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Do Your Emails Pass the 5 Sentence Test?

By Sam Horn


Sam Horn quotePulitzer Prize winning humorist Gene Weingarten said, “Let’s address the elephant in the room.


“YO Elephant!’”


Do you know what the elephant in the room in every business interaction is?

People wondering, “How long will this take?”


Anxiety is defined as “not knowing.”


If people don’t know how long we want their attention, they don’t pay attention.
They’re in a state of anxiety (perhaps even resentment) thinking, “Don’t you realize I’m busy? Don’t you understand you’re keeping me from working on other priorities? Hurry it up. I’ve got things to do.”


It’s like the famous New Yorker cartoon from Bob Mankoff. An executive is on the phone saying, “How about Tuesday. No? How about never? Is never good for you?”


From now on, if you want people to give you their precious attention, ask for a specific amount of their time, and pleasantly surprise them by asking for less time than expected.


I show how to do this in Chapter 10 of my new book, Got Your Attention? The chapter is titled, “Keep it Brief or They’ll Give You Grief.”


Here’s just one tip. Do you know about 5 Sentence Email?


Check them out here. 


They have a cut-and-paste statement you can include in your signature line to explain your policy of sending short emails, and its advantages for all parties involved.


Think about how much time this could save you and the people who receive your emails.


The average business worker sends 43 emails a day and receives 130, so keeping your emails to 5 sentences can cut down the amount of time you spend on them, and can make a huge difference in whether recipients choose to read them.


Worried you won’t be able to say everything you need to say in 5 sentences?


Guy Kawasaki, a big proponent of short emails, says “Proper email is a balance of politeness and succinctness.


If you would like to combine courtesy and efficiency, he suggests you provide just enough information to answer these five questions:

  1. Who are you?
  2. What do you want?
  3. Why are you asking me?
  4. What should I do with what you’re asking me?
  5. What is the next step?

You’ve heard of Parkinson’s Law? “A task expands to the time allowed for it?”


Horn’s Law is, “Communications expand to the time and space allowed for them.”


From now on, give yourself a time and space deadline for your emails, and let people know up front you’re going to keep it short.


You’ll find they’re much more likely to give you their valuable time, mind and dime.


Sam HornAbout Sam Horn

Sam Horn, Intrigue Expert and TEDx speaker, coaches authors, entrepreneurs and executives how to craft concise, compelling communications that connect. Clients include Intel, KPMG, Cisco, NASA, Boeing and EO. Sam's books POP!, Tongue Fu! and newest book, Got Your Attention?,have been featured in Fast Company and endorsed by Seth Godin and Ken Blanchard. Sam was the 17-time Emcee of the Maui Writers Conference and chair of their annual Non-Fiction Retreat and Cruise where she shared a stage with Ron Howard, Frank McCourt, and Aaron Sorkin, among others.

Women Are Powerful Beyond Measure

by Donna S. Highfill 

Power is rarely lost in one moment – it recedes in tiny increments, when we accept the small stories that others tell us.

We are strong and smart.

woman on top of the earth with cape cropped and resizedI read a quote recently that stated, Tell a little girl she’s beautiful and she’ll relish the moment, but tell her she’s ugly and she’ll remember it for a lifetime.

Unfortunately, women are remarkably prone to comments about their outward appearance. When my kids were little, people would meet them and say things to my son like –

You are such a strong little boy! I bet you’re smart.

Then they would look at my daughter and say things such as –

You are a pretty little girl. Your hair is just beautiful.

At this moment, I would tend to puff up like a blowfish and reply –

She’s smart, too. My daughter is strong AND smart.

Then I would tell my daughter that she just needs to feel beautiful inside. People will always have opinions about her beauty, and beauty comes and goes. But strong and smart? That sticks.

Power requires the editing of others’ stories.

Too often, we pay attention to the personal attacks of others. We forget that the negative comment thrown our way is defensive, a mere reflection of the commenter’s own pain.

I remember one woman who scowled during an entire Leadership session I delivered. I use a lot of humor in my training, and by the look on her face it seemed to give her gas.

After the session, she came up to me and said with gritted teeth, “You know what? You’re just a comedian.”

The blow to my psyche went straight through my heart, and I spent a month preparing a very serious next session. And it bombed because I accepted her story and stopped telling my own.

To be honest, my inclination was to wallop her. But I didn’t. Instead I let her pain become my pain.

Women are allowed to make mistakes.

Somewhere along the way we have been told that making a mistake is an unpardonable sin. I have been observing women in the workplace for several decades, and the fear of making a mistake is palpable.

In meetings, we offer tentative comments, or raise our hands hoping to be called on while men interrupt each other and discuss a topic vigorously. When we do finally speak, it’s often replete with a preamble that sounds something like 0, um, this might not be relevant, and I’m not even sure I should bring it up, but . . .

Geez, I am all ears. Can’t wait to hear the comment following that lead in, right? Most of the time the thought is extremely relevant and important, but because it is said tentatively, a man will restate it in about two minutes and get all sorts of praise for it.

There is power in letting other peoples’ painful stories about you roll off your back.

Perhaps we need to remember ourselves as the young girl we once were, the young girl who fell off tricycles and ran through fields and celebrated wins. We need to feel those days when we didn’t believe that being a girl meant being less powerful.

Let go of our deepest fear.

Sometimes I think we hold back as women because we know our own strength. Marianne Williamson says it best –

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.

So take off the cloak of negative comments and let your power fly.

Take a chance. Speak up without apology. Smile at the person critiquing you, and appreciate their comment, but don’t absorb anything that isn’t helpful.

Be bright. Be light. Be strong.

Live your own story.


About Donna Highfill

Donna HighfillAs the chief energizer of Donna Highfill Consulting, Donna helps organizations and professionals power up their stories and strategies for powerful results.  Author of Real People, Real Change, Stories of a Change Warrior in the Business World she has implemented and infused with energy key change strategies for Fortune 500 companies, including coaching senior leaders. She is a regular blogger at Huffington Post who uses humor to address tough topics, and has been published in dozens of publications including Across the Board, a magazine for executives.

Powering up women is a particular passion of Donna. She is a Martha Beck Certified Coach and writes the column Power Up! Facing Truths Laughing for Her second book, a motivational story intended to build confidence in young girls, is about to be released.

Most of all, Donna is committed to being on Ellen by 2016. She’s working on her dance moves.

A Simple Strategy to Handle Workload Overload

Workload overload has become an epidemic that’s wearing us all out!  How do you handle it?

In this episode of Gotta Quick Question, workload overload is Jessica’s dilemma and I offer a practical way sort through what's on her to-do list and what to say when when she gets asked to do MORE (because you know she will!).

This isn’t the time to throw on your red cape and save the day by doing it all so that your boss is happy, you’re exhausted, and no one makes any adjustments but you.  This is the time to get smart and savvy. 

Take 4 minutes right now to see how you can bring your workload overload down to size!

workload overload with play button


Have a quick question of your own?  Share it with me here and be on the lookout for my response in the next episode of Gotta Quick Question!

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