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

Guess who? How to email someone you’ve never met

13th October, 2023

Guess who? How to email someone you’ve never met

My family and I love to play a game called ‘Guess who?’


Not the classic board game.  But a game where we have to guess which act is playing at the big events venue near where we live.


The only clues we’re allowed are the appearances of the fans walking down the road towards the venue.


We’re getting pretty good by now.


  • Middle-aged men in band t-shirts and Vans? It’s gotta be Fat Boy Slim playing.
  • Septum piercings and plaid shirts?  That’ll be EMO singer Hozier.
  • Polyester pink princess costumes?  Disney on Ice must be in town.
  • Tie-dye leggings?  It’s the OM Yoga Show.
  • Buttoned-up checked shirts and backpacks?  The Model Railway Exhibition.


You get the picture.


We can tell a lot about people’s likes and dislikes from their appearance, can’t we?  


But what if you don’t have appearances to go on? Or any verbal cues?


I often get asked about how to make a good impression when emailing someone you don’t know.


‘But how do I know what they’re like – or what they like – if I’ve never met them? How do I make sure my email hits the right tone?


Well, you can deduce far more about your reader than you might think.  Even if you have very little to go on.


Try these three tips:


1. Check out your recipient’s writing


If you’ve received an email from them, what’s it like?  Do they include a warm and fuzzy introduction, or get straight to the point?  How formal or informal is it?  Do they use emojis?  This will help you pitch your email at the right tone.


2. Dive into the details


Is their email long or short? Do they ask for what they want directly or beat around the bush?  Is it detailed or high-level? This will help you decide how much information/context to put in your email.


3. Try LinkedIn for a deeper connection


And if you don’t have any of their writing to work with, try this great tip from LinkedIn guru, Mark Williams.  He suggests seeing if your reader has endorsed anyone from their LinkedIn profile.  Their descriptions can give you insight into which traits they value in other people.  E.g. ‘Hard-working’, ‘Resourceful’, ‘Empathetic’ etc.  This helps you emphasise the right points in your own communication. 


I hope these tips help take the guesswork out of email.  

University of Cambridge


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

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