Does voice mail drive you crazy? Me, too. I hate it. Everything about it. I hate leaving it. I hate getting it.
In thirty-six years as a lawyer, I’ve heard about twenty good voice messages, and three zillion bad ones, including dogs barking, throat clearing, restaurant noise, the lion cage at the zoo, and what was probably a domestic altercation. These ones all mercifully hung up without any identifying information.
But most of them go something like this: "Uhhhh, Norm? Oh, um, I guess you're not there! Um, oh, well, I just thought I'd call, but you're not there. Um. Oh. Well, um, oh, uh, yes, well, yeah. Oh, yes, um, uh, call me if you have a chance. Bye."
I'd love to call them back and tell them they sounded like an idiot, but I don't do that for three reasons. First, I'm a nice guy. Second, they didn't identify themselves or leave a phone number.
But third, mostly because it would be an act of great hypocrisy. I've left far more than my share of babbling gibberish. The telephone was mature technology before I was born, yet the thing still terrifies me, especially when there's no live voice on the other end.
But here's the thing: we all know that voice mail happens-- it's an inconvenient truth of professional life. And, as professionals, we don't want to sound foolish.
So, what's to be done? Well, the trick is to be ready for the times you get a machine. Here are a few helpful tips:
1. Be emotionally and intellectually ready for the eventuality. Seriously!
2. It's not impolite or un-Canadian to exit without leaving a message.
3. If you do leave a message, speak clearly and pleasantly.
4. Visualize the listener and be engaging.
5. At the outset, announce yourself and leave your phone number. Twice.
6. Give a succinct reason for your call, not your life story.
7. To increase your chance of a response, leave a hook.
8. Repeat your name and phone number, clearly and strongly.
9. Sign off in a friendly and appropriate manner.
If voice mail absolutely terrifies you, keep a little script near your phone, something like this, "Hi, (the other person), this is (your name). Sorry I missed you. I'd be really grateful if you could get back to me at (your number) at your earliest. I just wanted to follow up on ___________________________. I have a few questions. Again, it's (your name), (your number). Looking forward to hearing from you!"
Norman Bowley is a communicator by passion, a lawyer and educator by profession. Thirty-six years of legal practice after ten years as an educator have equipped Norm to teach professionals how to communicate effectively and with power.