12 ways to leave better voice messages on the phone

I was just listening to one my good friend’s voice message and had a hard time figuring out the message and the identity of the caller. I was in fact surprised to find out that the message was by my friend when I hit the key for ‘dial back’ and talked to him. What had happened was that he had caught a terrible cough and cold and when he left me a voice message he completely ignored that fact that he sounded completely different. Moreover, the signal was weak as he left it while travelling on a country road so the message broke so much, it was practically undecipherable. Had he announced his name and replayed the message before confirming it, things would have been much better.

If we do not pay attention every time we leave a voice message, it becomes our habit to take it casually, to the point that the whole purpose of the call gets defeated. This particular message was just to say ‘hi’ and catch up, but there could be situations in which a bad voice message could mean worse and in business scenarios it could mean big losses. E.g. a bad voice message could mean a missed business or job opportunity.

This set me writing some pointers to leave better voice messages on the phone. Here are the tips I try to use when I reach any voicemail machine:


1) Be loud and clear: Nobody wants to hear a message if all you can hear is some mumbling. It is better to leave the room if the message is private, rather then speaking inaudibly.

2) Check the signal: Make sure that when you leave the message, your cell phone shows good signal strength. Walk to the window or the lobby if needed. The recorder, unlike a real person on the phone, will not tell you that it can not hear you well.

3) Always tell the WHO, the WHEN and YOUR NO.: Some newer smart cell phones, display all this information neatly formatted on the screen but some companies don't show/tell all this information. Check right now to see if you cell-phone company provides you the who, when and their no. Some companies DO NOT provide the time for messages not received today. Always tell the time (even the time-zone, if calling someone out your time-zone)and the day OR time and date (one of them is usually sufficient (I prefer the day, though you may choose to tell the date). This should be told preferably in the beginning of the message. 

Remember, the first thing to be told is your name (the WHO). If they do not know you well enough, you’re your company name and job title. The no. you can be reached at, should also be mentioned at the end of the call, unless you are sure they have your cell or home no. (I prefer to give my number anyways...)

4) Wait for the machine: When you call someone and it goes to voice-mail, there will usually be a voice which tells you what key to press to leave a voice message and what key to press to leave the phone number as a text message. Wait for the voice to complete the message as it will tell you what key to press for options. If you don't know this key, before you leave the voice message, you will not be able to use the very useful options which most telecommunication companies provide. I even save these three keys (digits) for each of my contacts in my address book.

5) Re-record if needed: One of the options is to review your message. It is generally a good idea to check what you are sending and re-record if needed. (sometimes you already know that you need to re-record without reviewing, but you will be surprised how often you will want to do that if you just develop the habit of reviewing your messages) 

6) Set priority only if needed: You can set the message to be high-priority or low priority, but set this only if needed. (Just as in an email, it is not good to set unnecessary flags on the outgoing message)

7) Give the message: This might seem obvious but I've seen people who don't tell the reason why they called. Please leave a message! If you did not call for any important reason, do say something e.g. ‘Just called to say hi’. In fact, most of the times you can tell everything you wanted to convey, had the person picked the phone, in the voice-message itself. If it is loud and clear, the person will listen to it, even if it is not a brief message. But, obviously you don't want to leave 5 minute messages!

8) Who is the message for?: If you are leaving the message at a home no., or if the number is shared by many people, or if you are not sure that the number you have dialed is correct, always tell who is the message for.

9) Don't repeat yourself: It does not help to repeat yourself in the message. It only shows that you did not review the message and are not sure about the voice/volume/clarity when you gave the information for the first time in the message. The voice message does not have to be of a minimum length, so just cover the points mentioned here and end it. If the receiver could not catch the information the first time he/she heard it, they can always replay it.

10) Lingua franca: Always leave the message in the language in which they will best understand the message. What I mean here is that, when you talk to a person vis-à-vis, they might understand your mother-tongue or some other language also, but when they hear it on the phone it will be hard for them to understand the meaning as there are no visual aids. Always prefer English or his/her mother tongue (if you are comfortable in it, that is.)

11) Tell them how to take it from there: Tell the person if you want them to respond to you via email or you will call them again or they should call back ASAP. If you do not want to receive a call back during certain times, mention that. It is best to let them know the time to call back e.g. ASAP, After 9 pm EST today etc.

12) Practice makes perfect: Finally, use every opportunity to practice and leave the best voice message possible even if it is not to your boss or colleague.

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