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best email subject lines scott keyser

Best email subject lines

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Today, I’m covering the remaining five techniques for writing headlines and email subject lines. I have identified nine techniques for crafting these, and I covered the first four in Email subject lines that work.


5.  The number

Quantifying a fact implies authority, precision and completeness. It reassures the reader that we know what we’re talking about. Received wisdom suggests that odd numbers are more memorable than even ones. And within the universe of odd numbers, at least in the West, 7 has been voted the most popular number, according to a survey done a number of years ago by the mathematician Alex Bellos. He surveyed about 50,000 Europeans. So, the number 7 (or numbers with 7 in them) are more useful and tend to be more memorable.

As an example, we might say, “Whistle blower disclosures up 17%”, or, “37 tips for getting your blog read”, or, “7 simple six-pack exercises”, (using the alliteration of three Ss), or, “17 ways to generate more leads”. And, of course, the most famous of all, the strapline for my first book, Winner Takes All, “Seven-and-a-half principles for winning more bids, tenders and proposals”. The half principle being crafting a powerful executive summary.


7.  The twist or surprise

This is also known as the pattern breaker, pulling the rug from under the reader. It leads them down one thought path, only to abruptly change direction at the end.

The Economist staff are masters at this. This was on a well-known outdoor poster (now known as an OOM…out-of-home medium): “I’ve never read The Economist…management trainee, age 42”. The implication is that if you don’t read The Economist, your career will stall and falter. You’ll end at the tender old age of 42, still being a trainee.

Another Economist one is, “In opinion polls, 100% of Economist readers had one”. It’s quite cheeky, in that reading The Economist enables you to be opinionated, or at least to have an informed opinion about what’s going on in the world.

Another pseudo-quote, “Economist readers welcome”. And underneath, “Sperm donor clinic”.

Finally, a more popular example of the twist, the surprise or the pattern breaker. “In February, Kanye West gave Kim Kardashian a diamond-encrusted Rolex. Three months later, they were divorced”. What that does is lead the reader down one avenue, or thought path, and then we’re abruptly changing direction.


8.  Juxtaposition, or contrasting pairs

An example of this might be, “Probing the cause of diabetes, one pizza at a time”. Or, an actual headline for a life insurance product: “Cash if you die, cash if you don’t”. And here was a open university subject line: “Get to the green without going to U”. The juxtaposition is that you can get a degree without actually going to university.

The next one is from an academic paper, around proletarian political policies. “Live working or die fighting: how the working class went global”.

Then another Economist headline, when Barak Obama was the U.S. president. “Putin dares, Obama dithers”. So you’ve got the pause in the middle caused by the comma. And you’ve got the alliteration of the two Ds.

We can also use word play, double meaning or double entendre (to use the French). We might say, “Wake up to the importance of sleep,” or, “Old age: a thing of the past?” And this is an old one. In the era when Volkswagens had the reputation for never breaking down (this is a sweet one, because Volkswagen owners are a bit cultish), “Ever heard people talking about their Volkswagens? They go on and on and on”.


9.  Standfirst under the headline

We can grab the reader’s attention with a dramatic headline, then give an explanatory one-liner, known as a standfirst, underneath it. The Economist uses standfirsts a lot in their articles.

We might say something like, “HMRC is closing in”. That’s your headline. Then the standfirst could be, “New tax laws are making it harder to set up off-shore tax havens”. So we’re giving the reader a little bit more information.

Another one. The headline could be, “It’s a class act”, followed by a standfirst, “New UK class-action procedures come into force 1 October”.

A third and final example of a standfirst would be a headline, “Leaders in driverless cars”, followed by, “What happens when left-wing politicians confront new technologies?”


This is how the best email subject lines are created

Now we have a total of nine ways of grabbing the reader’s attention with a headline, or in the case of an email, the best email subject lines.

I hope you’ve found this useful and interesting. Let me know how you get on with applying these techniques on the Facebook page.

