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How many emails do you receive each day? 20? 50? Over 100?  How many do you pay attention to? How many lead you to take action?  If you are like me, very, very few.  As a teacher at IESE Business School and an entrepreneur with four businesses, I’m overwhelmed by email. I cannot and do not read them all.

Email overload is a widespread challenge.  In 2010, 294 billion emails were sent per day for a total of 90 trillion in the full year. 1.9 billion users sent an email during 2010.  The average business user in a 1,000 user organisation receives 110 emails per day (of which 13 are spam) and sends 36 emails.  (Source: Radicati Group Email Statistics Report 2010)

When you send an email, how often does the recipient delete immediately?  What can you do to make your emails stand out?

6 surefire ways to get ignored in an inbox

Jeffrey Pfeffer is one of the top Professors in the area of Power in Organisations. In his book “Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t,” he talks about poorly presented requests for his help via email.  I added some spice of my own to give you six ways that you can help the receiver ignore your email:

  1. Fail to indicate the social connection between sender and reader – where did you meet?  who put you in contact?  “We met at the event yesterday, you mentioned your love of rugby”
  2. Fail to understand the reader’s perspective – what context (background information) does the reader need to take a decision/act upon the email?
  3. Fail to explain why the reader was specifically selected as a source of potential help
  4. Fail to show that sender has already made some effort to understand the domain before asking for help
  5. Fail to keep it short.  Many emails are much too long – the sender has no edit process before sending the “draft” email. I was referred to a nice email policy called by a recent blog post from Mark Suster. The requirement to write your email in three sentences forces you to be concise.
  6. Fail to clarify exactly what is wanted: No effort to clarify what you are asking for. I call this Point X. “Help” is too vague.  Be clear on the action you want from the reader. I’ll expand on this below.

Point X: How to clarify your communication objective

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In my classes on Persuasive Communication at IESE Business School, I start by making every student define their objective. An objective is an action from the audience.  I call this Point X.  I can guarantee that more failure in communication occurs because the requester really has not clarified what they want and thought about whether it is realistic to expect.

Point X is this sentence: “When the reader has finished reading this email he will ________________.”

The sentence must be completed with an active verb.  ”meet on Thursday,” “phone me immediately,” “vote for me,” “visit my website” are all active.  ”Understand more about the situation” is not active. Most communication fails at this step — lack of clarity of the realistic, do-able, specific action that will move you closer to your overall objective.

Less spamming, more engagement and action is in your power

Write down that all-important Point X for your next email (and phone calls, and meetings, and sales calls… make it a habit). Let the receiver know that you specifically chose them. Please don’t risk hanging out with the spam in the inboxes of the world.


Conor Neill teaches Persuasive Communication at IESE Business School in Barcelona and is an entrepreneur who has founded four companies. He was previously a manager in the Human Performance consulting practice of Accenture. He frequently blogs at and tweets as @cuchullainn.

This post originally appeared on VentureVillage, one of VentureBeat’s editorial partners in Germany.

This story originally appeared on VentureVillage. Copyright 2012

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