How to Leave Voicemail

Are your voicemail messages annoying?

Lisa B. Marshall
5-minute read

How to Leave Voicemail

I recently received this tweet from a listener in Texas:

@lisabmarshall You should do an episode on leaving clear, enthusiastic, and to-the-point voicemails to help folks like me who ramble.

Well, maybe I shouldn't admit this, but leaving voicemails isn't my forte. It's like something short circuits in my brain as soon as I hear the beep--especially if I was expecting the person to answer the phone. It's not that I mind my voice being recorded (obviously), I think maybe it's the extra pressure I feel to leave a great message, you know, considering I am a communication professional!

However, in today’s episode I'll share some quick and dirty tips for how to leave effective voicemails.

Be Brief, Advance The Conversation, And Be Clear

I’ll start with Lisa's Law of Voicemail: Don't be annoying! If you are going to leave a voicemail, it needs to be brief, it needs to advance the conversation, and it needs to be clear. I’m going to say that again, you need to be brief, advance the conversation, and be clear.

For me, that means I need to plan my calls. If it’s an important call, I create a well-thought-out outline. If it’s just a quick follow-up call, I’ll take a second or two to jot down my main points. This way, I’ve got an outline if I do reach them and notes for the voicemail in case I don’t.

Be Concise in Your Voicemails, Please!

The trick is to use the outline to keep your message short. You need to be as concise as possible. Anything longer than a minute or two is too long. No one wants to listen to a long message and in fact, many people *6 (that’s delete) before the message is done. The old adage “less is more” for sure applies to voicemail. If you’ve got a lot to communicate, just cover the highlights in your message and then tell them you’ll send an email to follow-up with the details.

If you are going to leave a voicemail, it needs to be brief, it needs to advance the conversation, and it needs to be clear.

Next, remember the purpose of voicemail is similar to email: to facilitate asynchronous conversations. Think of voicemail as your half of a conversation. Leave information or ask questions as if your conversation partner were on the other end of the phone.

That means you never ever waste time and leave a message that has no content. Something like, "Hi Marc, I'm returning your call; call me later" is just stupid. Think about it; imagine if you got this email: "Hi Marc, I'm returning your email; email me later." That is a clear violation of Lisa's Law of Voicemail. But worse, you'll be perceived as unprofessional.

Be Clear in Your Voicemail

Finally, when I say be clear, I really mean two things. First, clear as in your voice should be heard and second, clear as in your message should be organized (not rambling). This may seem obvious, but don't leave a message when you're on your cell phone, driving in your car on the highway with the windows down and the radio on. The point is, if you have to talk loudly, don't leave a message. If the person physically can't hear your message, or you are screaming in their ear, you've sent the wrong message.

In terms of structure, every voicemail you leave should be organized. It should include a greeting, your name, your phone number, and your succinct key points.


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.