Saturday, March 06, 2004

How to leave a voice message that won't be deleted! 

Crafting the Perfect Voice-Mail Message: After the Beep
Why executives delete voice-mail messages—and how to make sure yours
won't be one of them.

Hi, Ms. Stevens. It's Robert. Just a few thoughts on this guy's proposal. It's kind of like the problem we had back in March. Am I making myself clear? Well, I just think . . .

How important is an effective voice mail? Put it this way: According to a study conducted by Pitney Bowes, the typical office executive receives upwards of 375 communiqués every day, including e-mails, phone calls, faxes, and letters. In this environment, any excuse that a caller gives an exec to delete a voice mail—even five slightly rambling seconds—is a valid one.

Start Strong
The single worst thing to do is to clutter the beginning of a message with useless information (phone-tag jokes most certainly qualify). According to Jacqueline Whitmore, founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach, Florida, the superfluous pleasantries so many people rely on to start their messages make a distinctly negative impression on busy executives. "Don't say 'I hope you're having a good day,'" she explains. "That's a cliché that doesn't mean anything." Instead, signal that you won't waste the person's time—state your name, reason for calling, and phone number up front. Keep your message to less than 30 seconds and you come off as someone who takes action rather than someone who talks about it.

Give 'Em Structure
If there are several items of business to address, announce them right away, and then take each in turn. "There's a structure to all communications that linguists refer to as the frame, the context in which people expect to hear certain things," says Suzette Haden Elgin, Ph.D., associate professor emeritus of linguistics at San Diego State University. "Anything that breaks people out of the frame causes them to start missing the information." Nail the structure of the message by taking 60 seconds before you call to scratch out four or five bullet points. Yes, it sounds simplistic, but it can mean the difference between a lucid message and a meandering mess. It also drastically reduces the "ums" and "ers" that signal nervousness and lack of professionalism.

Pace Yourself
In making snap judgments about which messages to attend to, people often unconsciously take linguistic cues from the caller's delivery. Speaking too slowly could mean the beginning of a long, drawn-out voice mail. Speaking too fast forces the listener to replay the message, or, more likely, to move on to the next one. Subtle phrasing can also send unwanted signals. "Women in particular often lift their intonation at the end of a sentence, as you would for a question," says Erin McKean, who edits Verbatim, an academic journal about language. "That can make you sound tentative and hesitant."

Say It Again
Repeat your phone number at the end of the message, and when you do, break it into groups of three or four digits. "Linguistic studies have proven that people tend to remember information more accurately when it's delivered in short chunks," says Elgin. "That's why they originally decided to group phone numbers into distinct clumps."

Get Technical
Digital voice recording systems are designed not to capture silence. "A soft, barely audible word can be mistaken for silence and not preserved in a message," says Seth Munter, manager of technical training at Siebel Systems in San Mateo, California. Many systems also offer "flags" to mark a message as urgent and move it to the front of the line. (Less than one percent of callers take advantage of this function.) While doing so might make you look a bit pushy, it certainly demonstrates a facility with technology and a distinct by-any-means-necessary attitude.

This article was written by Paul Scott. It appeared in the February 2001 issue of MBA Jungle.

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The Truth About NEWSWEEK'S "Lawsuit Hell" 

Newsweek's Inaccuracies: "Lawsuit Hell" Examined
This week's issue of Newsweek features a series of cover stories and opinion pieces with titles such as "Lawsuit Hell", "Civil Wars," and "The City of Deep Pockets,". The articles present a dramatically one-sided rendering of the civil justice system, attacking trial by jury and the rights of Americans who have been injured through no fault of their own. In addition to the Newsweek series, NBC and MSNBC are broadcasting a number of related pieces this week.

As pointed out in a letter from ATLA President David Casey, advocates of the civil justice system were only consulted at the last minute and were allowed only minimal input. A wealth of factual evidence and studies that contradict the opinions put forth in the article were rejected. Other numerous inaccuracies and ommissions are listed in further detail below.

NYSTLA urges you to take action by calling or writing letters to the editors and authors of these biased articles and participating in an online chat.

Stuart Taylor, Jr., Author of "Civil Wars" article:



Editorial questions and comments:


Newsweek, print edition

Letters to the Editor for the U.S. print edition: Letters@newsweek.com

Mailing Address:


251 W. 57th St.

New York, NY 10019

Tom Watson, Newsweek Senior Editor


Jon Meacham, Newsweek Managing Editor


Those who wish to contact NBC Nightly News should email nightly@nbc.com. All the producers and Tom Brokaw read the mail sent to that address.

In addition, this Thursday, December 11 at 11 a.m., Stuart Taylor, author of the "Civil Wars" article, will be responding to questions and comments in an online chat.

