When Time Is Not On Your Side

Back when we were fresh out of college, my friend Tom told me his theory about picking up women: The better looking you are, the more time you have to make a good impression on a stranger.

If you’re average looking, Tom concluded, you have about two minutes. A little better than average, a little more time. A little worse than average, a little less time. In my case unfortunately, this worked out to negative time, which essentially meant that I had to make a good impression on a woman about 30 seconds before I arrived.

In any case, and while I’m not sure about the numerical accuracy of Tom’s conclusions, I do think that he had a valid point in general: First impressions matter, and the more intriguing something is at the beginning — for whatever reason — the more willing we are to give it a chance to prove itself.

Consider for example, the opening sentence of the book, Free Agent Nation, by Dan Pink:

“I suppose I realized that I ought to consider another line of work when I nearly puked on the Vice President of the United States.”

I don’t know about you, but I would find it practically impossible to read a sentence like this and not continue. It’s so intriguing and so seemingly out of context that you can’t help but wonder what comes next.

Which is why I spend more time on the opening sentence of each newsletter I write than on any other part of the entire issue. Given that from the point of view of the reader, the cost of deleting a newsletter — both in terms of money and effort — is nearly zero, I’m very conscious of pulling him or her in right from the start.

Some recent examples from this newsletter:

“If you ask me, winter in New England (like pregnancy) is about a month too long.”

(The No-Selling Sales Approach)

“You’ll be happy to know that my five year old son Jonathan has taken an interest in the game of Checkers.”

(One Man’s Ceiling Is Another Man’s Floor)

“The birds in my neighborhood like to poop on my car.”

(Pennies From Heaven)

Nothing Earth-shattering here, I admit. Still, I think you’d agree that each of these opening lines is unusual enough and intriguing enough to grab your attention and give you a reason to dive in.

And that, in a nutshell, is the key to starting each issue of your E-Newsletter. Rather than slowly warming up to the good stuff, find a way to pull people in right from the beginning.

After all, most information-oriented communications — whether in the form of speeches, articles, memos, newsletters or whatever — begin exactly as you’d expect: On point and on topic.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with that approach, but there’s nothing particularly captivating about it either. And in a world as busy and cluttered with options as ours, captivating is what it’s all about.

Now if only Tom and I had realized that 25 years ago.

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