The era where phones reigned supreme as the main mode of communication met their end along with Frasier and slap bracelets. As such we now find ourselves in the position of losing an art that is near and dear to us as a society, as well as relevant to so many plot-points in movies made in the 80s and 90s: that is, of course, that art of the phone message.
But fear not. A few stalwart and steadfast offices still operate chiefly via the phone, and there are certain households (in most cases involving those of an older generation, and populated with persons of some relation to one) (we’re talkin’ parents) for whom the phone is still the preferred method of communication. And as the phone still operates in tandem with spontaneity—itself a highly outdated quality—it might happen that the person to whom you are trying to speak is not available. It follows that one still has the rare opportunity to leave their mark in one of the purest art forms of the last century: a personalized audio monologue, left after that sweet sound that is, in itself in danger of becoming extinct: “the tone.”
As someone who prides myself on consistently leaving what I may humbly call beautifully eloquent, accurate, and engaging messages in the voice mailboxes of my contacts, I offer you a few tips so you too might ascend to such dizzying heights. It is not too late for us all to channel, Hermes-like, the mighty messages of the Gods and leave them with unsuspecting answering services. Adhere to these simple tips and you will indeed be on your way to what may be described as: “the perfect phone message, thank you, well done.”
Draw your Inspiration from the world around you
A simple precept may be employed here: “See something, say something.” Has a bird wondered into your line of vision? Be sure to include it in your message. Bar fight on King street? This too is relevant, and deserves to be described in detail to the person on the other line. Begin crafting these skills with inanimate stimuli-“this building is cool”/ “it’s hot out.” Remember: no detail is too trivial. There’s no such thing as “being obviously distracted” when one is making art.
Silences should be avoided at all costs. Rest assured that the moment you cease to speak, the receiver’s attention and opinion of you has begun to wane. Fill voids where you have nothing to say with “ums, uhs, yeahs.” If you are at a loss even for those, deep guttural noises are always welcome and acceptable. If silence absolutely must be employed, it should be of the profound variety, and last at least 45 seconds.
Essential information, such as your name, phone number, and the reason you are calling (that Holy Trinity of the Voice Mail Message, amen) should be repeated up to 13 times—13 of course being the ideal number to ward-off curses. If you do not feel up to the repetition, the information should be omitted entirely, another highly acceptable option.
Choose atmosphere wisely. Busy streets are ideal, the Caribana Parade being the absolute pinnacle, although I understand this comes but once a year. The listener should feel transported from wherever he or she is, and hurled violently into another, preferably overwhelming locale. What does it matter if they cannot catch every syllable? The wise message-leaver knows that the picture is not painted in details but in great swaths of noise. Speaking of which, seek out climes where violent winds dominate.
Length is key. Really skilled message-leavers could go on into eternity, and are only brought down into the earthly sphere by being cut off by that censure of all great artists: the telephone provider. This of course leaves the message-receiver to wonder in blissful agony what other heights could have possibly been ascended were the leaver allowed to go on! Not only does this assure a pleasurable listening experience, it nearly guarantees they will return the call, if only to hear more from your beautiful tongue-box.
Incorporating other modes of expression
As with all vocal arts, your tools are not limited to speech alone. If you don’t trust that your message is interesting enough it likely isn’t, and you must employ any and every tool at your disposal to earn the right to be listened to. Try singing, rhyming, commenting on the rhyme you just made. The receiver will no doubt be charmed by your creativity and vivacity.
An example follows, based on a real message I left last week. To set the scene: I was meeting an employer for the first time, at a train station. We had never communicated by phone before, but I was to call him when I arrived. Do not be discouraged if your messages are not of this caliber yet. Remember, I have been honing this craft for years, and I do recognize this work as one of my highest achievements to date.
“HIIIII!!!! HELLO! [sung]: I’M HEEEEERE! Sorry if I’m yelling, it’s really windy. Uhhhh. Yeah. I’m at the station. It’s uh….let me just see what time it is… uh [sings]: checking on my phone da-da-da-da. It’s quarter after 3. Well, not quite quarter after. It’s 3:13. Uh. 3:14 now. Oh my god there’s a cat here!! Oh my god he’s so cute!! ’Hi, buddy! Hiiiiiiiiiii!’ Awww, so sweet. It’s a tabby. ‘Aren’t you a tabbeeee? [in an accent]: A gingah!. Mingy gingy! Whups, I didn’t mean minge like…uh… [sounds to cat] mmmmewmmmmm tk tk tk tk tk shhhhhh awwwwwww! Anyway, I’m here. At the station. It’s 3:15. 14. Quarter after 3. [Train comes by, muffles sound for 45 seconds. Undeterred, I continue to speak]-ree fifteen. And I’m here! Looking forward to meeting you. THIS STATION IS SO OLD! [gust of wind] HAHA!! THIS WIND! HAHAHA. Um I’m here and just wondering where you are. It’s Tes-“[BEEP].
I know: Beautiful isn’t it? It’s all yours to harness in that blank canvas that comes after the tone.