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Avoid Leaving an Embarrassing Voicemail

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How to Avoid Leaving an Embarrassing Voicemail

By Michelle Yozzo Drake

I think every sitcom in the history of television (since the advent of the answering machine) has done that episode where someone leaves an awful message on someone else's machine/voicemail. The one that stands out in my mind is the episode of "Seinfeld" where George leaves message after message - each progressively more angry and belligerent - for a date who seems to be avoiding him after they shared a good time together. Turns out she was out of town for the weekend, forcing George and Jerry orchestrate this elaborate plot ("Tippy toes! Tippy toes!") to steal her answering machine cassette!

So why do sitcom writers tap into this scenario again and again? Because when it happens to someone else, it's hilarious.

When it happens to you? Not so much, ESPECIALLY if that embarrassing/horrible/*gulp* angry message is for your boss, a client, or a co-worker.

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Bridget from Melville, Long Island gave me a cringe-worthy, real-life example in this e-mail she sent me:

Dear Michelle,

I am the WORST when it comes to leaving voice mail messages. It's like that beep is my mind's cue to completely freeze up! I'm left floundering around, trying to get to the point, and tripping over my words. My messages always seem to come out overly long, rambling, and in some cases, embarrassing. The other day I left a message for my boss and ended it with, "So give me a call back, honey. Bye."

I CALLED MY BOSS "HONEY!"

Please tell me how I can keep from having another voice mail disaster.

Oh, Bridget. Well, it's happened to the best of us. Nobody really likes the idea of being recorded, and I think that's where a lot of the panic comes in. To avoid leaving a botched message again, I'm going to give you some foolproof tips to leaving a concise, professional voicemail message.

The best thing that you can do - before you even pick up the phone - is to assume that you're going to have to leave a message and then prepare to do so.

Always know ahead of time exactly what the goal of your message is. What action would you like this person to take? Most of the time, you'll simply want them to call you back, so only give them enough information to make that clear: your name, your phone number, "Please call me back at your earliest convenience," and a very brief mention of what this is regarding. If you're the type that gets tongue-tied after the beep, the less you say the better! Leave the details for later on when you're talking to a human on the other end.

Take the time to practice what you want to say leaving the message before you actually leave it. You might even want to sketch out a script to follow while you're on the phone. Be careful, though, that your message doesn't sound too rehearsed or like you're reading it from a piece of paper, even if you are.

When leaving your message, be authoritative in your tone, but be upbeat as well. You don't want to come across as wishy-washy: "So, um, it'd be really super nice if you could, like, y'know, call me back whenever, I guess..." You're leaving a message for another professional, so be sure to sound like it. Also, people tend to respond to an energetic, upbeat-sounding person rather than someone who's stumbling.

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Think about what's in it for them if they return your call. The type of voice message that you leave needs to be able to resonate or connect with the listener. There has to be a good solid reason why they are going to take the action that you want them to take, so be sure to think about it from their perspective.

If you're calling someone for the first time or someone who doesn't know you yet, try to find some common ground, some sort of connection that you can make with this person. For instance, maybe you have a mutual friend; maybe you went to the same college; perhaps you share a common interest. This is called a "bridge" and if you have one, be upfront about it in the message so you establish a connection immediately.

Another really important thing is: be brief. Those long, rambling messages are really the kiss of death. People have short attention spans and with technology as it is, they can hit the delete button right in the middle of one of your sentences - and possibly miss the whole point of the message! Remember that the person you're calling is busy, so keep it short and be specific in what you're asking for.

And finally, don't forget to leave your contact information! I can't tell you how many messages I've received from people wanting me to call them back, but they neglect to leave a number! When you're leaving your info, do it slowly so the person listening to the message has a chance to write it down. Repeat it if you need to, even if you think you've been speaking way too long.

Here's hoping your next voicemail is as professional as you are, with nary a "honey" in sight!


For more FREE tips on advancing your career and navigating the workplace, sign up for my FREE e-zine "Lipstick Leadership" at LipstickLeadership.com today! And check out the products I've developed to guide you toward the success you deserve!



“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt