Executive Careers Blog

7 Tips Before You Leave A Message


Leaving a voice mail? That’s a mini presentation – you’ve got seconds to make a good impression.

Suppose you meander, you have no idea where you’re going but, who cares, you can’t stop - any minute, you might start singing a complicated Italian opera.

Some messages sound like that. Let’s apply some classic presentation skills to yours:

1) Know your audience. Even if you’re calling someone you’ve never met, you still get to hear his/her outgoing message before leaving yours.

Listen carefully. Then adapt.

If she speaks fast, then you speak fast. If his message is concise, then you be concise.

If her message mentions something significant - “Hi it’s Jacqueline. I’m in the Arctic today being pursued by wolverines” - then respond accordingly: “Oh, that sounds just like my office.”

2) Structure your message. Jot down some keywords, or prepare a loose script. Just don’t sound robotic.

Any important message – even a 30 second voice mail – should have an opening, middle, and close.

Opening: who are you, what’s your purpose; middle: relevant details; close: next steps.

Last week I got a message from someone named Fred. Fred wanted to talk, but didn’t say why. This week Fred left another message: “I’m calling to follow-up my message from last week.”

That’s not really a purpose; on the other hand, it is a next step. Is Fred trying to confuse me?

3) Give the right amount of detail. Usually that means less.

4) Watch your nonverbals. Even if no one can see you, your body language still matters. Stand up (you’ll project better), move around (you’ll sound more dynamic), smile (you’ll sound more friendly).

Suppose you’re working at home - can the person on the other end of the phone tell if you’re still in pajamas? Some experts say yes! I don’t think so, but I avoid calling anyone in my pajamas. I don’t even own pajamas.

Then there’s your outgoing message. That’s a mini-presentation too.

5) Be upbeat. After all, it’s an “outgoing” message. True, you don’t want to sound too cheerful, but many people sound downright glum.

One executive I called last week had an outgoing message that ended with “make it a GREAT day.” Normally I don’t go in for that sort of thing, but he sounded really genuine and I appreciated his spirit.

On the other hand, I wasn’t exactly sure how to make it a GREAT day; that made me feel worse.

6) Keep it fresh. For example, mention the date: “Hi this is Tyler on Thursday, May 7.” That works especially well if it really is May 7, and you really are Tyler.

7) Set realistic expectations. Some people promise to call back within 30 minutes. Impressive! But if you make a promise like that, you’ve got to follow through.

Even if it means calling Fred.

Tip: You present yourself everyday - often in seconds. Pay attention to your message.

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Consultant, author, speaker, and founder of express potential® (  Paul Hellman has worked with CEOs, executives, and managers at leading companies for over 25 years to improve performance and productivity at work. His latest book is “Naked at Work: How to Stay Sane When Your Job Drives You Crazy,” and his columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post and other leading papers.

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