Wednesday, October 29, 2014

On death, taxes, committees & meetings: 10 great tips for improving your posse’s email communications.

Everyone’s got a gang, is part of a posse, kicks it with a clique, or serves some unheralded role on a church, school, community, or work committee.

Ah, yes, the dreaded “c” word -- committee (C1)!

To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes -- and participating in committees, groups, clubs, organizations, projects, and the meetings they entail.”

Of this reality there is only one thing more arduous than actually planning and managing the meetings -- the second most dreaded “c” word -- communicating (C2) about them!

C1 always requires a good dose of C2.

Think about it.

Whether it’s work meetings, your coffee klatch gatherings, or PTA planning sessions, keeping everyone in synch as to what’s happening where and when can be a challenge. One that’s often overlooked or not taken as seriously as it should be.

Common excuses for failures to communicate are that it’s just so much work, too time-consuming, that using email is too hard...

Blah blah blah....

Enough with the excuses, already!

The result of flailing in your communication efforts is chaos, confusion, and the collapse of your group.

Communicating well and keeping your group members looped in and clued up isn’t that difficult.

Here are ten tips for keeping your committee communication copacetic by using email effectively to administer a healthy dose of vitamin “C2”.

1. Have a point person.

Clearly identify one person as “the” single point of contact for all communications. Don’t assume someone will do it. Don’t pass the responsibility around. Pick a person and give them the reins to your communication. They may wish to recruit a back-up, but leave that to them. Once they are in place, funnel all group communication through this one person.

2. Learn how to use email. 

It isn’t hard. No matter if you use Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook, or whatever, there is plenty of online help. If hands-on help works better for you, phone a friend (but not me ;-) to come over and walk you through the steps. Write them down and keep them handy as needed.

3. Always include a pithy subject line.

Always! Never, ever send an email with a blank subject line. Doing so annoys your recipients. A lot. The subject line is how recipients can readily see that your message is one they must open and read. Don’t waste it!

4. Use BCC for all recipient emails. 

I’m sure you’ve received emails that were top-heavy with long lists of the email addresses of every recipient. You have to scroll and scroll before finding the message. To avoid this, use BCC. If you don’t know how, then learn! Put your own email address in the TO section, and everyone else’s email in the BCC. Doing so keeps everyone’s email address private and eliminates accidental and embarrassing “reply all” messages.

5. Never assume anything.

Never ever! Except to assume your recipients don’t know everything. This doesn’t mean you view them as stupid, but that you understand not everyone knows where to find “the best restaurant in town,” or “the big bookstore with the free meeting room,” or “the back room in the church.”

Never assume your recipients know anything and so tell them everything. There will always be someone who doesn't know or has forgotten. Plus, people move! It can be dangerous to direct people to a meeting at “so and so’s” house when the “so and so’s” have moved.

6. Keep emails simple & use lists.

Put key information on separate lines in an easy-to-scan list below a short, to-the-point explanatory narrative. The list can be bulleted or even numbered if appropriate.

For example, like this:
The Holy Berries will be meeting at Bob and Carol’s house this week on Wednesday to plan our holiday outings. Ted and Alice are bringing snacks. You are welcome to bring a friend.
WHAT: Meeting to discuss holiday outings.
DATE: Wednesday, November 19, 2014
TIME: Starting at 7:00 PM and wrapping up around 9:00 PM
WHERE: Bob and Carol Hinkley, 909090 West Palm Avenue, Lakeford, OH 48998
PHONE: Bob’s cell is 216-888-1212, Carol’s cell is 216-888-2121
OTHER: New members are welcome.
People are busy. Formatting the message with lists allows for a quick scan to gather all the essential information. Keeping the message short also allows for it to be easily copied and pasted into electronic calendars.

7. Offer complete contact information. 

In every communication you send out, always include the names, phone numbers, and email addresses of appropriate contacts. Never send an email that doesn’t include at least one phone number for recipients to call if they have questions, or get lost while trying to find your meeting place.

8. Include a GPS-friendly address. 

It’s maddening to be a newbie and receive directions that rely on local landmarks, complicated directions, or assume detailed knowledge of the area.

Gah! If you’re expecting people to show up somewhere, always include a complete address they can punch into their GPS. This means they’ll need the number, street name, and city at a minimum.

If you’re sending the message and you don’t know the address then look it up and verify it! Don’t assume your recipients can figure out where the “dark red house three blocks south of the corner of Elm Street and Nightmare Avenue” is. Especially if the dark red house was just painted blue!

9. Add a concise signature to all of your email.  

This is something everyone who uses email should do. Whether you use an email client on your computer or use email located in the mystical cloud, every email application includes somewhere in the settings the ability for you to add a “signature” that will be appended to every email message you send. A signature is not an opportunity for you to include a cute little saying, but rather a way for you to always share your essential contact information without having to re-type it.

What should usually be included in a signature is your full name, your primary email address, your phone number, and sometimes your mailing address. Other bits of useful info could include the URLS of your websites or blogs, or for your Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook, and Google+ accounts.

But don’t get carried away and clutter your signature with useless stuff that makes it more annoying than useful.

10. Send your messages early, later, and just in time. 

When it comes to communicating, the adage about “once and done” does not apply. The best times for emailing your team are:

  • Right after a meeting: This way you can recap what happened in a written record.
  • Halfway between meetings: If you meet monthly, about two weeks out from the next meeting is a good time to send a meeting reminder. Use a slightly different subject line than you used in your previous message.
  • Within 24-48 hours prior to a meeting: Again, never assume that because you sent one or two messages that everyone read them or remembers there’s a meeting coming up. Simply re-send the prior message and include any new information. Again, use a slightly modified subject line so recipients understand it’s a new message.

11. Bonus tip! Be consistent. 

This tip applies to your communication as well as managing your meetings.
  • For Messages: Send group messages from the same email address using readily recognizable words in the subject line, and format your emails the same way each time. Create a template for building each new message.
  • For Meetings: When holding meetings, always have the same start time. When possible, keep them at the same location. If they are monthly, aim for the same day every month (for example, the second Tuesday of each month). 
Consistency in meetings and messages reduces confusion and keeps chaos at bay.

Let all things be done decently and in order!

The old tried and true guideline for creating effective communication is to always include who, what, when, where, why, and how, and doing so in a manner that is complete, concise, and clear. (Ooh, three more “c’s”-- C3!)

Following these guidelines coupled with the 11 tips listed above, your messages will be on target and well-received.

You see?


Here's an example of an email. Click on the image above to view it larger.

Do these tips make sense? Do you have any communication horror stories you can share? How about additional tips? Any pet peeves about serving on or leading committees? Don't be spooked! Sound off in the comments! 

For daily tips, always read "Dilbert"!

12. Another Bonus Tip!

What's the one secret that rules over all the other tips?

Never assume!   

When crafting any communication (email, memo, letter, announcement, etc.) never assume your recipients know anything about what you are going to tell them. Don't assume they know what your last meeting covered. Don't assume they know when and where the next meeting will be held. Don't assume they know the agenda. Don't assume they know your phone number. Don't assume they've read past messages. Don't assume they fully understand all that's been explained to them before. Every time, tell them everything they need to know as if they've never been told before.

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