Research suggests that despite feeling "considerably more connected" when talking with others, many individuals prefer to communicate via email or text because they fear the perceived "awkwardness" of making a phone call.
After all, when you call someone, you relinquish full control over your message, and are likely to have to 'dance in the moment' (improvise). Yet effective phone communication skills are essential for numerous professional purposes, including conference calls, coaching colleagues, building relationships with customers, and broaching difficult topics and negotiations.
In this post we'll explore ways you can leverage your voice and body language during phone calls, to convey your message clearly and leave a positive lasting impression.
Preparing for high-stakes phone calls
1. Before you make or take an important call, prepare what you are going to say and how you'll handle questions and objections that might knock you off track. Knowing your topic will give you confidence as will structuring your message in a way that makes sense for the listener. Having key facts and figures at your fingertips will also boost your confidence and make your message more persuasive. Think too about how you will end the conversation.
2. Practice, in advance, not just what how you're going to say but how you're going to say it. Warming up your voice first will help you sound confident and clear from the moment you start speaking. Here are a few simple things you can do:
3. Having warmed up, record yourself delivering your message several times, each time varying the pitch, pace, volume and tone of your voice. Listen back, noticing which bits you think will land well, then weave those into a final recording. Listening to it several times before the real conversation takes place will help you embody, remember and deliver your message more effectively when the time comes.
Vocal variety is key
Employing a range of pitch, pace, volume, and tone during a phone conversation captivates listeners, fosters trust and rapport, and creates a more engaging, persuasive, and memorable dialogue.
Here's a quick reminder of each of these four vocal elements:
Voice pitch is the 'highness' or 'lowness' of your voice, and can significantly impact the delivery and interpretation of your message. It's a powerful tool for conveying emotion and adding nuance to conversation. High pitch often signals excitement, anxiety, or surprise and can create an atmosphere of enthusiasm or urgency, compelling listeners to pay attention. In contrast, a lower pitch can convey calmness, seriousness, and certainty.
Varying your pitch, as you would if you were reading a child a story, is especially helpful when speaking on the phone as it creates an emotional connection, which is harder to achieve if you're not in the room with someone.
We tend to speak faster when we know what we're talking about and/or when passionate, excited or nervous. Speaking fast is fine, as long as words are pronounced crisply and clearly, so others can understand.
For help with this, check out How to practice your English pronunciation like a movie star.
If you have a strong accent or are conversing with someone whose first language differs from the one you're using, it's probably a good idea to slow down. This will make it easier for your listener/s to understand and digest what they're hearing, reducing the risk of misunderstandings and unintended interruptions. It will also give them time to formulate and jump in with questions.
Your voice volume, and how you vary it, is a crucial part of your personal brand. Very quiet speech with little vocal energy can make it difficult for others to hear and understand you, and signal a lack of confidence. Speaking loudly can come across as aggressive or unprofessional and is also likely to raise your voice pitch (it's hard to speak loudly with a low pitch).
Remember: volume is perceptual. You may think you're speaking loudly but if the person on the other end of the phone asks you to speak louder, don't take it personally. Adjust your volume and try matching the other caller's voice to create a balanced conversational dynamic.
While pitch conveys emotion, tone of voice conveys our attitude to what we're saying, and can have a powerful effect on how our message is interpreted. Sometimes it's helpful if your tone is consistent with what you're feeling. For example, if you're excited about something but speaking in a flat monotone voice, people might wonder how excited you really are. Other times you may choose a tone that hides your emotions. For example, if you're feeling defensive but don't want to show it, you could use an inquiring tone instead.
If you aim to sound professional, authoritative, friendly, courteous and warm most of the time, you'll likely build trust, rapport and respect more quickly with others.
Be an active listener
Listening is just as important as speaking when it comes to effective communication on the telephone. Paying attention to what others are saying, commenting and building on their remarks, and asking relevant questions can be hard, but doing these things will indicate genuine interest in their point of view. Active listening will also help you better understand and assess the other person's reaction to what you're saying, which is harder to do on the phone because you can't see their body language.
Don't be afraid to take moments of silence or pauses in the conversation as an opportunity to really process what's being said and to let the other person speak next. By doing so, you may pick up important details or information that you would have otherwise missed.
Even though the other person cannot see your body language during a telephone conversation, it can significantly impact the tone and effectiveness of your communication. Sitting upright and tall in a comfortable, confident posture, tummy and tension released, will allow you to breathe, and thus speak, more clearly and energetically.
Smiling while talking, even though it can't be seen, will alter the tone of your voice (the pitch will rise) and may make the conversation lighter, and the connection more enjoyable. Gesturing, as you would in a face-to-face conversation, and walking around, will energise your voice, helping you communicate your thoughts more effectively.
Remember, your physical demeanour can influence your vocal output, making body language a crucial aspect of effective telephone conversations.
Honing the art of effective telephone conversations
In essence, effective telephone communication includes being prepared, varying and modulating your voice, pronouncing words clearly, actively listening, and using your body to enhance and energise your voice. Combining these practical techniques can improve your telephone conversations, making them more effective, connecting and productive.
Sources: Phone calls create stronger bonds than text-based communications https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/09/200911141713.htm