Who hasn't started writing a thank-you or condolence note, only to encounter "the big um" after the first sentence?
"The big um is when you get your first couple of words out and wonder, 'What's next?'" says Angela Ensminger, co-author of On a Personal Note: A Guide to Writing Notes with Style (Hallmark). "That blank paper is very intimidating."
Ensminger told attendees at an International Association of Administrative Professionals convention that great personal notes come from taking these five steps:
1. State why you're writing in a straightforward manner. Example: "Thank you for taking the time to visit our offices."
2. Elaborate on step 1. Example: "It was so valuable for our entire executive team to meet with you face to face. And your meeting sparked several creative ideas that we're excited to pursue."
3. Build the relationship. "This is the most important step," says Ensminger. "What you're saying here is: 'Your relationship matters, and I'm proving it by taking the time to write this note.' In business relationships, time taken is worth everything. If there's a bell curve of emotion to a personal note, this is the top of it."
That key step is often missing in personal notes, adds Ensminger, so doing it well will set you apart from the crowd. As you write, take into consideration how close your boss is to the recipient and what's coming up next in the relationship.
Example: "We feel fortunate to have spent so much time with you. We look forward to seeing you again at the XYC convention next year."
4. Restate why you're writing. Example: "Again, thanks for your visit."
5. Offer your regards. For business notes, "Sincerely" is the standard.
It takes practice, but the payoff is huge, Ensminger says. "People still get a jolt when they look in their mailbox, and there's something other than a form letter in there."