Share on Google+

Instant Irritation: Just Add Voicemail

6 tips to Make Your Voice Mail Messages Appreciated and Effective

What is it with voicemail and its uncanny ability to take the most intelligent, charismatic, and business-savvy people and make them forget every principle of communication the second they hear the dreaded beep?

Don't get me wrong - voicemail is a fantastic invention. Is has made a huge contribution to productivity, and it has probably saved businesses a fortune, even before the advent of the Internet. Less than 30 years ago, every mid to senior level executive had a secretary. As well as typing and filing (those things we now do for ourselves via computer), taking phone calls was a big part of secretarial work.

It's not the concept of voicemail itself that drives me crazy - it's how people use (or more often abuse) it. Do you recognize any of these people? Even worse, are any of them you?

The Generalist: We all get voice mail that simply says "call me when you get a chance." No subject, no reason for the call, no ability for the recipient to prioritize his or her work.

The Mind Reader: This person never leaves you the return telephone number, because it is expected that you know it by heart. OK, maybe your cell phone shows the number, but not all business lines do.

The Mile-a-Minute Talker: This caller does leave you a number to call, but says it so fast, you're not quite sure what they said, and you have to listen to the message several times to work out what they said.

The Chatterbox: What about the person who leaves such a long message, that they have to call back again, just to finish?

Your New Best Friend: A good friend of the mind reader above, this person assumes you know who they are, as they don't tell you in their message.

The Antagonist: This is the idiot who uses voicemail to share anger or negative emotion. Aren't they aware that messages can be replayed and forwarded? Do they care so little for their careers that they're happy to mess them up in just a few seconds?

Having covered all the things about voicemail that really set my teeth on edge, here are some quick pointers on how to leave a professional, effective voicemail message:

1) Prepare: Have all the information in front of you so that you don't tie up the time looking for whatever information you want to share.

2) Courtesy Costs Nothing: Before you speak, smile. It's audible - trust me! Open with a personal greeting, using the person's name. "Good afternoon, Lucy" beats barking instructions into a voice recorder!

3) Identify yourself: Unless you're leaving a message for your partner or kids - someone you know will recognize your voice, always identify yourself, using your first and last names. "Good afternoon, Lucy; this is Marsha."

4) Get to The Point: Plan to be as brief as possible, and definitely keep it under 3 minutes. "I'm calling about;" Set the stage so the listener can focus easily.

5) Move the Dialogue Along: Which of these is more productive? a) "Good afternoon, Lucy; this is Marsha. Please call me about next week's training on;." b) "Good afternoon, Lucy; this is Marsha. I'm calling about next week's training. Owing to venue availability, this will now start at 10:00 am instead of 9:30am, and will inform the delegates." Can you say what you would have said if the person was available? If so, then why not do just that?

6) Leave your number: Again, unless you're calling your partner, always leave your telephone number without exception. Speak slowly and distinctly. Some people like to repeat the number, and that's down to personal preference. Give them advance warning that the number is coming: Say, "My number is;" or "here is my phone number;" then give a brief pause. Give them a chance to grab a pen and paper, so they won't have to repeat the message.

That's all there is to it! It's not rocket science, is it? I guess too many people don't think when leaving voicemail messages. Just be brief, be friendly, and be effective. Easy!