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Home  > Article

Never Say "Um" Again

By Kate Lorenz,

Do you remember the days when a real, live person used to answer the phone? When there were no "phone trees," no push button menus, and people actually used the telephone to talk to each other?

Do you remember the days when a real, live person used to answer the phone? When there were no "phone trees," no push button menus, and people actually used the telephone to talk to each other? These days, it seems that we spend more time speaking to voice mail than to real people. Most of us now see voice mail as a necessary evil, something we breeze through and give little thought to. But if you think voice mail messages you leave don't matter, you need to think again.

According to Renee Grant-Williams, author of "Voice Power: Using Your Voice to Captivate, Persuade and Command Attention," (AMACOM), voice mail is an important first impression of your professionalism, but is something that leaves many of us trembling. "Voice mail is something that will always be on our permanent record," she says. "Once you leave that message, you can't take it back."

Putting thought into the messages you leave can do wonders for you, and Grant-Williams says you should approach voice mail as a golden opportunity. "Use this moment of undivided attention to advance your cause," she says. She points out that voice mail can be a great time saver and a good way to tie up loose ends. Grant-Williams offers the following six steps to use voice mail to your advantage.

1. Prepare.
Preparation is the key to every professional task. Grant-Williams suggests jotting down one line about what you would like to see accomplished with the voice mail message. What is your overall goal? What do you hope to get out of this call? How can you get the most mileage out of this brief moment?

2. Gather your ammo.
Pull together any information you need for the call before you dial. This means getting out your schedule, your contact information or anything else you might need to rely on while leaving the message. This will save you from fumbling through a stack of papers and stalling with a message full of "ums."

3. Put your message in order.
Grant-Williams says you need to "organize your message into a well-planned sequence of topics in the order of their importance." Since you never know how long you will be able to talk, make sure you know the most important information and present that information first. For example, it is a good idea to lead with your name and contact number. That way, if the voice mail recipient only hears 10 seconds of your message, he or she will at least be able to call you back.

4. Ask for a specific action.
It is important that you don't leave the other person scratching his or her head after your call wondering what you wanted. Make your request specific and clear to ensure there is no confusion on the other end.

5. Plan to call back again.
Some people leave one voice mail message and think that their work is done. This is a mistake. "The reality is that many people don't respond to every message in a timely fashion," Grant-Williams says. She suggests letting recipients of your messages know that you understand their busy schedules. For example, try to conclude your message by saying "I know that you are very busy, so if I do not hear back from you by Wednesday I will call you again." This eases the other person's guilt when he is not able to call back and gives you an opening for calling again.

6. Come to a conclusion.
If there is a way to wrap up your business with a voice mail message, take advantage of it. That way, you and your acquaintance can cut down on the time spent playing "phone tag." Are you calling to set up a meeting? Try this approach: "I will meet you at 3:30 on Thursday at the City Cafe coffeehouse. If I do not hear from you, I will assume that this meeting is confirmed." This approach can save everyone a lot of time.

Grant-Williams adds that attitude is important when leaving a message. If you are conducting business, make sure your voice conveys the right image. Smile when you are talking, stand up or get dressed up and do anything else you can to put yourself in the proper frame of mind. Doing so will make you feel more confident and increase your overall voice mail success.

Kate Lorenz is the article and advice editor for She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues. Other writers contributed to this article.

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