So many times in our lives we have to hold important conversations on the phone. This can be as part of our job, looking to advance a new project in our career or even in our personal life. Already, it tends to be harder for men to communicate well under any circumstances but communications over the phone bring us an additional set of challenges. The person we are speaking with cannot see us making our need to be interesting ever more crucial, we can be more easily distracted and we must rely on communicating solely via our voice and not via our body language. There are also additional challenges brought up by the different circumstances of each conversation but suffice it to say that the ones I have just mentioned are relevant to all phone communications and should be addressed first, before moving on to other things. To hijack Pareto's law for our purposes, addressing these issues is the 20% that will bring us the majority of the results. To make it easy, I have summed up the methods I use myself and that I teach my clients to have the biggest effect. You will see, that all of them are easy to implement and do not require any special skills.
Put a mirror in front of you
One of the big difficulties people have with the phone is that you are talking to space. There is no visual feedback. You need to imagine in your mind's eye the person you are speaking with and not allow yourself to be distracted by your immediate environment. To make that easier for you, I suggest a method I have used with my own reps: place a mirror in front of you (or even better, place mirrors in a few different places since you will be moving (see #5) and look at yourself as you speak. This serves two purposes. The first is to give you visual feedback and look at a face whilst speaking. The second is to make sure you are making correct facial expressions. This may seem superfluous but as anyone who spends enough time on the phone will tell you, people can hear your expressions over the phone (see #3). So make sure they are hearing what you want to communicate.
Make a humming noise with your mouth closed – this will use your optimum pitch.
A big challenge for many is finding the optimum pitch. Low enough to sound authoritative but not too low so it sounds fake. The best way to reach this optimum pitch is by closing your mouth and humming. As you hum, relax your vocal chords and listen to the pitch. When you start speaking, as long as you keep your vocal chords relaxed they will have settled into the correct pitch so just stay there.
Speak with a smile
People can hear your expressions over the phone. If you make a stressed out face, they will hear that you are stressed out. If you relax your face, they will hear your calmness and if you smile, they will hear the smile. And as your mother probably told you, a smile is the best accessory.
Slow down your speech
This one is the hardest for me. I naturally speak fast and I sometimes skip words. When I give a lecture or a speech, I try to put myself in the mind of a goldfish to speak more slowly. Apparently, it works.
You will sound more authoritative and more self assured. People listen to those who are sure of themselves not those who have no self-confidence. Fast speech exudes lack of self-confidence.
It will be easier for the other party to understand you. Nobody likes to ask speakers to repeat themselves too often since it makes them feel inadequate. So oftentimes they won't ask you to repeat yourself even if they did not clearly understand you.
Stand up when talking
I have fought over this with so many sales reps, I even once sent out all chairs to be "fixed" because they "weren't strong enough" just so the sales reps would have no excuse not to stand up. The difference in the speaker's tone of voice is huge! When we sit, our breathing is not as open, our energy is too low. Think about any speech you have ever listened to, or a conversation you had with someone who seemed asleep, did you really listen? If you did, bravo – you are one of the few – were you impressed with the person speaking? Chances are you weren't. We listen and are impressed by people who are energizing. Not people who put us to sleep. If you think you can fake it, I've got news for you: you can't. You may sound better than most even if you sit, but it will still be off. Stop being lazy and get up. Sitting down too long is bad for your health anyway.
Sit down in a power pose when listening
If, for some reason, you must sit down during the conversation, don't huddle down in your chair with your legs curled up! Sit down, with your back straight, your feet firmly planted on the floor and take up space. This is a sitting power pose. You will sound like the authoritative person you are when you sit like that.
Have a written checklist of the points you want to bring up
One of the worst things in a conversation is racking your brain thinking there's something you wanted to mention and that you just can't remember it. Even worse is when after the conversation is over you finally remember what it is you wanted to say. At that point you have the choice of calling back and saying "hey, I forgot", or to send them an email with the same intention or just to suck it up. None of those options sound particularly appealing to me as I imagine it does not seem appealing to you either. As such, do your homework before and make a list of the things you want to mention. As you go over each point in your conversation, mark it off so you can easily see what else is left.
For those who think that focusing on body language when speaking on the phone is a waste of time, here is a little factoid for you:the MIT Media Lab did extensive studies and concluded that it could predict with 87% accuracy the outcome of a sales call (and a few other things) by analyzing the participants' body language without listening to a single word of content.
Everything about us is transmitted through our voice. Jacques Lusseyran used to say that "a person's voice and words could say two different things, and it was always the voice that never deceived" - he used to let people's voice vibrate in his head and chest and it would without fault reveal to him the person's character. His organization had 600 people whom he hand picked by interviewing them one by one. Since he was blind due to an accident in his youth, he had to judge based on what he could hear alone. If he was wrong it would mean the end of his organization and probably a death sentence for everyone. Out of the 600 people he chose, he was right 599 times!! The one time he got it wrong, he was resistant to the idea of letting this person join but he let himself be persuaded by others.
So put aside your misgivings about focusing so much energy on learning the correct body language when speaking on the phone and just do it. The results will prove themselves to you.