How to Avoid Getting Your Newsletter Deleted

Michael Katz

Back in the late 80s, my future wife and I signed up for the 14-week Dale Carnegie course in public speaking.

Once a week on Tuesday nights, about 40 of us would gather at the Sheraton Hotel in Boston for a three-hour class. It was challenging — but terrific.

And I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that although I began the course scared of public speaking, by the end, I loved it.

I’m sure I internalized many of the concepts, but today I can only remember three specifics:

  1. Don’t wander around when you speak. Plant your feet and stay there.
  2. Use props whenever possible. Audiences love them.
  3. Always begin your talk with a powerful and compelling sentence.

As it turns out, #3 is even more important when writing newsletters for an email audience.

After all, when addressing a live audience, you’d have to be pretty dull — I mean like 7-year-olds-playing-T-ball dull — for people to get up and walk out after one sentence.

They’re there, they’re sitting down, and other people would notice if they just got up and left. So while they may stop listening, they’re not going away, at least for a little while.

With email, there are no such barriers — everyone is busy and everyone reads with one finger on the delete key.

What keeps them from pushing it?

I’m sure there are dozens of reasons, but a big one is curiosity. As humans, we have a need to know “What happens next?”

It’s the reason jokes are compelling — we want to hear the punchline.

It’s the reason we keep reading that poorly-written murder mystery — we want to know who did it.

It’s the reason you can’t resist clicking on a headline like “Zookeepers Caught in Bizarre Love Triangle.” (You wanted to read that, didn’t you?)

And, most important when you’re writing newsletters, it’s the reason your opening sentence matters so much.

Because if you can draw readers in quickly — and in a way that has them wondering “What happens next?” — you’re much more likely to get, and keep, their attention.

Consider the opening sentence of this article:

Back in the late 80s, my future wife and I signed up for the 14-week Dale Carnegie course in public speaking.

It’s got three elements, all there deliberately, and all intended to capture your interest:

  1. Detail. “late 80s,” “my future wife,” “Dale Carnegie course.”

    All of that makes for a sentence that is way more interesting than, “A while ago, I took a course in public speaking.”

  2. Irrelevancy. That’s right, ir-relevancy. You’re reading a marketing newsletter, and yet the opening line appears to have nothing to do with that.

    That brain of yours can’t help but wonder, “Where is this going?”

  3. It’s the beginning of a story. We like stories; we tell them and hear them all day long.

    And we find them way more compelling than pure facts and statistics (an illogical truth that presidential candidates have, unfortunately, long ago figured out).

Had I simply opened with a statement about the importance of using strong opening sentences when writing newsletters for an email audience, I doubt you’d still be reading.

I watched an interview with Jerry Seinfeld the other day. The interviewer, assuming that Seinfeld’s fame gave him a lifetime pass with audiences, asked if he still needed to be as funny when he went out on stage.

Seinfeld said: “They give you one extra minute. After that, if you’re not funny, it doesn’t matter who you are.”

The way I look at it, if Jerry Seinfeld only gets a one-minute grace period, you and I need to be really good, really compelling, and really interesting, right from the start. Otherwise, we’re writing newsletters that will be deleted before they’re read.

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Published: July 4, 2016

9 Responses to “How to Avoid Getting Your Newsletter Deleted”

  1. Irrelevancy has its place in human relationships and can be effective when trying to digress someone but, depending on the audience, in most cases it is best to stay with your subject matter.

    A Francis July 4, 2016 at 1:09 pm

  2. The element of irrelevancy is really the element of surprise...."What" What does this have to do with anything? I wasn't expecting that"! And, of course, you've got to know why he put it there, so you read on.

    Joyce HJuly 4, 2016 at 1:13 pm

  3. I used to think that the 'Curiosity Cliff Hanger' Email was the way to go, but now I am saturated with that type of email. I have a lot of emails to evaluate, and if the email 'lead' doesn't Come Out Up Front and tell me what it is About, I will move on. I don't have time to open all the "Curiosity" type emails. They have become a waste of time.

    SpeedwriterJuly 4, 2016 at 1:36 pm

  4. Hmm - I think the point about irrelevancy is a bit tricky. There are a lot of email "salespeople" who use tricky and irrelevant subject lines to attract attention. And then write an article that has nothing to do with the subject line.

    I only give people about 3 seconds to be irrelevant and then it's straight to the trash (unless it's someone I already trust). Maybe I'm crankier than average or maybe not:)

    Guest (Cecelia)July 4, 2016 at 2:12 pm

  5. Can you imagine Lincoln saying at Gettysburg, "A few years ago the older citizenry started started a new nation right here on this continent..."

    Probably not.PIC

    Guest (RON)July 4, 2016 at 3:21 pm

  6. I didn't find the lead truly irrelevant, since giving a speech also requires a great lead, but I did want to know what wisdom the Dale Carnegie Institute had to offer. Thanks for the advice!

    MTWriterJuly 4, 2016 at 4:21 pm

  7. Reply to Will: Ir-relavancy of the opening line to the message title subtly caught my attention. My mind wasn't thinking exactly that it was irrelevant, like "what's Dale Carnegie got to do with copywriting". More like, "I wonder what aspect of the Dale Carnegie course applies to copywriting". I'm sure that was right on to Michael's tactic.


    David CrellenJuly 4, 2016 at 6:34 pm

  8. I agree with the part about irrelevance. But I didn't think the first paragraph was that far removed from copywriting. Both subjects are about persuasive communication. One written, one verbal. It wasn’t hard to imagine how he’d tie it to copywriting. My takeaway is that it’s important to make sure the opening story is way irrelevant. If he and his wife had taken a course in ballroom dancing or how to build an airplane, I would have been more intrigued as to how he would tie that to copywriting.

    Rick JonesJuly 5, 2016 at 11:58 am

  9. No bigger the appeal of "irrelevancy" than Donald Trump somehow getting on the ballot for this November's general election for POTUS, yes?

    Guest (Chris Morris)July 6, 2016 at 9:38 am

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