your chance to catch up with colleagues and express your thoughts about x, y, and z.”  Then, expand on the details your reader needs or wants to know.

Take a moment or two before you write an email to place yourself in the position of your audience and consider what words would demonstrate that you are genuinely interested and care about them. Try to anticipate their reactions to your requests.  The more you focus on them, the more likely you are to achieve your desired outcomes.  Had more thought been given to the readers of “IT”, the word choices could have generated enthusiasm instead of reinforcing obligation. And maybe, four subsequent “ITs” would’ve been unnecessary to encourage people to attend a happy hour.