Most of us in the financial community find talking on the telephone to be one of the more challenging things we do.
I believe the primary reason 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 working the phone can be difficult for us. (Actually, it is probably difficult for everyone!)
If you think about the communications aspects of a telephone interview or networking call, 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, most phones today are 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 which is always inappropriate for an important call, but I have also found this to be true if the person to whom I am speaking is using a hands free headset like I do or if I am calling a cell phone. This can make a normal flow of communication very difficult.
There aren’t a lot of ways around it. Generally I would recommend trying to get out of having any at length discussion 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. See if they have a picture on LinkedIn or on their business website. (As you know: “Pretending, pretending, has no beginning or ending”. I think that’s how it goes.)
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 headset is a real plus.)
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.”
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 engage in a long phone conversation. 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 life critical.
You will find out that like most things in life, a little practice doesn’t hurt.