TPC Contributes to For High Stakes Email, You Need A Killer Subject Line

Email Subject Line


For a startup, reaching investors, board members, key partners and business reporters is essential to your success. But most business people get over 100 emails a day — and at least 30% of that is spam. How can you ensure your crucial communications will cut through the noise? The key, it turns out, is one sentence storytelling — in the form of a killer subject line.

So how can you craft a compelling subject line? The Presentation Company (TPC), an organization that helps companies turn their employees into storytellers, shared their top tips on this topic with Forbes:

Step 1: Tell a Story

TPC founder Janine Kurnoff opens with question: “Have you ever pressed ‘Send’ on a high stakes email which you felt confident offered smart, insightful, helpful, and urgent information and ideas, but gotten zero response? You wait and wait…but even your polite, ‘Touching base to make sure you got this email?” gets ignored. You think: ‘What gives? Didn’t I thoroughly outline my clever recommendations? Wasn’t my deadline clear? Where’s the love?’”

She continues: “The average business professional receives 121 emails a day. Their boss gets many, many more—usually with deadlines attached. The higher the executive, the more pressing the deadlines. Getting your urgent ideas to shine through the deluge of email most of these folks receive is difficult, to say the least. But there is a clue to success: most of those receiving those hundreds of emails a day are scanning subject lines. (Aren’t you?) So, the key to getting the attention you crave is to craft a make-it-or-break-it subject line. Nobody is going to read your story if they are not drawn in—by emotion. Why? Because emotions are what spur people to act.”

So what makes an emotional splash? Kurnoff suggests asking yourself these questions: “(1) What is my single biggest idea?; (2) What is the most surprising piece of news? (3) What is the one thing I want the recipient(s) to know or do? Whatever your answer is, that should be the subject line. Your only goal should be to help someone decide to open your email.”

Step 2: Highlight the call to action

“Busy executives appreciate emails that include whatever immediate action you are requesting upfront, right in the subject line,” Kurnoff continues. Vague subject lines or non-specific requests (e.g., Feedback on the meeting?) will just encourage people to move on to the next email. Anything that seems like a non-urgent time-suck will be left in the digital dust.”

She offers the following “what not to do” examples:

For an update: Don’t call it, “Project Update.” Instead, provide the most essential piece of information, “Program X on track but we need additional design resources.”

For sign off on a recommendation: Don’t say “Next steps needed for project.” Instead be specific and time focused, “Need Sign-off for Phase 2 of Project X by EOD Friday.”

For sales conversations: Trying to move a conversation forward in the sales cycle? You’re probably answering a prospect’s question. Be sure it’s clear you are doing exactly that. Don’t say “Following up.” Instead say, “Reconnecting on next steps for sales kickoff next month in Atlanta.”

Step 3: Let the Subject Lead

Kurnoff is clearly saying that the most important place to tell your story —by far — via email is in the subject line. Period. Full stop. “Every great story has a Big Idea—the one thing you want your recipient to remember about your message. Your subject line is essentially your Big Idea, condensed. If done properly, this is where your story begins.”

Once you’ve got a Big Idea subject, the body of the email becomes a supporting document, with the cogent details your contact needs. But, without a strong opener, you’ll never get to share the goods. “If your subject line doesn’t evoke emotion, urgency, or convey relevant news, it will be the story that never began. Crafting a strong subject line is the most important gateway to your audience. Without it, you can expect a lot more silence.”

The Presentation Company has also shared tips  for storytelling in the body of the email, which will be posted soon. In the meantime, if you are interested in learning more about how to apply storytelling to your business communications, TPC offers webinars, like Selling Ideas Through Visual Stories, and workshops like Crafting Strategic Visual Stories.