- Next trainer development cohort 23rd - 27th September 2024

The persuasive power of bullet points

13th June, 2023

The persuasive power of bullet points

Last week, project manager Luke really needed to vent.


You could practically see the steam coming out of his ears:


‘I get so frustrated when I email my colleague in another team about several different points and she only comes back to me on two of them.  It’s so annoying, but she’s more senior than me so I don’t feel like I can say anything!’


It was during an Email Engagement masterclass for his team, where we were discussing their email challenges. 


Luke went on…


‘So then I have to send these endless follow-up emails chasing up on each individual point.  Kim – It. Drives. Me. Nuts!’


Sound familiar?


We certainly hear this complaint a LOT. (It came up several times in last week’s open masterclass too – more on this below.)


But 9 times out of 10, the problem is actually with the writer, not the recipient.  


Sorry, Luke.


Because they’ve buried their requests in chunky paragraphs of text, harder to find than the exit at IKEA.


And when we skim-read emails (as we tend to most often), we completely miss the action points.


Actions need to have the wordy equivalent of a ginormous red arrow over them to signify: ‘I NEED YOU TO DO THESE THINGS PLEASE!’


Otherwise we skip right over them.


But all caps is VERY SHOUTY INDEED, so what can we do instead?


Formatting helps, of course: bolding your font, using colour etc.


But the biggest change comes with signposting.  


Simple signposting tweaks make your actions pop (the equivalent of a big red arrow).


Here’s how to do it in 3 simple steps:


  1. Try to limit yourself to just one ask per email.  Yes, really.
  2. If you absolutely HAVE to ask for more things in one email (and they’re connected), put them in numbered bullet points.  Max 3.
  3. Clearly signpost how many things you’re asking for, ideally with a deadline:


I need you to do three things please:


  1. Confirm the data on slides 5-7 is accurate
  2. Make sure you’re happy with the graph on slide 10
  3. Email me any changes by Friday at 2pm


Simple, right?  But oh so good.

University of Cambridge


- Next trainer development cohort 23rd - 27th September 2024

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