How long should a voicemail be?

by Michele on April 5, 2011

How long should a voicemail message be? How long should a voicemail message be?

I tend to leave longer voicemails than most, but let me explain before you hate my habit!

One of my favorite business topics to study and coach on is productivity.  I try to always make sure I’m getting the most I can out of every effort I make.  For both myself and the person I’m calling, this means that whenever it’s possible I leave a voicemail with all the information in it someone needs to answer my question and call me back.  If I’m calling about a bill, I leave my account number, invoice number, my identifying information and exactly what my question is.  That way, the other person can research the answer and probably leave me a voicemail with all the information I need.  Two calls, problem solved.  The alternative is leaving just a name and phone number and playing phone tag for days on end, which I dislike.

I got to thinking about this when I heard an “expert” say that he deplores my type of voicemail and that nobody should ever leave more than a name, number and possibly a subject.  What an utter waste of time!  People are busier than ever, it’s almost impossible to catch people by phone without an appointment and nobody likes phone tag – how many more reasons are there for leaving enough information to get what you need?  Yes, sometimes my messages can go on for over a minute, but it’s voicemail – save it and play it whenever it suits you.  I don’t understand the logic that days of phone tag taking much more than 2 minutes is preferable to a 1-2 minute voicemail.

To each, their own I suppose…. but you won’t catch me leaving a vague voicemail unless I’ve been specifically told to.

What kind of voicemails do you prefer?  What kind do you leave?  Post a comment and tell me about it.


  1. Michele,
    Essentially, I agree with you. If the conversation consists entirely of conveying one piece of information, I put it in the message.
    Like you and that ‘expert’, presumably, I leave the kind of messages I like to get. My rules are:
    – Before I pick up the phone, I decide exactly what I am going to say. It is not very thoughtful to get onto someone’s voicemail and then start thinking out loud.
    – Be sure I have all the info I need at hand (invoice #, account #, etc.)
    – Make no assumptions. What do I think I know, and how true is it? Is there anything I am about to say that could cause confusion or misunderstanding?
    – State the person’s name, to confirm I left the message on the right person’s phone.
    – State my name. If they don’t know me, I repeat it slowly and spell it SLOWLY.
    – Give my phone number, early in the message, so if they miss it, they don’t have to listen through the entire message again to retrieve it.
    – Repeat my phone number slowly, unless it’s someone who I KNOW has my number close at hand.
    – In one or two sentences, clearly state my message. If I need them to do something, be sure that is the last thing they hear, so they are most likely to retain it, and be specific: Do I want a call back? On my cell or my office phone? Do I need an email?

    Thanks for asking! I agree that leaving effective phone messages improves prooductivity. It also represents you as someone who is thoughtful and well organized, and fun and easy to do business with.

    1. Michele says:

      HarSimran, these are great points! I think it’s very considerate of the other person’s time to put so much thought into your message and it makes you look good! If I got a message like you describe, I’d think the person was very prepared and thorough. I also love that you suggest preparation a person might want to do for a live call – again saves time and lets you get to the solution more quickly. Thanks for your great insights!

  2. PS! Sometimes, the issue is too complicated for a phone message, and a live phone conversation is more productive. If there are lots of contingencies, or if there may be strong feelings, I do not leave a detailed message. Instead, I state the topic in clear, neutral terms in a tone of openness, offer a general outcome that I think will be agreeable to both of us, invite them to a live phone conversation, and suggest days and times that I know I am available. I might also suggest something we do in preparation, such as, both have another look at that document in question.

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