9 Rules of Effective Voicemail Messages

freelance voicemailBy Jake Poinier

It’s hard to believe that a professional in today’s world would leave a THREE-MINUTE voicemail message. But that’s precisely what someone did to me yesterday. (I was bored out of my mind after 30 seconds and ready to jam an ice pick in my ear after Minute One. I don’t remember a single thing she said before I 7’ed her.)

As a freelancer and professional communicator, you need to do better than that or it will hurt your business. My co-Zoner Sigrid has done a bang-up job with her series on how freelancers can benefit from writing smashing e-mails, and the point she makes in #5—“Most e-mails can be summed up within one window pane”—has its aural equivalent with voicemails.

Unfortunately, it’s easier to recognize an awful voicemail message than it is to leave a good one. Sometimes you’re going to hang up the phone and think to yourself, “Dammit, I am a babbling idiot!” I know there’s a temptation to be thorough and tell the person exactly why you’re calling in excruciating detail.

Don’t. You’d be better served to leave only your name and number than to blab on for a minute or more. Here are the few of the rules I personally try to adhere to anytime I get sent to voicemail:

  1. While the phone is ringing, rehearse in your mind what you’re going to say if you end up in VM. That way, you’re ready for it.
  2. Be brief. (But you already knew that.)
  3. Speak somewhat more slowly than usual and enunciate as clearly as possible. It’s sort of like public speaking.
  4. Immediately after you say “hi” and who you are, say your phone number, so if the person repeats the message, it’s right there.
  5. If you received the contact information from a third party, use that as leverage by stating that “Jim Johnson asked that I give you a call” or something to that effect.
  6. State why you’re calling in a single sentence, and limit it to one topic. You can talk about the other stuff when they return your call.
  7. If you’re on deadline, say so, politely. “I’m on deadline, so the sooner you can get back to me, the more I’d appreciate it” is what I generally say. Or, if you have a specific day/time that you absolutely must hear by, go ahead and mention it.
  8. At the end of the call, state your phone number again.
  9. Say thank you and that you look forward to hearing from them.

Keep in mind, this post took longer for you to read than an effective voicemail would take to leave. There’s no such thing as a perfect message, other than the one that gets you called back. I experiment all the time, and recommend that you do the same.

Do you have a killer voicemail message tactic that guarantees a return call? Please share your idea in the comments!

Drop by DoctorFreelance.com for advice on how to deal with clients who miss their own deadlines.

4 thoughts on “9 Rules of Effective Voicemail Messages”

  1. First of all–I love the picture!

    Second–I couldn’t agree more with this post. I try to be brief and I hate it when I get so much information on a voicemail that I really don’t even need to return the call!

  2. Such excellent common sense! Make it easy for people! Don’t race thru that phone number! I have been that “babbling idiot” and try very hard to be the message I want to receive!! Hope your trip is awesome. My week off was, and nothing bad happened! Amazing!! HA!

  3. One nice thing about voice mail is you usually have the option to re-record if you screw up. Most VM systems will let you hit # to erase and record a new message. That way if your throat dries up or you cough halfway through, you get another chance.

  4. @Catherine, thanks & glad you enjoyed the pic. Google images is an amazing resource, eh?

    @adchick, “being the message you want to receive”=words to live by. Vacation was awesome, though I’m still swaying in my chair a bit from the motion of being on a boat all week 🙂 Does the same thing happen when you get off the Harley?

    @Stacy, that’s an excellent reminder about the # key as a free “do-over.”

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