In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell made the very first telephone call in his Boston laboratory, summoning his assistant, Thomas A. Watson, from the next room. According to Bell's journal, now at the Library of Congress, he wrote: "I then shouted into the mouthpiece...'Mr. Watson, come here - I want to see you.' To my delight he came and declared that he had heard and understood what I said."
Voila! Bell had invented an electrical apparatus that could transmit the sound of the human voice. Today, we as business professionals use that 'apparatus' to conduct millions of meetings everyday to present ourselves, our ideas, companies, and solutions over the phone. Whether your next phone call is a one-on-one business conversation or a teleconference group meeting, here are a few tips to ensure you achieve optimum results:
1. Prepare for the meeting and rehearse your opening remarks. In advance, set a clear agenda and distribute it to participants. Include the objective, attendee names, location, start and end times, the list of topics to be covered, and outcomes or actions desired. Then, to ensure a confident enthusiastic start to the meeting, practice aloud the voice tone and content of your opening.
2. Assign a leader. Every meeting needs a leader. If you're not the leader of the call, be sure to assign the task to a qualified candidate. The leader opens the call on time, manages the topics and time, facilitates discussion, fields Q&A, reviews next steps, and closes on time.
3. Use a clear, pleasant tone of voice with plenty of volume and good enunciation. When you're speaking on the phone, your voice is the primary communication vehicle. Therefore, speaking loudly enough to be heard and in a friendly engaging manner is critically important. To evaluate your voice, try recording your side of a telephone conversation. Afterward, listen to the recording. Do you sound enthusiastic or bored? Helpful or impatient? Self-assured or timid? Are you mumbling or speaking distinctly?
4. State the specific purpose of the telephone meeting. After the greeting and welcome, immediately state the reason for the call, the objectives, and a brief preview of the points to be covered. This provides focus and direction. It also shows you're prepared, in charge, and committed to a successful meeting that yields outcomes for everyone involved.
5. Use good body language. Even though listeners cannot see you physically, they can hear the confidence created through good posture. Sit up straight as if you were actually in the meeting face-to-face. Also try standing up when you speak to project an even more commanding confident voice tone. Gesture as you would in conversation and imagine you are making eye contact with the callers. And remember to smile--the listener can actually hear the grin in your voice.
6. Listen actively and avoid interrupting. Indicate your attentiveness by using "verbal nods," which include phrases such as "That's interesting," "Oh, really," "Uh-huh," "Good," "I see," "Please go on," "Yes, I understand," and "Could you please say more about..." Take notes and keep track of who says what. Be patient with other speakers and don't butt-in or jump to conclusions. Then, make reflective statements and ask questions to verify and clarify what you hear.
7. Ensure a quiet environment and avoid multitasking. To optimize concentration and minimize disruptions, close your door (if you have an office) or arrange to meet in a quiet place with no background noise. Turn off or silence any electronic devices that may sound. Give your callers the full attention you would if you were face-to-face with them.
8. Avoid speakerphones when possible. Ideally, speak directly into the telephone receiver or use a high-quality headset. Avoid cradling the receiver between your ear and shoulder. This usually gives a muffled sound and strains your neck. If using a speakerphone is absolutely necessary, make sure you place it as close as possible to the speaker(s) and urge everyone to speak up so the callers can hear all comments. A poorly placed receiver, too much distance from the speakerphone, or a bad connection can ruin a call. At the start of the call, confirm with listeners that you have a good connection and that everyone can hear clearly.
9. If you must place someone on hold, ask for permission and explain the reason. It's impolite to place someone on hold abruptly without telling them why. And avoid leaving someone on hold for more than 15 or 20 seconds without offering to call them back.
10. Choose your words carefully. When you're speaking over the phone instead of in person, words themselves carry a greater impact because the listener does not have your nonverbal cues to provide meaning. That's why it's especially important to prepare and rehearse your speaking points ahead of time. Also, avoid ambiguity, slang, slurs, and jargon. Keep your language and tone positive, inviting, and upbeat.
11. Identify yourself before you speak and instruct others to do the same. If you're meeting with several people over the phone, avoid guessing games. Don't assume that everyone will recognize your voice. Identify yourself every time you speak--or at least the first three or four times until your voice is established and easily recognized. Likewise, encourage all callers to identify themselves. If someone speaks without identifying himself, repeat the point by asking, "Who's the speaker please?"
12. Direct questions and comments to others by name. When you're face-to-face, you can use your eyes and body language to cue a specific person to respond to your question or comment. But when you're on a conference call, address the person by name. Also, if you want a response to the last thing you've said, avoid asking, "Are there any comments?'" Instead, direct certain individuals to respond in sequence: For example, "Jeff and Alice, I know you have a lot of experience in this area. Jeff, let's start with your ideas."
As Ralph Waldo Emerson asserts, "Speech is power." With your speech, you are able influence others for the good, whether it's to hire you, fund your project, buy your product, adopt your proposal, approve your budget, or support your cause. Thanks to Mr. Bell's invention, these opportunities to speak with power are happening more and more over the phone because it's easier, faster, and more economical. When you're meeting with others via the telephone, speak up and speak well to ensure listeners know the full value you have to offer.