Even with so many ways to communicate in the business world, phone calls have not gone away. The persistent advantage of leaving a voicemail—versus a text or email—lies in the resonance of the human voice, with its unique power to emphasize, intone, and attract. As a result, voicemails come across as more authentic, personal, and direct.
An effective voicemail can be the difference between an opportunity gained or lost. Think of that list of prospective member phone numbers you solicited at your last Toastmasters club meeting—online or in person. You know a phone call will be more effective than an email in converting those members, but you’re going to be leaving a lot of voicemails as you make your way down the list.
Success starts with knowing that a voicemail is a proposal, not a conversation. The person on the other end doesn’t need to know all about you or your organization; they just need a good reason to return your call. These eight suggestions will give your voicemail the highest likelihood of generating that hoped-for response.
1 Know your goal.
Identify the goal you’re trying to achieve. Are you hoping to acquire an email address or invite the person to another Toastmasters meeting? Know precisely what you want to happen so you know what to suggest after you’ve made your proposal.
2 Think in points, not paragraphs.
Your recipient will probably make a decision within seconds, so your proposal needs to be made quickly and concisely. To cut unnecessary information, think of your message in terms of points, not paragraphs.
- Point 1: What are you proposing?
- Point 2: How would the proposal benefit the recipient?
- Point 3: Suggested next step.
3 Practice out loud, not in your head.
Practice your voicemail message a few times out loud. Rehearsing aloud conditions your mind and your mouth to work together, which is essential because leaving a voicemail requires both thinking and speaking.
4 Start slowly and articulate clearly.
When you hear the beep, start with a short salutation (“Hi, Sarah.”) and immediately identify yourself and your affiliation. (“I’m Bill from Toastmasters.”) Do this slowly with emphasis on articulation. If you rush, the listener may spend the rest of your voicemail thinking, “Who is this?” instead of paying attention. If relevant, briefly note your connection to the recipient. (“We met at Big Voice Toastmasters last week.”)
5 Avoid prefaces.
It’s vital to get to your point quickly, so avoid all stories, coincidences, and even praise as you start. Remember: Your goal is not to entertain or endear yourself to the recipient. Your goal is simply to advance to the next step.
6 Stick to one proposal.
Keep your proposal simple and make only one. Multiple requests only complicate the message, putting an extra burden on a listener. If you have several proposals to make, pick the most intriguing one.
7 Make your contact information clear.
Remember that information familiar to you is brand-new to the recipient, so give only one form of contact information slowly and with extra articulation. Then repeat it. If you’re giving a phone number, insert a tiny pause between each number. Your objective is to be so clear that the recipient will not have to replay the voicemail.
8 Close with confidence.
Many people start their voicemails well, but end with a meandering mess. (“Okay, so, I guess, alright, so ...”) To avoid this calamity, plan your ending in advance. Confident conclusions contain both appreciation and a next step. (“Thanks so much for your time, Sarah. I look forward to working with you.”) Ending on an action step elevates the probability of the recipient acting on it.
By the way, people occasionally still answer their phones, so don’t be thrown off if you get a live voice, not a prerecorded one. Continue to lead with the most important and relevant information. If they have questions, answer them. Don’t steamroll over their responses, but make your point before the end of the call.
Phone calls may not be the dominant form of communication they once were, but people still make them, which means there’s opportunity for success and potential for self-sabotage. So don’t just “phone it in.” If you prepare well, stick to your points, and articulate clearly, you’ll give your voicemail the best chance of breaking through.
Joel Schwartzberg is the senior director of strategic and executive communications for a U.S. national nonprofit, a presentation coach, and author of The Language of Leadership: How to Engage and Inspire Your Team and Get to the Point! Sharpen Your Message and Make Your Words Matter. Follow him on Twitter @TheJoelTruth.