How to hone your telephone skills

In this day and age, new methods of communication are popping up all the time. More and more people use the internet, email, social media… but one old favourite just doesn’t go away. You’re hard put to find an adult in the western world these days who doesn’t have access to a phone and use it on a regular basis. Try as the competition might, the telephone won’t be giving up its share of the communications market any time soon.

Whether you’re trying to find something out, get your message across, or sell an idea, product or event, many work hours are spent on the phone for jobs in all sectors.  Hearing a voice on the phone is very often the first communication a customer has with a company, so effective phone communications skills are essential. For this reason, companies should pay just as much attention to the way in which their employees speak on the phone as they would to their website, product or customers. In short, the impression given over the phone is a vital component of the brand – don’t neglect it!

But talking on the phone is easy, why should you think about making any changes?

I spoke in a blog recently about the importance of body language, appearance and the way you speak in first impressions. First impressions are made over the phone just like they are in person, but two of these three most important factors are of course removed from the equation – meaning that the way that you speak becomes absolutely crucial. First meeting someone over the phone, you must use your voice, tonality and choice of words to build a rapport with your contact. So how exactly can you convey your professionalism and reliability through your voice alone? And what might you currently be doing to hinder your efforts?

Remember that a phone call, unlike many other modern methods of communication, is in real time. You can’t edit and rearrange your call as you go along, like you could with an email. This means that preparation is important. Know what you are aiming to find out, sell or communicate and how you are going to do it before you start dialling. If you are making it up as you go along, this will come across. Spontaneity may make you sound hesitant, underprepared and unprofessional and although occasional “ums” and other utterances that give us time to think are natural, try to keep them to a minimum. Just as you would proof-read an email or blog before clicking send, prepare so that you are ready for your conversation before you deliver it. Start off with a clear thoroughly and thorough introduction so that your addressee knows which name to match to your voice from the outset, following on with a clear message.

Last week, I called an international phone company to sort out a problem with a contract. It was an urgent issue and I hoped that a competent, attentive worker would address me from the other end of the line. Unfortunately, that was not the reality. The lady who answered the phone seemed rushed, impatient and disinterested. As she brightly said goodbye and wished me a good day however, I wondered if she had any idea of the impression she had left on me. A lot of the problems that I had with the aforementioned phone call can come across completely subconsciously. Take a deep breath before answering the phone. You want to sound energised, enthusiastic and interested so that your addressee knows you are taking them seriously. Deep breathing will also help you to pace your speech; there’s nothing worse than rushing or mumbling (or both!) making you seem nervous and difficult to understand. Pay attention to how you speak. It can be easy to concentrate on the other person (they are the one that you want something from, after all!) and to forget about your own speech. A good exercise if you feel you are guilty of this is to record a conversation you have – after getting the permission of the other person, of course!  Think about the pace of your speech, the clarity of your message and your tonality. If you have a strong regional accent, you may want to tone this down so that you are as clear as possible on the phone. It has been proven that we are subconsciously more likely to sympathise with those with accents closer to our own, so this may help you build up a rapport over the phone.

The flip side of listening to your own speech is of course listening to the speech of the other person. You owe them your full attention, so put everything else down before picking up the phone. If you don’t, your distraction will probably come across, whether or not you realise it. Now the next point may seem obvious, but listen to what they tell you! It can be tempting to concentrate on what you’re going to say next, but if you rush into your response, it may seem that you lack interest in what the other person is saying. Pausing before responding will show that you care and are taking them seriously.

All in all, the best advice to follow if you want to come across well on the phone is to be prepared and on the ball. Be aware of all the little aspects of speech that may add to the overall impression you give. This way, you will be able to use your voice and word choice actively to create a good rapport over the phone – one which might well develop into a good business rapport for the future!

Good Luck!

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