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How to Make Your Outgoing Voicemail Message Not Suck

Voice mail

I have a handful of friends who, despite numerous pleas and death threats, refuse to carry their cell phone with them. They’re perfectly willing to leave it in the car while out somewhere, or leave it in their bedroom while watching television in the living room. Personally, these are stack-blowing, what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-you-types of behavior, but that’s another rant for another blog post.

So, as you can imagine, I generally get sent to voicemail when calling said friends on their cell phones. Now, granted, I’m not usually calling to tell them their house is on fire or that I just scored the Def Lepard tickets they had been frothing over. But I would like to talk to them about something. The phone will ring a few times and then I’ll hear something like this:

“Hello, this is [name]. I’m not able to get to my phone right now, but please leave a message and I’ll call you back as soon as I can. Thanks! *BEEP*”.

I don’t know how or when this type of message “format” was enshrined as the standard, but this is pretty close to most voicemail messages you’ll hear. I find this to be pretty freakin’ annoying, so I’ve put together this little list of rules for creating your outgoing message on either your cell phone or office phone voicemail.

  • Don’t tell me to leave a message – Voicemail has been around long enough for me to know what the deal is if I hear a recorded version of your voice. This should be omitted entirely as an option when creating one of these messages.
  • Don’t tell me you’re unavailable – That much is clear. Whether you’re actively avoiding my phone call, your phone is turned off or not nearby, or you’re too busy rescuing a kitten from a burning building – I get it. Ditch this part, too – please.
  • Don’t tell me you’ll return my call as soon as you can – Either you won’t (and you’re lying) or you will and it’s not necessary to tell me that you will. One of the most fundamental uses of voicemail is to keep track of who has called you so that you can, if needed, return those calls. Go ahead and shave this 2-3 seconds off of your message, as well.

Now, using the analogy of my friend’s message from above and removing all of the elements in the above list, guess what we’re left with? That’s right – only his name. And if you think about it, that’s all I really care about for the most part. I’m pretty sure I know who I’m calling, so if I get sent to voicemail, it should confirm that I am indeed calling who I intended.

Some other more esoteric things to keep in mind:

  • If you’re going to be unavailable for a pre-determined amount of time, tell me – Nothing chaps my behind more than calling somebody once a day for a week just to discover that they were in Bermuda while their phone vibrated across their dresser back home. “I’ll be unavailable from [date] to [date]” would be fine. And you needn’t go into exactly why you’re going to be gone, either.
  • Don’t tell me to email you – Most of the time, when I’m calling someone, it’s because email was less of an appropriate communication method. If I want to just hit you up about something in a general way, I’ll email you. If I’m at the bar and I’m wondering why you’re not at the bar… well, email just won’t be as helpful.
  • Don’t make it cute and/or funny – Look, I love George Costanza’s answering machine message as much as the next guy (probably more, actually), but please – just give me the requisite info and let me get on with my life instead of forcing me to listen to your 4-year-old talk about how you’re unavailable (which will generally include your faint laughter in the background). Same thing for synthesized voices and whatnot.
  • Don’t. Play. Music. – Of all of the possible ways to drive me into a complete haze of fury, this is very near the top of the list. If I’m calling you, get your voicemail and decide to leave a message, I’d appreciate not being forced to endure 45 seconds of Destiny’s Child or something before I’m able to do so.

So, just to recap. Your voicemail message should include:

1. Your Name
2. Job Title (only if it must be there)
2. Phone Number (optional)
3. Why you won’t be answering the phone or checking your voicemail for N days (if applicable).

That’s it, folks.

And just to show you (or, at least, attempt to convince you) that I’m eating my own dog food here, my voicemail message is (as I sit here):

“Brett Kelly. [phone number]“

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