The holidays are upon us and many will send out letters along with cards detailing the events of the year for those they really don’t communicate with on a regular basis. Although many find these letters annoying, they serve some useful purpose in maintaining contact and in letting these people know how and what you’re doing. It keeps the doors for future communication open. Here are some suggestions, interpreted, modified, and adapted from an unlikely source (Better Homes and Gardens, December, 2008, pp. 218-220):
1. Keep it short. BHG recommends one page but two or even three pages, if well written and interesting, should not create a problem. After all, no one has to read it.
2. Hit the highlights; this is not the place for excruciating details. In fact, what you leave out is just as important as what you put in (well, perhaps almost).
3. BHG suggests adding humor. This is generally a good suggestion, which we also make in our public speaking books, but some people are just not funny. So, if you can be humorous, that’s fine; if you can’t, don’t.
4. Keep the bragging to a minimum. BHG recommends that if you’re going to brag that you use some kind of feedforward, e.g., “Let me boast for just a minute.” A kind of disclaimer. Treating accomplishments objectively and as a matter of fact is another way of doing this—“My new novel is going to be made into a movie. I’m looking forward to it; it should be exciting.” And then move on to other things. Avoiding all the good things—in an effort not to brag—is probably going to make for a boring letter and it’s probably not you. I think the best advice here is to be modest but truthful to who you are.
5. Keep it positive (generally). You don’t have to eliminate any sad news—after all, that would be dishonest and inconsistent with the purpose of these letters—but the general tone should be upbeat.
6. Personalize it in some way by, for example, writing a brief note that (ideally) connects you and the other person, “this family trip reminded me of when we went to Colorado on Spring break.”
7. Go creative. Draw pictures, scan photos, use varied type faces, use color. What you say is still more important than its package but its package is what will get it read or thrown into the trash.
8. Proofread. Use spell and grammar checks.
9. Write as you speak. This is one of the instances, I think, where it’s nice to be able to hear the person as you read the letter.
10. BHG suggests that you consider including something about the season—how you’re spending the holidays, for example. Not a bad idea, but keep the main purpose--to talk about the year—in mind.