11 First Sentences
Imagine you get this email. You don’t know the sender, but you open it anyway. How long would you keep reading?
I hope you’re having a great President’s Day! I definitely am. Even though I’m spending a little time at work right now, I plan to spend at least part of the day having fun with friends. We’re going snowboarding. I can’t wait!”
”I am writing to ask if you would be interested in…
Would you keep reading? Generally speaking, would you even have made it to the second paragraph? I know: The sender was trying to establish rapport. But still — do you care about the President’s Day plans of someone you don’t know?
Nope. Instead you were thinking, “Clearly you want something. Can you please get to it?”
Now imagine you get this email:
We would love to have you on our show to talk about your book. Our podcast regularly appears in the top 10 of ‘What’s Hot’ in the Business category of Apple Podcasts…
Would you keep reading? I know I did.
Here's the thing. We all get cold emails, and we're all incredibly good at sniffing out boilerplate openings and forced friendliness. Even if we do keep reading, canned openings negatively impact our impression of what is to come -- and make it much less likely we'll respond positively to the actual message of the email.
Think I’m wrong? Tell me how many times you’ve seen the following opening lines in an email and still kept reading.
“I thought I would circle back …”
Yes, because I didn’t respond the first time you emailed. But why will I respond this time… especially when the rest of your email is just copied and pasted from your original email?
In the same vein, this won’t work either:
“In case you missed this …”
Maybe I did miss this.
Or maybe I wasn’t interested.
Occasionally the recipient may have missed your original email. But know the person you’re targeting. If it’s someone who gets dozens of unsolicited emails a day, like, say, Tim Ferriss, then his lack of response doesn’t mean he missed it. He didn’t respond because he gets too many emails to respond to each one individually. If he’s interested, he’ll respond.
And just in case he really did miss it, find a more creative way to send another email. “In case you missed this” only ensures that even if he does see your second email, he’s not going to read it.
And that’s also true for:
“I’m just following up …”
Occasionally a follow-up is warranted. If I said I would do something, and I haven’t, by all means, please follow up. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I sometimes do forget.
But if you’re just “following up,” or “circling back,” or finding out if the recipient “missed this,” find a more creative opening line.
Look at what you wrote in the first email. In all likelihood it was benefit-driven — for you. Find a way to benefit the recipient. Always give, long before you hope to receive.
“I hope this finds you well.”
I get this one at least four times a day. While I appreciate the sentiment, I immediately think two things. I first wonder when Dickensian greetings came back into vogue. But more important, “I hope this finds you well” screams “We don’t know each other.”
And while every new friendship has to start somewhere, “I hope this finds you well” is unlikely to be the place.
That’s also true for:
“I hope you had a great weekend.”
Fine if it comes from a friend (even though none of my friends ever open an email that way). Otherwise it’s just forced friendliness. Asking “How was the Rolex 24?” shows you know me personally. Asking “How is your next book coming?” shows you know me professionally.
Granted, “I hope you had a great weekend” is an attempt to be friendly. But really: Do you expect people to respond? Do you really want to know about their weekend? Nah. What you really care about is how they respond to the meat of your email.
In time, some professional relationships do also become personal. But when the initial contact is through email, the relationships always starts as a professional one. Work to establish that first. Then a friendship might follow.
But not if you pretend that we’re already friends.
“You might be surprised to learn …”
No, I won’t be, because I won’t read the rest of your email. Like fake friendliness, interest-starters feel canned and forced. If I might be surprised, shoot, go ahead and surprise me with your opening line.
The same is true for:
“Did you know …?”
Granted, asking a question can be a way to engage readers. But not in the opening line of an email since what we all do know is that whatever you claim we don’t know is something you will then solve for us, probably for a fee.
“Did you know” and, “You might be surprised to learn” are clear signals that a sales pitch is coming. Maybe that’s not your intent — but we’ll assume it is.
And a couple quick ones:
“My name is …”
I already knew that. Your name appears in the sender field.
“I would like to introduce myself …”
Sometimes introducing yourself first is OK, but in most cases the best approach is to say what you can do for the recipient (or what you want) first.
Then, if we’re interested, we’ll be willing to check out whether you’re the right person to provide it (or are someone we want to help).
“I know you’re really busy …”
This is always followed by “but …” (which is a lot like saying, “I know this is going to hurt your feelings, but …”), Acknowledging a situation and then choosing to ignore that situation is an off-putting way to start.
Instead, respect the recipient’s time by getting to the point: The less fluff, the better.
“I want to ask a quick favor.”
At least in my experience, a “quick favor” never turns out to be quick. And neither does the ask itself.
Here’s a better way to do it. I recently received this one-line email:
Daniel Coyle’s new book is about high performance teams, I would love to have him on my podcast, and I’m hoping you can connect us.
He clearly knows I know Dan, and the name of the podcast was in the sender’s sig. Easy ask, and I always try to help out people I know, so I forwarded his email to Dan with one line: “Want me to connect you guys?” (I don’t share people’s email addresses without asking.)
Dan said yes. That’s the kind of favor I’m happy to do.
But if the email had led with something like, “I am hoping you will do a quick favor for me. My name is John Doe, and in addition to running Acme Industries I am also the host of …”
Nope. Probably not — because I probably wouldn’t have stuck with it long enough to get to the good stuff.
And that, ultimately, is the point. Your may have great intentions. You may mean extremely well. You may only be trying to be friendly, courteous, and professional.
But if you start your emails with opening lines like the ones above, most people will assume the worst — not the best.
Find a different way to be friendly, courteous, and professional — especially if you want your emails to actually be read.