You know how awful it can be when you’re stuck on the phone with someone droning on like an airline attendant giving seat belt instructions? No one thinks they are that person. But how would you really know? If you’re over 40, you’re less likely to be one of the worst offenders. Those would be the 20-somethings that only believe in texting. Yet even the best speakers need reminders on business phone skills, so keep these tips handy for your next interview, networking, or client call.
Go old-school: use a land line
First, always use a land line in a quiet space for an interview-type call. Once, in my eagerness to schedule a phone screen, I told an HR person to call my cell during a midday conference break – a huge mistake! The first seven minutes were lost trying to discern words amid an inaudible underwater garble, calling them back from the lobby, and with two strikes against me, re-locating to sidewalk space with unavoidable jackhammer noise coming from down the street. In the end, I was still apologizing for the technology snafu.
How to create a great impression on the phone
- Don’t talk more than half the time – aim for even less
- Have water nearby to curtail any coughs
- Don’t underestimate small talk at the beginning. This sets the tone of the call and you can pick up a feeling for the pace and the style the other speaker prefers
- Get the other speaker to talk about their needs and problems
- Thoroughly research the company and the interview by poring over their website, blogs, Twitter feeds, Facebook page, and LinkedIn profile
- Don’t think about what you’re going to say next – focus instead on really listening to the other person
- Your voice and pacing convey how well you communicate if you were to work together, so match their speed and the level of casualness
- Physically lean forward, keep your hands from fiddling and your posture open
- Try to express your thoughts within two-minute intervals, followed by a pause. This gives the listener a chance to jump in if they have follow up questions, or to interject a new direction. If they convey a ton of energy, start your response with an appropriate foil such as, “Wow, I can hear how fired up you are with that idea……”
Learn (or confirm) the three most important skills of the job
If it is a phone screen, aim to pinpoint the three most important skills or functions of the job. Likewise, if it is a networking call, aim to learn the crucial duties – just one, two three – for someone at their level, in their department. Many job postings have a wish list. You may not be able to do everything from ‘A’ to ‘Z’ – after all, who among us is Amazon.com? – but you won’t be pulled from the pile and called in if you don’t have the three essential elements.
For those innately nerve-wracking conversations where a clear and present job or gig exists, also keep in mind:
- Practice typical dialogue beforehand, but not so much so that it sounds canned
- Know your elevator speech inside and out, but try not to lead with it. At the worst, it boxes in the conversation. Look for the right point to advocate your credentials. More than anything, be ready in the moment to tailor your speech to what you learned of their needs and most immediate problems
- Prepare at least two good questions in advance so you are ready and able to jump in with a thoughtful response
- It’s difficult to judge your own phone skills so Mojo up and ask your Accountability Wingman to be in the room while you are on one of your calls. Put aside your ego and listen to their feedback
- See if the person you are talking to has a blog, Twitter account, or company Facebook page so you can weave references of their latest posts into the conversation
- Shake down your LinkedIn connections, including the groups you belong to, and see who else works at the company – reach out to them first by email and then follow up with your improved phone skills
Do you have a story of a successful cold call, or a networking call that truly gained traction? Start the discussion in the comments below, we would love to hear from you.
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