How to Send an Email to Me (or anyone) and Guarantee It Will Be Read

So I did a little math this morning, while waiting for my plane from Sydney to Canberra. (Pronounced “Can-bra,” as I learned.)

Between 2005 and 2015, I’ve sent close to two BILLION emails. Now granted, a ton of them were HARO emails, going out three times a day, five days a week, to a quarter million people, but a ton of them weren’t HARO, but were emails from me that I needed someone to read. The one thing I can tell you is that my emails, whether to a million people or to one person specifically, always get read. With your permission, I’m going to teach you , in a few simple steps, how to do the same, no matter who you’re emailing.

Subject lines are EVERYTHING, and they simply MUST include a benefit to the reader. You know what emails I figuratively jump through my phone to read? Ones with subject lines that benefit me. Example: Any subject line that begins with “ITEM #” tells me that it’s a payment, whether for my Business Mastermind series, speaking, consulting, or anything else I do for which I get paid. There is NOTHING better than landing after a long flight and seeing a ton of “ITEM #” emails in your inbox.

Want to be read? Make sure the subject line contains an immediate benefit to the reader. “Speaking opportunity for you” is guaranteed to be opened. So is “Potential consulting gig,” or “CNN HIT TODAY AT 4PM.” “FYI” doesn’t get anywhere near the same attention as “CAN MEET EARLIER IF YOU’RE FREE” does.

Figure out the angle of benefit to the recipient, and lead the subject line with that. Your email will be opened and read. Never send an email without an angle of benefit to the reader in the subject line.

This is one case where size DOES matter, and in this case, SHORTER is BETTER! The majority of emails today are being read on a mobile device.. That means if you write an email that’s a thousand paragraphs long, my first reaction will be to leave it in the inbox until I get to my office and can sit down and read it. Which sounds great, but isn’t. Why? Because by the time I get to my office and actually have the time to sit down and read your email, it’ll be buried under fifty new emails that have just arrived, and I won’t remember to read it. I’ll get to it a month later on a flight to Tokyo, as I clear out my inbox to kill time after watching every movie on my laptop.

The perfect number of lines in an email is debatable, but I’m a fan of three or less.

Three lines or less fits on one screen of a smart phone without scrolling. It’s also a perfect amount of words that can be read in about ten seconds, while walking down the street, from meeting to meeting, or from security to airline gate. It’s concise, and can immediately be responded to. Here’s one of the absolute best emails I’ve gotten recently:

What do they have in common? I can read without scrolling, and replies can be just as easy. In fact, my replies can be dictated into my phone, because I can read the email, digest it, and reply immediately. These emails get an immediate response, after which I can file and forget.

The most readable emails have a clear and concise call to action that’s immediately recognizable. Nothing drives me crazier than going through an entire email and not being able to figure out what the sender actually wants. If you’re asking for something from me, how hard is it to make it clear in the first paragraph?

I’m a huge fan of the term “tl;dr” – Stands for “too long, didn’t read.” When I need to send an email followed by a lot of information, the first paragraph is ALWAYS a “tl;dr.” That way, the recipient knows what’s being asked, and can make decisions before entering a full relationship with the email.

Best examples of “tl;dr”

Subject: Possible schedule change of conference


tl;dr: The closing keynote’s wife is scheduled to give birth the day after the keynote. He’s worried about being there on time, and was wondering if you’d be willing to switch so that he did the opening on Tuesday, and you closed on Thursday. You ok with that? Let me know.

That’s it. No long story, no scrolling. I can reply immediately. Done and done. The situation is resolved in under 30 seconds.

Finally, no attachments. There’s absolutely no reason to attach anything to emails anymore.

Let’s face it, attachments on a phone are a true pain in the ass, and have yet to be perfected. More often than not, if you send an attachment, reading it on a phone becomes an effort in knocking my head against the wall. Instead, get familiar with Google Drive, DropBox, iCloud, whatever floats your boat – Spend the $5 a month, you damn cheapskate, and get a professional account. Then simply send LINKS to the files in the emails. Not only does it make the email easier to receive, but to read, as well:

Mark: I know you asked for a few different corporate head shots of me for your magazine. Here’s my headshot folder, just pick whichever ones you’d like. Cheers, -Peter

Done and done. I can forward the link, automatically add it to my DropBox or Drive, whatever, in a flash, right from my phone, done and done.

In the end, an email is a request of someone. You’re asking someone to do something, whether it’s a huge favor, or even just the request of reading your email. Why not make it as easy as possible for them to give you what you wants?

Comments? Other tips? Let me hear them below. As always, thanks for reading.

Join the discussion 12 Comments

  • Janet says:

    Hi Peter; I totally agree with you on this. I started shortening and making my subject lines more punchy about six months ago, and the difference is clear. My emails get read! Thanks for spreading the good word!

  • Shayna says:

    This totally works. Someone just sent me an e-mail with subject line “I’d love to feature you in my next book” with a concise paragraph explaining the project, plus a link to a complimentary PDF copy of her previous book. I read it instantly and we scheduled and did the interview within two days.

    I used to be the assistant to a busy CEO, sometimes he’d task me with teaching other staff members how to e-mail him, since I was so good at it!

  • rebrivved says:

    Amen w/1 caveat. Many women tend to write & read longer emails than men. So consider your audience when crafting/receiving emails.

  • Peter, I’m wondering if the same or similar recommendations apply to newsletter mailings – how to get subscribers to read your newsletter. Or are newsletters really useful even. Your thoughts?

  • bigtoe67 says:

    Great post Peter, Now all i want to see is that headshot folder!!!
    -peter berberian

  • I’ve missed speaking opportunities because the subject line was so bad the email went to spam. Great points – if you need something ASK right in the subject line!

  • Anna Wickham @ Charm House says:

    Great advice! Thanks for sharing.

  • Catherine says:

    Love the idea of a link to my Dropbox account instead of an attachment. I had no idea you could do that. Boom! Done. Thanks Peter!

  • Great article. Great advice. Thanks for sharing

  • Megan says:

    Thanks for sharing this advice with the world, Mr. Shankman! This was very beneficial for me to read, considering I am a student and I email professors maybe five times a day. I never thought to put something beneficial to the reader in the subject line. I always figured you would just put something about what the reader was about to read, but your tactic makes a lot more sense. Why would I want to read something that wasn’t going to interest or benefit me? Super smart. I was also very intrigued when you talked about not having attachments. I always considered them a way to demonstrate or further explain something. Do you really believe they are not necessary?

  • Reuben says:

    Thanks for the great tips. I’ve recently tried GetResponse for my newsletters and it’s a matter of time and testing before I get it all right. Articles like this one help a lot.

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