How to Leave Voicemail

Are your voicemail messages annoying?

Lisa B. Marshall,
August 21, 2009

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.

Greet And State Your Name

As a matter of politeness you should greet the person. “Hey Krystie” or “Hi Marc.” Greet your listener as if you are you talking to them in person. Next, say your full name slowly and clearly. Introduce yourself the same way you would have had they picked up the phone. “This is Lisa B. Marshall” or “This is Mrs. Velasquez, Ariana’s mom.” If it’s a difficult name, consider spelling your name.

Even if you think they know your voice, it's still important to explicitly state who you are. “Hey Krystie, this is Lisa Marshall.” There are so many reasons they may be unsure of who you are just based your voice--don’t make them guess.

At times you may also need to briefly set the context. “Hey, MaryAnne, this is Lisa Marshall; I'm the keynote speaker for Tuesday's event…” This again, makes it immediately clear who is leaving the message.

Record and Review Your Key Points

Next, leave your message, including a reason to call you back, if necessary. "I was calling to confirm that I’ll arrive one hour early, at 8:00 AM on Tuesday. Can you confirm that the room will be open and available?"

If for some reason you felt like you were babbling or tripping over your words, try pressing # (or *) That will often give you the option of listening to your message and deleting it, if you need to. But don’t count on it—I made THAT mistake one time!

Actually, even if you were satisfied with your message, it’s a good idea to occasionally listen back to your messages. You might be surprised that you sound sleepy or annoyed even though you weren’t! It’s also a good opportunity to check for your use of filler words, such as um, ah, like, or so. (If you need help with that, I did an episode on that.) As with all communication, it’s important that your voice is always perceived as energetic, pleasant, and professional.

Include Your Contact Information

Finally, all voicemail messages should include how to reach you. That means you need to leave your phone number or email, again, even if you think they have the information. Make a habit of speaking very s-l-o-w–l-y when delivering the contact information. By the way, you can give the contact information at the beginning or at the end or even both--just be sure to include it every time. Don’t assume they have caller ID and instead make it easy for people to call you back at the right number.

Be Sure You Want To Leave A Message

Before I end, I did want to mention that, at times, just like email, you may not want to leave a message. Keep in mind that voicemail, like email, is a permanent public record.  When strong emotions or high stakes are involved, it’s better to wait to talk directly.

Also, if you’re trying to build a new relationship, it may also be better to wait to connect. However, for networking, my colleague, Marc A. Wolfe, tells me he’s had great success sending short video messages. He likes to use Oovoo.com because the receiver doesn’t need any special software to view the video. He had some other interesting ideas related to voicemail, so I recorded a conversation as a bonus. The link is in the show notes.

Voicemail Summary

So, in summary, when it comes to voicemail, don’t just blurt out the first thing that comes to your mind. The overall idea is that a voicemail should communicate a message-- a message that’s as concise and precise as possible and that represents your part of a real conversation. You should be communicating information or questions in a clearly organized way and delivered with an energetic and professional voice. Don’t forget to greet your listener and most importantly, include your name and contact information in every voicemail.

This is Lisa B. Marshall. Passionate about communication; your success is my business.

Did you know that it is better for your credit score to have your debt spread across several credit cards than to max out one? This is just one of the tips in the new Quick and dirty Tips audiobook, Money Girl’s 10 Steps for a Debt Free Life by Laura Adams. You can get it now on iTunes or Audible.com.

If you have a question, send email to publicspeaker@quickanddirtytips.com. For information about keynote speeches or workshops, visit lisabmarshall.com.

Related Resources

Google Voice (Great System for Voice Mail)

How To Build a Powerful Online Presence - Bonus Interview with Marc A. Wolfe

More Voicemail Tips

Businesswoman on Phone image courtesy of Shutterstock