News·4 min read

Voice Memo 101: 5 Rules to Follow So You Don't Annoy Your Friends

Woman holding her phone up to her face
Design: theSkimm | Photo: iStock
October 6, 2022

Not a hot take: Millennials hate making phone calls. And getting voicemails. For a while, texting was on the main stage. But in 2022, we (apparently) send voice memos. Think: A call, voicemail, and text hybrid. Because it's hard to convey what bumping into your ex was like through text.

Voice notes are surprisingly divisive. But whether you love ‘em or hate them, it seems like they’re here to stay. See: The 7 billion voice messages sent daily through WhatsApp alone. Our “Skimm This” podcast team dove into the art and etiquette of voice memos with some help from Elaine Swann, the founder of The Swann School of Protocol

Why are voice memos such a divisive practice?

The "Skimm This" team asked a few Skimm HQ'rs what they thought of voice memos. And the variety of answers shows it all. One HQ'r said, "When you are a busy working mom, it's very, very difficult to maintain friendships. A thorough check in with them is difficult over text." Meanwhile, another HQ’r said that if voice memos are the only way someone will communicate with them, "I'm just not sure we can be friends anymore." Talk about range.  

Some see it as a refreshing way to communicate without having their tone misunderstood. While others find it annoying that you have to listen through the whole voice note, rather than just reading a text. Plus, there’s the accessibility factor, according to the Wall Street Journal. Texts are naturally more accessible for anyone hearing-impaired than voice memos. But might not be for those who are vision-impaired.

So what rules should I follow when I record my next voice note?

Just as no one wants a novel-length text, no one wants a podcast-length voice note. Here are the basics of voice memo etiquette, according to Swann:

  1. Keep it short and sweet. “Whatever you have to say, get to the point. Don't drone on and on and on,” said Swann. “You just want to get some information across in a very straightforward manner.” So whether you're telling a story or just giving your partner a to-do list, make it snappy — and don’t save the most important info for the end.

  2. Make it clear. As in, make sure people can actually hear what you’re saying.Don't send a voice memo if you're in a crowded room with a lot of background noise,” said Swann. Read: No date recaps while you’re still at the bar.

  3. Know your audience. “Don't send a voice memo to a person who likely will not listen to it,” Swann said. Think: Parents who may struggle with the technology or someone who might have difficulty hearing. 

  4. Save the big announcements for phone calls or IRL. Think: Engagement announcements or gender reveals. “Allow the person to be able to celebrate with you in live form,” said Swann. And definitely no voice note breakups.

  5. Be mindful of the time. “Just because you have a thought in the middle of the night does not mean that person is ready to receive the notification that you had a thought in the middle of the night,” she said. 


The way we communicate is evolving. Today, that means voice memos over pretty much anything else. So get ready to see more “play” buttons popping up in your phone soon. And before you start pouring your heart into a voice note, make sure you’re following the rules of voice memo etiquette. 

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