According to a Pitney Bowes study, the average corporate executive receives upwards of 375 calls, voicemails, e-mails, faxes and letters each day. With such a deluge of information, is it any surprise that survey after survey indicates the time available to capture anyone's attention is only a few seconds?
Let's face it, who has time to listen to a five minute rambling voicemail full of umms and ahhs or scroll through a six page e-mail? Along with annoying the recipient, long winded messages that are not deleted are usually flagged for review at a later time, slowing the process and in some instances removing the productivity of digital communications altogether.
So how do you effectively use the digital communication tools of today? Here's a few tips I've learned during my five years of working virtually:
Slow Down. Just because you can shoot off an e-mail within seconds of having a thought or leave a voicemail immediately following a question entering consciousness, does not necessarily mean you should! All messages should be short and to the point and respectful of the recipient's time. By taking a few moments to mull over your message, you may stumble across a resolution or additional points which need to be addressed may come to light.
Be Professional At All Times. Yes, that joke your buddy sent you last night was a hoot, but you should never forward such communications to business contacts. To protect against spam, you also should not disclose your recipient's e-mail addresses when sending to a group. Using the "bcc" (blind carbon copy) field for multiple addresses and placing your own e-mail address in the "To" field shows you are respectful of your contacts' privacy. It also provides you with a "proof" copy of what you sent to check formatting or other issues which can affect the message by transmission through the Internet.
Carefully Use "Forward to All" and "Reply to All" Functions. I have witnessed embarrassing moments of others (and recall my own painful "oops" in this regard) when messages intended only for the original sender, are, in fact, sent to everyone who may have been cc'd or even bcc'd on the original message or post. Best not to use either button at all. If you wish to respond to a message, hit "Forward" and fill in the addressee(s) as any other e-mail.
Consider Your Voicemail Message Before Dialing. In today's world, 9 times out of 10 a caller is transferred to voicemail, so why not prepare something intelligent to say in advance? This is never a waste of time since taking a few minutes to think about what you want to convey in a voicemail, can also be used as an outline for what you need to cover in the call, should you actually get through to your intended party.
Do A Full Read Of Each E-mail With each e-mail, always read through your message from start to finish before hitting "Send". This last reading is crucial in catching any missing information or attachments and allows you to get a full understanding of the "tone" of your message. On important communications, I suggest a break between drafting and this final read. Sometimes a trip away from your PC to get a drink or use the facilities will make you "fresh" for the final review and help you catch those typos or grammatical errors even spell checkers miss!
Formatting Counts. Formatting does count and every e-mail message should contain proper formatting, punctuation and grammar. Think back to those grade school days of essay writing and give each message a greeting/opening, middle, closing and signature too. Remember, every message should contain enough information for the recipient to understand what you need or what they need to do in response to your communication. As a courtesy, it should also include copies of any documents or previous communications referenced, if not overly large.
Ask and Ye Shall Receive. Receive permission before sending any large attachments (movies, pictures and sound files are notoriously large). Sending large attachments may cause some inboxes to reach their size limit. If this happens, the recipient must log in and download or delete your message in order to receive any further e-mails from any source almost guaranteeing they will not think kindly of you from that point forward.
Be Considerate. Make sure to say "grab a pen" or to repeat your return telephone number twice when leaving a voicemail. Of course, speak up, speak at a reasonable rate and articulate. You can even stand up or smile right before speaking, which has an enormous effect on the tone of your voice and message. Also, when using a cell phone, walk away from your PC or any other equipment which may cause interference with the signal and therefore gaps in your message.
Be Polite. In e-mails, do not use all CAPITALS as it is considered shouting.
Be Clear. Do not use acronyms or cryptic shorthand in your messages. Not only will the recipient not understand your message, in many times they will feel "stupid" for not being able to figure it out!
Keep The Subject Line Intact. When replying to messages, especially to groups and list servs, do not change the subject line. Many e-mail applications allow a sort by subject, giving subscribers the ability to follow a particular discussion "thread" provided the subject line is not altered.
No matter what your life circumstances, it is hard to escape the need to use some form digital communication. I hope these pointers are helpful to you. Comments and feedback always appreciated: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Andrea Cannavina, Master Virtual Assistant and President/CEO of LegalTypist, Inc., helps sole practitioners, law firms and companies which service the legal industry upgrade their dictation processes to digital in order to get more done with less (less employees, less equipment and less stress). To learn more visit: www.legaltypist.com While there, subscribe to The Legal Connection, a quarterly newsletter, full of how to's, reviews and insights to working virtually.