Most of us CFO/Controller types find talking on the telephone one of the more difficult things we do. I believe one of the reasons is that most of our work is accomplished in written form. When we do present our work to the boss or to our peers, it is usually done face to face and to a very large degree, we set the agenda. In other words, we know the topics and the typical questions that are going to be asked and we are prepared for them.
It is for this reason that telephone interviews can be difficult for us. (Actually, they are probably difficult for everyone!)
If you think about the communications aspects of a telephone interview there are several very serious problems. The most important one is that no matter how effectively you feel you are communicating there is no visual feedback. Is what you are saying playing well to the audience, or are they rolling their eyes? You can’t tell.
In addition, the phones in use today are digital and it is almost like talking into a CB radio. If one person is talking, the other person can’t. This is especially true if you are on a speaker phone, but I have also found this to be true if the person to whom I am speaking is using a hands free operator headset like I do or a cell phone. This can make a normal flow of communication very difficult. And, if you are on a cell phone, I am assuming you have a decent connection. (Can you hear me now? No, unless you are under a cell tower.)
There aren’t a lot of ways around it. Generally I would recommend trying to get out of having the interview over the phone. Make up whatever excuses you can and try to get an “in person” appointment.
However, if you get stuck and have to do it, here are a few tips from someone who spends his life on the phone.
1. Visualize the person on the other end of the phone. Yes, I know they aren’t there, but use your imagination and draw a mental picture of the person receiving the information. (As you know: “Pretending, pretending, has no beginning or ending.” I think that’s how it goes.) You can also look them up on LinkedIn, although most of those pictures are pretty bad.
2. If you have a mirror, it can be helpful to be able to see your own expressions while you are talking. Don’t be afraid to use hand gestures and be animated. Even though the person on the other end of the phone can’t see you, the feeling will come through. (Here is where a hands free phone is a real plus, but a long cord will due.)
3. Stand up. It is amazing how much more forceful you will sound if you are standing up and walking around the room. And, the energy of that will come across loud and clear. Visualize yourself speaking “toe to toe” with the individual conducting the interview.
4. Keep in mind the phone problems discussed above. If someone else is talking, wait until they finish. Remember that they will lose the first part of your answer if you try to cut in too quickly.
We don’t live in a perfect world, so often times you have to make the best of a bad situation and take a phone interview. It is certainly better than nothing. In today’s world, this may be the best you can do, so take advantage of it and do well at it by practicing the techniques above on all your calls, not just the ones that are mission critical.
You will find out that like most things in life, a little practice doesn’t hurt.