Voicemail etiquette: Sending the right message

These tips and tricks will make your voicemail system work for you, not against you

Yes, people do still make telephone calls. They probably shouldn't, but they do. Here are five rules--some new and some of long standing--for dealing with the perils of voicemail.

Brevity is key. The average person can read a message at least three times faster than you can speak it, so most listeners find every second they spend listening to voicemail agonizingly tedious. One commonly cited maximum tolerable length for a voicemail message is 30 seconds.

Simplicity swings both ways. Having a short outgoing message is a simple but extremely important to avoid angering your callers. Don't fill your outgoing message with alternate phone numbers and e-mail addresses. Instead offer callers one alternative means of reaching you (either a cell phone number or an e-mail address, usually). If someone urgently needs to track you down, they will find you.

On following up. If you feel the need to follow up on an e-mail message you sent by making a voice call, go ahead--but keep a tight rein on what you request in return. For example, don't leave a voicemail asking the person to return your call "to make sure you got the e-mail." It's enough to remind the recipient to check his or her inbox for your message. (Many busy professionals dislike follow-up calls of any sort, so tread cautiously here.)

Use the technology available. Most voicemail systems permit you to erase or otherwise "do over" a botched message. Don't be shy about punching the pound key (#) if you forgot to leave your area code or if you misspelled your e-mail address the first time around. Press the correct button (it's usually #) to access those "more options" that you normally don't inquire into, and you can leave a professional message sans flubs.

Just pick up the handset. Never leave a voicemail message for someone while you're speaking through a speakerphone.

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Christopher Null

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