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3 Ways to Leave an Effective Voicemail Message

“Sorry, “I’m not available at present … Please leave a message.”

So you leave a voicemail message.

You hope your contact will get your message and call you back, but mostly you sink into the bottomless pit of voicemail hell to be tortured by the digital demons therein.

There are no perfect ways to guarantee a response. But here’s three strategies to get your phone calls returned more often.

1. State what you want

Most voicemails start and end exactly the same way.

“Hi, this is Frank Smith from ABC company … Give me a call when you can.”

This type of message is likely to get relegated to your contact’s “B” priority list (or be deleted). And when did you last work on your “B” priority list?

It’s better to tell the person what you want right at the beginning of the call. Do you want a document, a phone call, an email, a piece of information?

Whatever you want, ask for it first and ask for it fast.

“Hi Ted, this is Mary from XYZ. I’m calling to get your go-ahead for the project we discussed yesterday ….“

Make sure your voicemail is no longer than 30 seconds. Any longer and they’ll likely hang up on you.

2. Set a time frame

Many people procrastinate. They’ll call you back, but only when they have the time.

Here are two strategies that prompt them to call sooner.

  • Tell them how long the returned call will take. 2 minutes? 10 minutes? Because they know how much time it will cost them, they likely call sooner by fitting the call in around their other commitments.
  • Give them a must-talk-by date and time. For example, “I need your reply by 5:00 p.m. tomorrow.” The time frame sweet spot is at least four hours after and no later than 24 hours after you leave your message.

3. Outline the consequences

This does not mean threatening your contact. Consequences are the natural and understandable outcomes of an action or inaction.

You are telling the person that if he or she does not call back to you this or that will happen. Factual and without emotion. Here are some approaches:

  • Positive/negative: If you do not hear back, you’ll assume that their answer is “Yes” or “No” and you’ll act accordingly.
  • Time sensitive: If you do not hear back, your offer will expire.
  • Delay of progress: If you do not hear back, then the proposed date for start or end will not be attainable and will be delayed.

Now let’s put these three steps together in a few examples:

“Helen, this is Tracy from OPQ. I need confirmation of the bank transfer by end of business today or we cannot ship. Please give me a call back by 4:00pm to ensure shipment. Thanks.”

“Hi Joe, I need the final drawings we discussed by noon tomorrow in my email or I won’t be able to meet the delivery date of next Friday. Please give me a 30 second call when you have sent them to confirm. This is Roger from EFG Drafting. Thanks.”

“Barry, this is George from Advance. I only need 3 minutes to get from you the details I need to give you the proposal you requested. If we connect by noon today, you’ll have my proposal before you pack up to go home. Thanks.”


People will more likely return your phone calls if you (1) lead with exactly what you want, (2) set a time frame for them to call back, and (3) outline the consequences (in a factual non-threatening way) if they don’t call by then.

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