A sample of some of the misconstrued cases presented in the Newsweek/NBC series include:

1. The Kentucky Case - In the article "Civil Wars," Newsweek cites a case in which a mother filed suit against her daughter's school. This case was severely mischaracterized by Newsweek. According to an article in the Lexington Herald Leader, the girl was suspended by the School Principal for ten days for having consensual sex on a school bus. When the mother appealed the ruling, the Board of Education ruled that the act was forced and the girl had been sexually assaulted but the Board then suspended her for two days for not reporting the assault. The mother's suit did not seek money, but rather demanded that the Board set up a training program for its employees about how to deal with sexual assault. (Taylor, Louise, "Lafayette student alleges assault: School board sued over bus incident," Lexington Herald Leader, December 18, 2002.)

2. The Missouri Case - The NBC Nightly News ran a story Sunday night, December 7, on a case in Reeds Spring, Missouri. While NBC construed the story as a basic slip-and-fall case in which a woman's injury caused the city to go bankrupt, the truth involves much more. A woman fell and injured her ankle, requiring surgery. She notified the Mayor of her fall and asked that the city fix the hole and help with her medical expenses. The Mayor responded by saying, "...to collect any damage with us you will probably have to sue us" and that "the chance of us paying this without a lawsuit is practically zero." Additionally, while the city had liability insurance coverage at the time of the fall and at the time of notice, the city subsequently cancelled the insurance coverage and did so retroactively so that there was no coverage for her injury. Despite this knowledge, NBC News mischaracterized this important fact by stating that, "The town had no insurance at the time because its coverage had lapsed," when, in fact, it had been consciously cancelled retroactively. Once the Court of Appeals affirmed the $100,000 verdict for the plaintiff and in spite of the victim's willingness to work out a payment plan, the city filed bankruptcy, claiming that they could not afford to pay the claim. (Transcript from NBC Nightly News, "Small town on the brink" by Jeannie Ohm, December 7, 2003, www.msnbc.com/news/1002360.asp.)

3. The California Case - In the article "Civil Wars," Newsweek cites a medical malpractice case involving a California couple by stating they "...won a $70 million judgment against Stanford University Hospital and two other health-care centers for failing to prevent their child from becoming disabled by a rare birth condition." While Newsweek reported the verdict at $70 million, the present value of the award was $8.3 million ($6.3 for medical expenses, $1.8 for lost wages, $250,000 for non-economic damages), meaning the verdict required the insurer to set aside a total of $8 million to cover the costs of the injury to the child. The victim in this case is a young boy who had a genetic disease that was not properly diagnosed at birth by the hospital and the boy's pediatricians, resulting permanent brain damage and a need for lifetime care. (Michael Cook v. Stanford Health Services, et al., San Francisco Superior Court, No. 324905, Sept. 26, 2003.)

The Real Truth...

Based upon an analysis by the Center for Justice & Democracy, the Newsweek article fails to discuss statistics on litigation which actually show that overall personal injury litigation is decreasing in this country.

Tort lawsuit filings have decreased 9% since 1992, according to the country's most accurate and comprehensive overview of state court litigation statistics. (Examining the Work of State Courts, 2002, a joint project of the Conference of State Court Administrators, the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the National Center for State Courts' Court Statistics projects.)

The Newsweek article argues throughout that Little League coaches may be sued at the slightest provocation, apparently unaware that in 1997, Congress passed a law that immunizes Little League coaches from negligence lawsuits. Under the Volunteer Protection Act of 1997, volunteers for non-profit organizations or government programs around the country - even those dealing with children - can no longer be held responsible for their negligence.

The Newsweek article mentions almost nothing about the critical benefits of our civil justice system. Society benefits in countless ways as a result of lawsuits: they prevent future injuries by removing dangerous products and practices from the marketplace and spurring safety innovation; they educate the public to unnecessary and unacceptable risks associated with some products and services through disclosure of facts discovered during trial; and they provide authoritative judicial forums for the ethical growth of law. (See CJ&D's study, Lifesavers,) The power and authority of juries represents an important counterweight to the dominance of organized moneyed interests elsewhere in our government. Newsweek ignored all of this in its article. It also ignored observations by doctors like Dr. Wayne Cohen, who in 1995 was medical director of Bronx Municipal Hospital, who said, "The city was spending so much money defending obstetrics suits, they just made a decision that it would be cheaper to hire people who knew what they were doing." (Dean Baquet and Jane Fritsch, "New York's Public Hospitals Fail, and Babies Are the Victims," New York Times, March 5, 1995.)

The Newsweek article calls juries overly sympathetic, emotional, and unable to handle complex issues, but close observers of the jury system, including judges, believe the opposite. Why is it that the justice system trusts juries to sentence people to death in criminal cases, but does not trust juries to determine monetary awards in civil cases? Isn't life more precious than money? Who better to determine the value of loss than your friends, family members, neighbors and co-workers?

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