You've just finished a big project and you want to express your gratitude to the people who put themselves out to make it a success. But our world these days is full of meaningless expressions of thanks. We're thanked for our "patience" when we get stuck on hold, and for our "understanding" when our flights are canceled. How can you convey your thanks in a sincere way that the recipient will truly appreciate?

The most important element is this: Make a personal connection. There's a procedure to follow that will help you write the most effective note possible, but creating a personal connection is the best thing you can do in a thank-you note. Even if you have to send thank-yous to a hundred attendees at an event, try to scribble a personal sentence or two on each one, or add a short personal intro to the beginning of a mass email.

Creating that personal connection will make your thank-you note effective. Here's how to make it truly great:

Use paper for maximum impact.

Should you always write thank-you notes on paper? Nope. If you're a smart leader, you send little notes of thanks multiple times a day to people who've helped you solve problems or passed along information that you need. Email makes sense for these most of the time. But when it really counts? That's when you should pull out a nice note card or thank-you card and send it by snail mail. I've gotten thank-you notes from many people for many reasons, but it's the few I got on paper that really stand out in my mind.

Be sincere.

Never, ever write a thank-you note, or any kind of personal note, if you don't actually feel the emotion you're expressing. People often have a sixth sense that tells them when someone isn't being genuine. If you're feeling grumpy and ungrateful, set this task aside and come back to it when you're in a better mood. If the person you're thanking messed up part of the job, offer thanks for the parts that were done well. Never, ever lie in a thank-you note.

Be specific.

Don't write, "Thank you for your part in making Tuesday's meeting a success." Write, "Thank you for your witty introduction of our keynote speaker that made Tuesday's meeting a success," or "Thank you for troubleshooting the A/V at Tuesday's event and helping to make sure everything ran smoothly."

Offer praise.

Now that you've thanked recipients for what they did, add a sentence or so about how they did it. For instance, after the sentence about troubleshooting A/V, you might write: "Your knowledge about these new technologies is a real asset to our company." It's especially important to say a few kind words if someone is just learning to do something. For instance: "You seemed so poised and relaxed onstage, no one would have guessed it was your first time." Even if they screwed up, they probably did some part of the job well, so focus on that in your thank-you note.

Say something about the future.

Most people, most of the time, want to know where they stand. So if you hope to work with the recipient again on another project, of if you foresee great things in their future, now is a good time to say so: "I'm looking forward to collaborating again soon," or "Your great talents will take you far in this industry."

Wish them well.

It's a good idea to close any personal note (and even non-personal ones) with good wishes for the recipient. It could be as simple as "I hope you have a wonderful summer." Or you could wish them luck with their current project or future career. This is also a good time to mention the person's spouse or significant other, if appropriate: "Best wishes to you and Barbara for a wonderful holiday season." If you know they're embarking on a trip or a new venture, you can wish them well with that.

Consider including a small gift.

It needn't be anything valuable--in fact it shouldn't be since many organizations have rules forbidding employees from accepting valuable presents. But, say, a $10 gift card to a nearby coffee place could be the perfect little add-on. Or you can get creative. One woman I collaborated with on a volunteer project sent me a written thank-you along with a small pad of sticky notes that say, "Stop me before I volunteer again." I think of her every time I use one.