As most of us are now required to work from home, the phone has become one of our main tools for making personal contact. But what if the thought of making phone calls brings you out in a cold sweat? Phone calls can be surprisingly anxiety-inducing, especially when they are important professionally.
Time for me to fess up. I hate making phone calls. I always have. If I can arrange a face-to-face meeting rather than have a call, I will. Phone calls feel tricky. You can’t see the person you’re talking to and they can’t see you. All you have to go on is words, pace, energy and voice tone. How can you tell if you’re giving your audience what they need? There are no appreciative smiles to tell you you’re doing well nor dead eyes or bored looks to tell you you’ve lost them.
As face-to-face meetings are, for a while, no longer a possibility, the phone will be an important tool for engaging with people beyond email and for building and maintaining client / agency relationships.
So what can we do to help us speak with greater confidence, influence and authority over the phone? Here are my top 10 tips:
1. Prepare well
Planning and structuring your call in the right way can help give you the confidence to deliver it clearly and articulately and help your audience easily understand what you are saying. Concise, punchy content is what’s important. Keep things simple, clear and bite-sized. Avoid using long, rambling sentences or trying to impress with long words. The shorter the sentences and the simpler the words, the more impact you’ll have. It can help to think of your call as a news bulletin that has headlines, a main story and a summing up.
2. Generate a positive feeling about the call
Try to minimise any anxiety you have by remembering a phone call that went well in the past, or visualise the call going well in the future.
3. Use your normal voice
Try not to use a phone voice. To make a good impression over the phone you want a voice that is warm, relaxed and confident. Be true to who you are and don’t put on airs and graces. It’ll immediately seem fake and inauthentic. For natural, genuine warmth, put a picture of someone you love in front of you and imagine you are talking directly to them.
4. Start well
Research shows that the beginning and end of a call are the parts most people remember, so start confidently with a good, positive feeling.
Smiling will help inject relaxed, genuine warmth and music into your voice. Be pleased to speak to the person you’ve called. When they confirm their name, smile broadly. They’ll hear the smile in your voice and it will make them feel welcomed and positive.
If people are straining to listen, they’re unlikely to take in much of what you say so make sure you REALLY articulate. Don’t let the words be thrown away or trickle down the drain. It’s important to give your sentences energy as this keeps vitality in your call and makes you sound more credible. Focus on the ends of words – those final consonants are essential to meaning – and carry energy right through to the end of each sentence.
7. Picture your audience
Imagine them finding your call useful and see them looking interested. Keep asking yourself what they need from you, what’s in it for them? Take the focus off yourself and place it on your audience. How is what you’ve got to say relevant to them?
8. Stand up
This will give you authority and gravitas on the phone. Standing up boosts your authority instantly. Try it – it works.
9. Use gestures
The biggest misconception about phone calls is that the body doesn’t matter and that the normal rules of speaking and gesturing don’t apply. Not true! In fact, you should gesture even more when an audience can’t see you to get increased vocal energy. Keep using gestures to keep your voice moving. Vary the tone of your voice and let each idea and phrase have a different energy to keep it interesting.
10. End well
Finish with plenty of energy. Smile as you finish, punch out the last word you say and avoid tailing off. Summarise the key points and give a call to action, ensuring that everyone is clear on next steps. Keep it short and sweet. After all, no-one ever complained that a phone call was too short.
Now, more than ever, is the time to stop fearing telephone calls and to focus instead on their important role in staying connected both on a personal and professional level. I, for one, will be challenging myself to pick up the phone more over these coming weeks. Practice makes perfect, right? Time to relax, smile and get dialling.