As I was standing outside the studio, waiting for my daughter’s dance class to end, I was doing what I always do when waiting: reading and sending messages on my phone. Text messages, email messages, Instant Messenger.

Like seemingly everyone these days, I’m awfully busy. When you have a lot on your plate, you take advantage of little chunks of downtime in order to stay on top of your busy world. Waiting for dance class to end gave me five minutes of catch-up time.

At one point I looked up from my phone, and something struck me as funny. There were eight other parents standing near the studio door all doing the exact same thing I was. All of us had our eyes glued to handheld screens while frantically using our thumbs to type out “critically important” messages.

You have undoubtedly observed and been a part of such a scene countless times. Anywhere you have people waiting — airports, doctor offices, the drive-thru lane at Starbuck’s — you have people engrossed in smartphone communication.

But do you want to know what I did NOT notice among all of us parents patiently waiting for our future Broadway stars? Talking. Everyone was on a phone, but nobody was using it to talk. All of the communication was typed. That’s a change from the recent past. Five to 10 years ago, people would have been talking on their phones while waiting.

People have discovered that texts and emails are way more efficient than phone calls and voice mails. Several studies conducted by business consultants and time-management gurus have concluded that only 3 to 7 percent of all business-to-business voice mails are actually returned by their recipients. Even worse, only about a third of people even bother to listen to voice mails in the first place!

Why have we become so rude and insensitive? It’s a lack of time. Many people feel overwhelmed and consequently find voice mails and live phone calls to be too time-consuming and fatiguing. It’s much easier to communicate in the quick, asynchronous world of texts and short emails. We now have an epidemic of blown-off and completely ignored voice mails.

Are you frustrated about the messages you leave that are never returned? If so, you’re not alone. Do you still prefer to leave voice mails? There are no guarantees in this “post-voice-mail world,” but the following ideas should increase your callbacks:

Focus on the recipient’s value: Make your voice mails interesting by focusing on what the recipient cares about. Remember that people are more interested in their lives and their business than they are in you and yours. Research recipients before you call them. Talk about what interests the recipient or what matters to his or her business.

Be interesting: Think of a strong idea you want to convey in your message and say it. Surprising or insightful messages have a much higher likelihood of being returned. Boring, rambling messages as well as messages that are too focused on the caller’s interests are easily deleted and not returned.

Don’t “touch base”: Never say you’re calling to “touch base” or “check in.” Those are useless reasons to waste a prospect’s time. Always say something of value. Similarly, avoid this infamous voice mail line: “I’m going to be in your city next week, and I would like to take 20 minutes of your time to see how my company could help you.” Big mistake! That message is focused on the caller’s interests and convenience rather than the recipient’s.

Use an old advertising trick: Use an enticement. Hint what benefit the prospect will receive if he returns your call. Then spark his curiosity, saying you have something to share with him that he will find valuable or interesting. If appropriate, you might want to offer a gift, something for free, such as a free report, counseling session, market advice, etc. Then encourage him to call you back. Another trick is to ask a thought-provoking question at the end of the message. That could compel the listener to call you back.

Conserve your words: Say a lot in a little amount of time. Voice mails need to be short, preferably less than 20 seconds. In that short time, convey a captivating message. Be like a newspaper reporter writing an article in that you put the most important idea in a powerful and information-rich lead sentence.

Don’t give up: You’re being naive if you think one message — no matter how creative it may be — will do the trick. People are so busy that they just assume callers will eventually call them back. I’m not saying you should carpet-bomb people with daily messages, but sometimes it takes several attempts to finally break through. This is especially true with high-ranking decision makers.

What if you follow all this advice and still have trouble getting through? In that case, it’s time to warm up your thumbs and start texting. Research has shown that recipients are far more likely to answer a text message than a voice mail.

It might not have the same personal feeling as a phone call, but if texts are the most effective way to get to a recipient, shouldn’t you use them? If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!

Jeff Beals is an Omaha speaker and author who can be reached at

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