Be Clear, Concise, and Cogent By Sean Steinmarc

by Cruz Alvarado on October 19, 2018


Summary: Improving your communication will lead to improved response rates.

When I was in high school, we had a teacher that used to emphasize the importance of proper communication, both written and orally. To this day, I’m still reminded of his expression, “Be clear, concise, and cogent.”

Too often, I find business contacts who could have benefited from his instruction as I suffer through exhausting emails. Or perhaps just mark them ‘unread’ to deal with later. This is even more important when you’re trying to win a new client or ask a favor.

Think about the number of emails you receive on a given day. Now imagine coming back to your inbox after a full day of meetings to review a mountain of messages. Aside from priority emails from clients, which emails do you address first? Which do you leave for later?

Always assume that the target of your communication is busier than you, and approach them with that in mind.

Be Clear

If your reader doesn’t immediately understand your message, you’ve lost. Avoid complex reasoning and keep your points simple. Ideally, break up your message into specific points. For an initial contact, I always encourage a three-part approach:

  • Remind the recipient how you know each other (or explain how you found them)
  • Clearly explain your ask (offer/favor/request/etc.)
  • Provide the action item/next steps

Be Concise

Long, descriptive, drawn out sentences are great for novels, not business communications. Keep superfluous words to a minimum. For example, limiting each of the above-mentioned sections to one or two sentences will do wonders for your response rate.

Be Cogent

There was always a part of me that felt the use of ‘cogent’ in this expression didn’t really mesh with being clear and concise. It does work well for alliteration. A better approach may have been to use the word ‘compelling.’

Grab your target’s attention with real outcomes. Avoid leaving things vague – give the recipient a real reason to respond. Never use phrases like “I want to pick your brain.” Be specific and let the recipient understand what it is that you will each get out of continued interaction. And have specific actions for follow-up to make it easy to get that response.

For example, avoid the vagueness of “let me know when you are available.” Your time is valuable. Plus, it is more work to respond to such an open-ended invitation. If the goal is a meeting, give the recipient specific dates and times from which to choose and you will be much more likely to get a quick response as they compare their calendar to your suggestions, rather than trying to think about when they might want to connect.

And finally, over the years I’ve developed a fourth alliterative point that has worked well for me, and that I encourage you to keep in mind when dealing with everyone with whom you interact:

Be Kind.

Sean Steinmarc is improving the affordability of education for all students through TFC Tuition Financing.

This article appeared in issue 44 of FeedFront Magazine, which was published in October 2018.

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