It is almost a universal sentiment that we hate speaking on the phone, and it is something that many of us will do our best to avoid at all costs. A lot of us find that when we do end up speaking on the phone, we freeze up and stutter or just generally do not sound as professional as we might like. For many of us these difficulties are magnified exponentially when we are forced to speak to a machine as there isn’t even anyone on the other end to speak with and you are almost alone on the stage. At the same time it is an unusual social situation when you are talking to a machine, and it can be unclear what the conventions and the standard protocol are, meaning that many will be worried about sounding ‘unprofessional’.
So how do you leave a professional phone message and get over the stage fright? First of all you should be sure to wait a moment until after the beep and not launch into talking right away. This is particularly important as the machine might not start recording as soon as the tone sounds so if you speak too quickly you can risk getting the beginning of the message cut off. At the same time it can make the message sound rushed and panicked. Similarly you should ensure that you speak slowly. Just as when making a speech or speaking on a phone, we often do not realise how quickly we are speaking when we leave a message and when you hear it back it often sounds almost inaudible. When you think you are speaking slowly on a machine then, often you are actually just speaking at normal speed. At the same time if you can speak more slowly you will sound more intelligent (it is been studied and found that those who speak more slowly are often believed to be more intelligent), clearer and your voice will sound deeper. All things then that will make your phone message sound more professional, and this is true of any phone conversation too. Another tip is to make sure that you are smiling when you speak down the phone. The reason for this is that it carries across in the message and it is believed by many marketers that this can be picked up on the other line.
You should then start the phone message by introducing yourself. For example ‘Hello this is Mack LeMouse’, and if relevant, your company ‘Hello this is Mack LeMouse from Glow Worm Studios’. From here you might then want to state your business depending on what that is. A professional way to say this is to say that you are calling ‘regarding’ your previous phone conversation, a letter, the bill, the new project etc. This way right from the beginning your listener knows both who you are and what the message is about and this has all been conveyed in a fairly standard way.
From here you should then make the bulk of your message if you need to. In some cases you will not be able to discuss the subject any further without actually speaking to the recipient, so in this case you can skip any elaboration. Otherwise you can expand slightly on your subject, e.g. ‘Hello this is Mack LeMouse from Glow Worm Studios. I am calling regarding the e-mail you sent me yesterday – that all seems fine so feel free to go ahead with the project whenever you want to’.
Next you then need to let them know what they need to do upon receipt of this message. Normally that will be simply returning the call, so you might say ‘When you get this message could you please give me a ring on: *********’, or it might be to e-mail them or something in which case you might say ‘When you get this message can you please send those files to me at email@example.com’. Make sure that you provide the listener with all the information they need in order to be able to carry out your request and that you speak this clearly – repeating the number if you want to be particularly sure, and making sure you are clear when you say ‘S’ rather than ‘F’. If you know the person well you can of course just say ‘call me on my usual number’ or something similar. And of course in the worst case scenario they will also be able to call back your number (unless you’ve decided to prevent them from doing this). However you should still leave a contact number as this shows more thought and consideration on your part and it will be more convenient for them to write it down from the message (particularly as many services charge for call back). In other cases, where there is no necessary action on their part after listening to your message you can simply give them your details and then leave it to them to choose how to get in touch. You might just say then something like ‘you can reach me on: 07*****’, so that should they have any questions they can call to ask.
Make sure you aim to keep your messages fairly brief. If they are professional in nature then chances are that the recipient is going to be listening in a professional setting and that will normally mean that they are pushed for time and will not appreciate listening to you talk for hours – save the details for the actual phone conversation. At the same time if the message is too long it may cost them money to listen to and this can again mean you are not ingratiated to your listeners. This is especially true if they then have to repeat the message several times in order to get down your number.
This then provides you with a very basic framework that should be appropriate for the majority of messages you will leave on people’s machines. This should help you to be more relaxed and more formulaic when leaving phone messages. However if you still find yourself stuttering and getting stuck on what to say, you can always help yourself out by jotting down some bullet point reminders of topics to mention in the message and keeping this in front of you (though you need to try and avoid it sounding too much like you are just reciting from a list as this will probably sound less professional). Finally you should make sure that you stay fairly relaxed if possible and do not stress too much about sounding perfectly professional. Keep it loose and do not be afraid to be colloquial or chatty which will help you to sound less rehearsed and more relaxed. Adlibbing and jokes are fine (as long as they are appropriate) and if you can sound natural and confident you will automatically sound professional.