TypewriterFrom The Urbach Letter – December 2002

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Voice Mail JailEscape from Voice Mail Jail... Six Tips to Get Your Phone Messages Returned
Voice mail is very convenient… for you. It's very convenient for the person who has it, but often frustrating – even infuriating – for everybody else. Lots of people use voice mail to screen their calls. They're perpetually, "Out of the office or away from my desk…" (even though they're *in* the office *at* their desk). This is somewhat understandable considering the amount of cold call telemarketing going on these days. It's a defensive reflex. They've got work to do and constant interruptions kill productivity ("No, I don't need any copy machine toner today"). However, even if you're not in "sales," you very likely need to reach people who don't know you well. That means you're leaving voice mail messages and hoping for a return call. Here's how to leave better messages, improve the odds you'll get a prompt call-back, and escape from voice mail jail:

(1) Name, Rank, and Serial Number – Twice. Once at the start of your message and again at the end: "This is Fred Flintstone from Bedrock Quarry at 222-555-3000…"

(2) Loud, Clear, and Slow. Many messages aren't returned simply because they're unintelligible. Don't shout, but speak in a loud clear voice. Lots of folks check their messages from a cell phone and they need all the help they can get. Also, don't speak so fast you sound like a "fast-talking salesman." Important people with important things to say speak slowly. As long as you don't slow down so much you sound mentally deficient, a slower pace will increase the listener's perception that you have something important and personal to say.

(3) Drop Names. If somebody referred you, that person's name should be one of the first things out of your mouth, even before you fully ID yourself: "Jane, I was referred to you by Barney Rubble. This is Fred…" Starting off this way will ensure your entire message will get listened to. If you don't have a known person's name to use, the next best thing is to reference an organization you have in common: "I'm also a member of the Bedrock Chamber of Commerce…"

(4) Don't Beat Around the Bush. A voice mail message is no place for idle chatter. Get right to the point, right away: "I'm calling to invite you to attend a special meeting tomorrow night at the Community Center."

(5) Give a Clear "Call to Action." If you want a call-back, don't let the person off the hook by saying something like, "If I don't hear from you, I'll call again." Much better to say, "We're only inviting a select group of prominent citizens to this special meeting, so it's very important for you to reply, with either a yes or a no, by calling me at 000-000-0000 by 2PM Friday."

(6) Keep it Light. Please don't confuse all this advice about being matter-of-fact and to-the-point with being dull and deadly serious. On the contrary, if it's at all within your personality to be friendly and entertaining on the phone, make sure that comes through in your message. People will be much more responsive to an empathetic human being than an automaton. Just consider the previous five points the structure you can hang your own personal touches on. But a word of warning: don't try to be something on the phone you're not in real life. It'll just come across as forced and unnatural.


Advertising copywriters keep the acronym AIDA in mind when they're writing. It stands for four critical elements: Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action. Here's how to use AIDA in your phone messages.

Attention – Grab the listener's attention by dropping a name or referencing an affinity group or linking to something he or she is already familiar with. If you yourself have any name recognition, leading off with your ID info may be all that's needed.

Interest – Once you've gotten their attention, the next important job is to develop interest. Remember WIIFM. Tell the person why he or she would benefit by listening to your message.

Desire – Next, increase the listener's desire to respond by telling him or her why a response will have an important effect.

Action – Say exactly what you want the listener to do now. Tell him or her whom to call, what number to call, and when to call. Assume nothing.

By following these voice mail guidelines, you'll come across as polished and professional, and will be pleasantly surprised by the response you'll get.

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