L&D Lessons from an Out of Office Reply


Over the summer, I heard this 4 minute clip on NPR and every time I need to change my out of office reply, I think back to this story about Dallas Morning News book editor Michael Merschel, and how he sometimes has people email him (even when they know he’s out of the office) just to be able to read his out of office reply.

What if people wanted to access our learning and development resources as badly as people wanted to email this guy?

Here are four lessons from this story that I think are transferable to the plight of the L&D professional:

  1. Keep it simple… and unique. There’s nothing flashy about these out of office replies. There’s no major coding or programming necessary. Michael Merschel simply took an existing platform (Outlook’s out of office reply feature) and did something unexpected with it. In addition to the basic information he needed to include, he added his own personal touch, in his own personal style. Do we need new platforms? Or can we deliver what needs to be delivered through Word, Excel, Twitter or something else to which we (and all of our learners) already have access?
  2. Tap into a shared experience. What he wrote was short, sweet and something that everyone could relate to. If you’ve never actually taken a road trip with unhappy children in the back seat, chances are you’ve at least been held captive as your parents lugged you from point A to point B in the family car. People like something new (like an out of office reply that’s actually interesting) when they can somehow connect to it through their own prior, personal (or professional) experiences.
  3. Make it easy to access. Colleagues and strangers alike could get access to his out of office reply. There were no passwords to remember, no new systems to get familiar with… all they needed was access to email. While there is a good reason at times for higher levels of security, the more learning professionals can reduce barriers to access of their content, the more likely people will be to try to get their hands on it.
  4. Have fun with it. Whether we’re talking about something as routine as an out of office reply or compliance training, settling for standard, run-of-the-mill, business-as-usual doesn’t get people excited. My favorite part of this NPR story came toward the end, when Michael Merschel says: “…when you’re writing something, there’s this magical thing that happens where your words are going into someone else’s brain. And so whenever we’re putting words on paper in any form, you need to be thinking about who’s going to be reading that and how are they going to take it? It does matter. And also, I kind of think life’s too short not to have some fun with it.”

What do you think? Are there some other transferable lessons for people who present or train others?





Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.