Say What?

“Hi, John. I’m calling about the project plan for one of the projects we’re working on. It turns out that the problem we thought we had is real. So, how about changing that step in the work plan to read something like “update work plan and obtain project champion approval?” When you get that done, send it to me for review and then I’ll send it to the next person along the chain. By the way, I like that last email you sent about the re-organization. Sounds like you’re getting noticed. Probably in a good way, too. Congratulations. On another note, there’s stuff going on with my latest project – probably the only one where you’re not involved. If you need to talk, call me and I can update you on my latest project with the rest of the department. You’ve got my number.”

The above is a real voice message (names and references changed for confidentiality reasons) that lasted about 40 seconds. I don’t know about you, but I’d say this voice message is a complete waste of time, not only for the caller, but also for the listener. There are several problems with the message, not the least of which is the length of the message.

The first problem is that the caller presumes that John will recognize his/her voice. The caller also presumes that John knows what project is being referenced and further, there is an assumption that John has the caller’s number. What are the chances that the listener will be able to proceed on anything in the voice message with ease? The chances are slim to non-existent.

When leaving a voice message, remember that all business voice mail, if saved, can be called into discovery and can, at the very least, be considered a business record to which the organization has full ownership. The lesson here is: Choose your words carefully when leaving voice messages.

Experts suggest that voice mail should not exceed 20 seconds. This is easy to do if you know how to leave a voice message. Here are five guidelines to improve your voice message efficiency:

  1. Assume that no one answers their phone anymore. With this assumption, before you call, have in mind what message you will leave. If someone does happen to pick up your call, you will sound focused and articulate instead of confused and scrambling for words at the “beep.”
  2. People generally do not have time to listen to more than two points in a voice message. Prepare your message (see point 1 above) and be ready to hone in on your points right away.
  3. Be aware of your tone of voice when leaving messages. Those who leave a tone of high energy or happiness have a higher likelihood of getting a return call instead of those who sound frustrated or angry. One trick that I’ve learned over the years is to smile when leaving a message. The tone of your voice will change immediately.
  4. Use short, clear sentences when making requests by voicemail.
  5. Always leave your name and telephone number. NEVER presume that the recipient knows either.

If your message cannot be contained in 20 seconds, then leaving a voice message is not the best medium. Instead, use email, snail mail, or meet in person (leave a voicemail asking for an in-person meeting).

When leaving voicemails, remember that most people check their voicemails during time-bound moments such as between meetings. The more effort you put in to making your message clear, upbeat, and focused, the greater the likelihood that you will receive a call back sooner rather than later. It pays to put in a little effort to get the message right the first time.