First Impressions: The Written Word is a Powerful Thing

You never get a second chance to make a first impression. I use this saying a lot in my marketing pieces and when I speak at functions. How many people have heard this but not give it any credence? Many people I talk to assume this only relates to the visual aspect of a first impression or forget that it extends to all forms of communication. For example: have you ever received an email from an individual or company and immediately formed an opinion of the sender? Today I want to look at written forms of communication and give few tips and reminders about first impressions, which I call Gentle Reminders. I learned this from Miss Manners.

Email.

Oh, I love email. Oftentimes I would rather people communicate with me via email than on the phone because I can get my email on my computer and on my phone so I can instantly respond to them. Yes, I truly fit the definition of one that has a “CrackBerry”, I am never without my phone and only during family time am I not checking it or responding to something I have received on it.

My first gentle reminder is this: email is not texting. You cannot abbreviate or use two letters for entire words. It is not acceptable and frankly you look uneducated when you do so. Can you imagine a hiring manager getting the response back, “tnx for the email, c u 2moro” It almost looks like a Prince song (wow, have I dated myself there).

Email gentle reminder two: please make sure your Caps Lock is NOT on. I have literally emailed someone back asking them to stop yelling at me when I receive an email in all capitol letters. It was a gentle reminder but effective. Read the following lines and see if you can pick up on the difference:

Thank you for your time yesterday; I truly enjoyed our conversation and look forward to meeting again next Tuesday at 3:00.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR TIME YESTERDAY I TRULY ENJOYED OUR CONVERSATION AND LOOK FORWARD TO MEETING AGAIN NEXT TUESDAY AT 3:00.

Same sentence yet there is a major difference in tone.

Email gentle reminder three: Tone, humor and subtleties do not translate well in email so you must keep this in mind. A majority of humor and subtlety is translated through non-verbal communication i.e. a slight smile, a raising of the eyebrow, a widening of the eyes. The reader cannot see you, they cannot read your mind and they certainly do not know what frame of mind you are in when you are writing the email so you must be vigilant in creating a message that is clear and leaves no room for interpretation. Let me state it frankly – humor does not translate well at all, just do not use it period.

Here is another thought to keep in mind: the intended recipient may know you well enough to understand you, but do you really know that they are the only one that will read the email? How many companies have filtering programs for their emails? How many other eyes view their emails? That was something that I had to do in a former life, check all incoming emails for a company and let me tell you, I read a emails containing information that I really did not want to know and wish I could forget!

Email tip: Write the email then walk away. Let it sit then come back and read it again. I have written an email or even a blog and thought what I was writing was exactly what I was thinking and it all was very clear. Much to my dismay, in re-reading the information later I found that the two were not the same and revisions were necessary to make sure my point was clear.

Letters, Thank You Cards, Cover Letters etc.

Gentle Reminder One: First and foremost – check you spelling. Now check it again. Do no solely rely on spell check. I can tell you that I worked four Merrill Lynch. The word “four” in the previous sentence is spelled correctly, but it is the wrong for! And grammar check did not pick up on it either. One misspelled word can ruin a wonderful creation and send it straight into the trash. Have someone else proof it, someone you trust to proof read. I have business partners, two are wonderful at reading content for content alone, making sure the message is clear. The other is wonderful at spelling and grammar. They are an invaluable team: Manuel, Jackie and Jake, I value their opinions and trust their thoughts.

When I write a hand written note, I type it out on the computer first to use spell check as my first line of defense. Then I print it out and go through it word by word. Then I will copy it to the note. And if my writing is not neat, I throw it away and start again. No use sending a hand written note if no one can read it, it defeats the purpose.

Gentle Reminder Two: When writing a hand written note, be sure to reference something that the reader will remember in order to connect you to the interview. It should be something that was a positive exchange. For example, if you are sending a thank you note after an interview, be sure to include something discussed during the interview. “I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the new automotive ordering process, what an incredible time and money saver!”

One caveat, do not refer to an “inside” joke or lighthearted moment during the interview. It may have eased the situation at that moment, however a day or two later the recipient may not remember the environment in which the exchange transpired or simply not think it funny today.

Gentle Reminder Three: When addressing the envelope, please make sure that it is done neatly and professionally. Use full titles, company name, spell out the address (Suite 500 not Ste 500), use proper business form as it is business communication.

Assistance Letters

This I am making a separate topic due to the uniqueness of the letter. Whether this be a request for an information interview, an introduction or any other appeal make sure you are very clear. If you are appealing to someone to share their time, opinion or expertise please do not send them a five page flattery-dripping letter praising them and in the last sentence end with “by the way, can you….”

Be sincere, honest and direct. If you are asking someone to grant you their time, tell them why you are making this request, they will want to know. No mater who you are your most valuable asset is time and for someone to share theirs with you will require information. I am not simply going to meet with someone because they asked me to. I know that may sound snobbish, and in a way I suppose I am being selfish. I have children, a fiancé, family, friends and a business. My time is valuable and I have limited time to share with everyone that I would love to so please, let the recipient know your intentions.

For me, I want to know why you want to meet with me, what you would like to discuss, and an expectation of time. If you do not set the time expectation, I will. I would also like to know what lead you to contact me specifically.

Let me give you an example. I recently received a request for a meeting. The gentleman and I had met a few years ago through another company and he had found me on LinkedIn. He is a period of transition and would like my advice on a specific topic. He was very clear to tell me that he has attended workshops and done quite a bit of research, which tells me that he is not looking for me to provide all of the answers. He asked for a specific amount of time and suggested a time period for me to check my calendar, at my convenience.

I appreciated several things about this request:
1. He told me how he knew me and was able to establish a connection.
2. He has done his homework on the topic he would like to discuss.
3. He was very specific about the time requested.
4. He recognized the value of my time and promised to honor this.
5. He was specific about the topic, which will lead to a well run meeting.
6. He was very professional in all of his communication.
7. He used common courtesy and manners.

We are meeting next week and I am looking forward to meeting this gentleman, I have been impressed so far. I have no doubt, as there has been a stream of communication that he will present as professional in person as he has in the virtual world.

Gentle Reminder: You set a tone when you are writing correspondence. It is imperative that if you establish a very professional tone you uphold this through out any future contact or communication.

In short, take your time, be clear, be professional and be positive. The written word is a powerful thing when used wisely.

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