How to Email Busy People

Busy people are experts at inbox triage, so it can be hard to get a response sometimes. But if you break down the process, there are only three obstacles you need to overcome:

  • Get them to open it
  • Get them to read it
  • Get them to answer it

Let’s dive in.

Obstacle 1: Get them to open it
Solution: Use a catchy title

Good titles are tough. They need to be brief, relevant, and enticing. Often they contain specific information, like the person’s name, company, place, or organization. If the title can’t be used as part of a bulk email list send, then you’re on the right track. Remember, all you need them to do is open it.

Obstalcle 2: Get them to read it.
Solution: Keep it brief

The shorter the better. Purge it of any unnecessary prose. If you have a lot to say, consider linking out to non-essential information or bringing up more in a later conversation or email. It also helps to make the content highly structured, perhaps using bullet points for your questions, or bolding the essential part or question. 

Obstacle 3: Get them to answer it
Solution: Make it easy to answer

What do you want them to do? Is what you want them to do going to take them 5 minutes? 30 minutes? Will it cost them a phone call, some research, or some social capital? If you can structure your ask so their response can be straightforward, then your odds of them responding skyrocket.

Now that we know what to do, let’s write an example email using these principles:

To: Brad Doe [email protected]

Title: Brad, awesome job at SXSW


I really enjoyed your SXSW talk (I was the guy in the front row with the yellow shirt and bow-tie). My team and I are interested in doing more research about a topic you discussed, internet connectivity via low orbit satellites. Could you point me to any good resources where I could learn more? Maybe there’s a subject matter expert you know who I could talk to?

Thanks, and keep rocking it!


Ok, you could probably come up with a better example, but I think it illustrates the point. 

One more thing. The last principle is to be persistent. If they don’t answer on the first try, don’t give up. It’s very possible that it got caught in an aggressive spam filter, they missed it, or something else happened. So just keep on trying.