The Business Monthly
March 2006

Voice Mail: Love It or Hate It - But Make It Work for You

By Natalie McIntyre
March 2006

Whether it's made your life simpler or added a whole new level of complication to your daily communications, voice mail is a road we all travel in today's business world. And it's a two-way street. On one side of the street, you're trying to leave a message on someone's voice mail that gets them to take action and return your call. On the other side, you're trying to create a greeting on your voice mail that is professional in sound and invites response.

Most important, whether leaving a message or creating a greeting, prepare for the call. When leaving a message, make note of your key points and questions before you call. This simple list can help you avoid overlooking an important issue and keeps you from rambling on while you try to assemble your thoughts.

When creating a greeting, have your outgoing message scripted out and keep it simple. There's no need to tell callers that you're away from your desk or can't take the call - we know that. That's why we got your voice mail. What the caller wants is to be able to efficiently leave a message, not wait through an endless greeting.

Two critical components of leaving a message are your name and a return phone number. Stating your full name and business name helps the listener quickly identify and respond without having to figure out which "Bob" or "Kim" has called. After all, your most important piece of business identity is your name.

Making the assumption that the person you've called knows your phone number, or has a phone that will capture it, can lead to a slowdown of return communication. Once you've identified yourself, leave your return phone number immediately after you've stated your name, and again at the conclusion of your message. If the person listening to your message doesn't capture the entire phone number the first time listening to your message, they only need to replay the first part to get the complete number.

In this day of faster and faster communication, we probably all need to speak a little more slowly when leaving information such as a phone number. An easy way to make sure you're not speaking too fast is to write the number down as you are speaking it on a message. This simple action makes you automatically slow down your rate of speech to match the speed at which people write.

Practice, practice, practice. Whether you're a seasoned caller or new to conducting business by phone, if there's an option to review your message after you have recorded it, use it to critique yourself. You may be surprised to hear filler words, odd mouth noises or disorganized thoughts that sound more like one side of a two-way conversation rather than a coherent piece of business communication. You can also call your own voice mail and leave yourself a message for critiquing, as well as listen to the quality of your recorded greeting. Is the volume too loud and possibly distorting, or are you speaking too softly and conveying an image of lacking confidence? Do your voice and message sound like someone you would want to do business with?

Mom was right: Sit up and put a smile on your face. Whether leaving a message or creating your voice mail greeting, sitting up tall gives you air and energy that will be reflected in the quality of your voice. Slumping down or cradling the receiver between your neck and shoulder creates a completely different type of sound, image and energy than what we hear when you sit up tall. A smile on your face is reflected in your voice and doesn't have to imply a lack of power. A lack of expression in your face and posture results in a lack of expression in your voice.

When you go down the road of voice mail, relax, enjoy the trip, don't go too fast or too slow, read all the signs and know where you're heading.

Natalie McIntyre is a partner at ImageLine LLC. She can be reached at or visit