The other day, Brad Farris of Anchor Advisors made a strenuous argument against leaving voicemails.

Brad’s very smart, exceedingly accomplished in business, and someone I hold in high regard. But take his advice at your own peril, particularly if you are in the media relations/public relations game.

The key is not to avoid the specter of leaving a voicemail by hanging up when the other peson doesn’t pick up. Too many people do that, retreating to other forms of communication. Instead, view this voicemail time as your moment to shine, so get really, really good at leaving voicemails.

Think about it: the simple fact that so many people are inept at leaving effective voicemails, and even more people hold them in disdain, means the playing field is stacked heavily in favor of the person with a voicemail-leaving clue.

So, sure, if you are lame at leaving messages, it may be best to heed Brad’s advice. But why not work at getting better in this art form and leave engaging voicemails that differentiate you in a positive way from the rest of someone’s day and the rest of someone’s bombardment of incoming messages?

In the media/PR world, too many people rely on anything but making a phone call. Publicists, by and large, are scared to talk to reporters on the phone–or they should be, given their lack of ability to relate to and anticipate reporters’ needs. I was a reporter for 20 years and, despite that familiarity with fellow ink-stained wretches, I can find the task daunting: What if he’s on deadline? What if she has a deep-seated hatred of PR pros?

But time and again, I have been rewarded for overcoming those misgivings and striking up a conversation with folks in the media as well as others I want to connect with, from prospective clients to peers with whom I see potential synergies. Of course, you have to go in with sensitivity to the other party’s needs and realities.

Sadly, journalists fall prey to this trend toward relying on words to appear in front of their eyes. It’s easier, saves time, you’re sure to know precisely what the other party had to say…and it eliminates the opportunity to till the story-telling soil. Lost are those twists and turns in a free-flowing conversation that would have unearthed far more compelling elements in a given story.

I counsel clients, fellow communications pros and anyone else who will listen (or read my writing) that they should expect to get someone’s voicemail in-box the vast majority of the time, but herein lies the opportunity to stand out–again, positively.

What are the ingredients of a terrific message you can leave? Two reign supreme:

1. Brevity.

Thirty seconds is probably too long. When someone scans the landscape of their in-box, you want your quick message to whet their time-pressed appetite so they actually listen to what you said, instead of those words languishing in voicemail purgatory.

If you have more details to convey than can fit inside a 30-second window, then include them in an email or some other communication. And be sure, in your voicemail, to reference that you will be doing so.

Often, a voicemail is a vehicle to help not only you individually stand out, but your written communication to trump competing bits of information flowing into others’ lives.

2. Personality.

Your voice is an instrument. Play it well. Intonation is key. So is humor.

Not everyone has those traits in ample measure–hence, why those with PDS (Personality Deficit Syndrome, a term I just made up) should practice, practice, practice at this communication medium.

In many cases, your voice represents the first impression you are going to be making with someone. Don’t just wing it–have a plan of what you’re going to say and then rehearse it, if you must, to ensure that you maximize the moment’s potential.

Related Post:
When Pitching the Media, Keep it Brief

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