I’m Scott Keyser, The Writing Guy, helping smart professionals to find their voice, write Human and get the results they want from the words they write.


elevator pitch scott keyser

Nailing your elevator pitch

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For the past few weeks, I’ve been coaching a coach — a lovely lady called Andrea. We’ve been working together on her value proposition and elevator pitch. She’s a highly experienced and talented executive and leadership coach.

This week we’ve made some good progress on her elevator pitch. Within that, I’ve helped her to nail what I call her soundbite. Essentially, that’s a 20- to 30-second articulation of the essence of what she does — the core of her work.

I’d urge anybody who’s running their own business or who’s a business owner to nail their soundbite, whether working with me or someone else (this isn’t a sales plug!). It’s so important to do that.

Anda (Andrea’s nickname) and I have nailed that in one paragraph. I want to share it with you because I think it’s instructive to anybody who leads a team or runs their own business.

Anda’s elevator pitch

Here’s the 30-second elevator pitch that Anda and I’ve developed:

“I’m Coach Anda, and I’m a leadership coach. I work with strong, driven leaders who are already good at what they do, but who want their team to be great. If they want to have a great team, however, first they have to be a great leader. That’s why we start with self-mastery. Whatever storms of change are swirling around them and their team, self-mastered leaders stand quietly in the eye of the storm, responding wisely to new threats and opportunities. I help good leaders become great ones, because great leaders lead great teams.”

That’s 94 words, and runs to almost exactly 30 seconds in length. Now I’d like to unpick it, particularly the beginning where she says she works with ‘strong, driven leaders.’

For any soundbite to stand out and not be bland, you need to evoke some kind of problem, issue, pain point, challenge or conflict. What Anda experiences is that strong, experienced leaders come to her, essentially saying, ‘Help me fix my team. I want my team to be great.’

What she does is throws that back to them with, ‘If you want your team to be great, you have to be a great leader.’ I’ve tried to capture that in the soundbite. So what we’re doing is modeling the message.

Juxtaposition in the opening

Within that opening, there’s a mini-conflict, or juxtaposition.

Let’s look at it again, with the ‘good/great’ juxtaposition in bold:

“I’m Coach Anda, and I’m a leadership coach. I work with strong, driven leaders who are already good at what they do, but who want their team to be great…”

Placing responsibility

Then, she throws the onus back on the leader:

“If they want to lead a great team, however, first they have to be a great leader. That’s why we start with self-mastery…”

In Anda’s work, to put it crudely, she helps the leader to fix themselves first, before they fix their team. This makes perfect sense because the leaders sits at the hub of that system, if you like. She’s throwing the ball back into their court.

More Juxtapositions

Then it’s time to bring out the idea of change:

“Whatever storms of change are swirling around them and their team, self-mastered leaders stand quietly in the eye of the storm…”

That’s another juxtaposition, or contrasting pairs of words or phrases. There’s the idea of being in the middle of a maelstrom, but ‘self-mastered’ means quietness, calmness and composure in the eye of the storm.

After that, I threw in the idea of ‘responding wisely’ because one of the things Anda had said to me was that leaders who haven’t achieved self-mastery tend to make reactive decisions. So I wanted to contrast the idea of reacting (a sort of knee-jerk reflex) with the idea of wise responses:

“…responding wisely to new threats and opportunities…”

The elevator pitch’s punchline

Then the punchline is another juxtaposition. At the end of the 30-second elevator pitch, she says…

“I help good leaders become great ones, because great leaders lead great teams.”

In that one line, we’ve captured the idea that she works with both the leader and their team.

A final word on the elevator pitch

I hope this has been instructive, interesting and helpful to you. The bottom line for us, as communicators and writers, is that if what we’re writing or talking about has no inherent pain, issue, problem or challenge, it’s going to be dull.

The reason for that goes back to the ancient origins of drama: conflict creates drama. Without conflict, you don’t have drama. You don’t have interesting theatre, if you like. This came from the ancient Greek dramatists and its wisdom holds true today.

That’s it for now. I’m Scott Keyser, The Writing Guy, helping technical professionals to find their voice, write Human, and get the results they want from the words they write. Be sure to visit my website and my blog for exciting news, tips and wisdom on writing.