Leaving a Proper Voice Message

Man Speaking on a Phone

These days many people would do anything to avoid leaving a voice message.  Professionally, whether it’s cell phone technology or a landline telephone with voice mail opportunity, leaving a proper message is the appropriate thing to do.  

After all, phones facilitate communication.  And communication is necessary when sharing information.

The Case for Voice Messages

I overheard a person say, “I don’t leave spoken messages!  That’s so ‘old school’, and it wastes time when texting is better.”  Then he mused, “Maybe voice mail is okay -- if you’re wanting to find out for sure if the person texts.”  

If you’re dialing someone’s number, it’s not only polite to leave a voice mail, it’s prudent as well.  When you call someone you don’t know well and your number isn’t identified, not leaving a message could get your number blocked.   

The bottom line is, we communicate because we are relational.  And relationships begin and are enriched when others consider us mannerly and respectful. 

Having good phone manners starts with honoring the distance that naturally occurs when you try entering someone’s space literally unseen.

A Proper Voice Message

As when describing most etiquette guidelines, voice messages are situational.  Do you know the person you are calling?  Are you calling in a social or business aspect?  Is it an urgent call?

Establishing the purpose and situation for your call makes leaving a message easier.  Unless you are very familiar with the recipient of your call, err on the side of more formal than less.  Use an honorific with the last name when addressing the person (“Mr. Denny, this is Jan Butler with Highland Symphony calling about the tickets you ordered”).

Your full message should include the following:

  • State your full name before anything else. 
  • Provide a succinct, clearly articulated reason for your call. 
  • State your telephone number — and repeat it slowly enough that it can be written down. 
  • Offer a convenient time you may be reached -- if a return call is one of the reasons for your message.
  • Close with a thank-you - “Thank you for your time.”

Speak Clearly and with a Smile

One consistent complaint I hear regarding voice messages is that many of them are abrupt and unclear.  Even the amazing technology we enjoy today can’t mask a thoughtless tone of voice.

When you leave a message, remember to:

  • Smile!  Smiling as you speak keeps you positive and helps with performance anxiety.  And the person listening to your message will hear the friendliness in your voice.
  • Speak slowly.  Or, at least slower.  A real person will hear you speak.  Speaking at a relaxed pace ensures you are understood.  It also signals you are confident with the information you are giving.

Professional and Personable “Don’ts”

  • Call someone without a clear reason why you are calling that person.  There is an unclear and confusing message waiting to happen.
  • Leave instructions with several steps.  Again, confusion abounds!
  • Speed talk your message out of a misguided sense of efficiency.
  • Leave super, important, bad, sad, worried, or frustrated news. 
  • Avoid playing phone tag.  If you’ve left a message, then received a call back, and now must leave another message, simply leave your name and number.
  • Avoid leaving a string of alternative ways to contact you.
  • Avoid avoiding to speak to someone directly!  Communication is sometimes an evil necessity, but a necessity nonetheless.

Your Outgoing Message

Even if you hate leaving a voice message, hearing a pleasant greeting makes the task much more bearable. 

Put your callers at ease with your voice greeting:

  • Skip unnecessary phrases like “Sorry, I’m unavailable to take your call.”  This is already assumed when you don’t answer the call.
  • Get to the point: “Hello.  This is Sally Simmons.  Please leave a message and I’ll return your call.”
  • As you record your greeting, smile, feel friendly, and speak clearly.
  • Listen to your greeting, picturing what it would be like to hear it as a caller.  Is this someone for whom you’d feel good about leaving a message?


Never underestimate the power of your voice.  Particularly when making business calls, or calls to people you don’t know that well, the tone of your voice can build trust and likeability, or it can make someone question if they want to work with you.

Even with today’s technology advances, voice communication still builds relationships better than text and email.  Know how to use it to your advantage.



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