I don’t know anyone who actually enjoys having to make a phone call. If they do, they keep it to themselves, because they know the rest of us are terrified of it. I consider myself capable of phone calls, but they’re still a last resort, and sometimes I end up tripping over my words or talking too fast. My male friends in particular absolutely hate using the phone (weird, right?), but let’s face it – even in the modern age of email and texting and Twitter, sometimes you just have to use that phone. You have to find out if the Director of Some Important Office is coming to the meeting on Monday. You have to follow up on those job applications you sent out. Heck, maybe you have to return your mom’s voicemail, I understand this is cause for dread for some people. But lucky for you, I’ve put together a handy little guide I’m going to call “How To Not Sound Like A Moron On The Phone.” The title of the blog post works too, but titles are usually such a pain to come up with, I’m not going to waste them.
Step #1: Prepare.
“Hello, this is Laura. I’m calling to schedule a job interview with Mr. Williams. Is he available?”
“Hi, uh, this is Laura? I got a message from…um…Dave Williams, can I talk to him?”
Obviously we would all prefer to sound like the first caller. When we hear a voice like that on the phone, we envision trim power-suited people seated at glass desks over a shining city, possibly equipped with a sleek headset and those computers from “Minority Report” and the most recent episode of “Castle.” And we listen to those people. If you sound more like the second caller (or if you’re just afraid that you will), simply take a few minutes to prep yourself. Take notes and have them with you when you call. Drink water and clear out your throat. Talk to yourself in the bathroom for a bit if you need to. You may still be sweaty and terrified when you make the call, but you’ll sound like a pro.
Step #2: Be As Comfortable As Possible.
In some ways, phone calls can be less stressful than face-to-face conversations. When I had a phone interview for a bank teller position, I wore sweats and spent the entire phone call pacing my room. I didn’t have to worry about good posture or whether I had something stuck in my teeth. I was able to relax (a little) and concentrate more on my responses.
At work, though, things are a little more challenging. I hate being overheard on the phone, in case I sound like a moron, which of course makes me panic and increases my chances of sounding like a moron. Whenever possible, I prefer to talk on the phone in an empty room. Obviously that’s not an option for those of us stuck in cubicles, but really, it’s probably not as big a deal as I’m afraid it is. It’s just a classic case of worrying too much about what other people think. How much to do you judge your neighbor’s phone calls? Probably not much, right? (Unless they’re talking about some juicy drama but that’s irrelevant.) So again, just take a few breaths and relax. If you can, get to a place where you’re comfortable and more able to be yourself. The calmer you are, the calmer you’ll sound.
Step #3: Enunciate.
I am infamous for speaking too quickly and too quietly. On the phone, especially in a business setting, I have to be extra careful to speak clearly. Take a few breaths when you call someone and calm yourself down. Remember that you’re losing a lot of the nonverbal cues we rely on in face-to-face conversation, so use clear language, pronounce those “t”s and “k”s, all that fun stuff. It also helps to spell out your name for people, if they need it. Today a gal called in, saying her last name was…well, it turned out to be “Hall,” but I couldn’t tell if she said “Holme” or “Han” or what.
And finally, a bonus tip for those of you in office settings, freshly prepared after my debacle this afternoon:
#4: Know how to transfer a call! Read the manual, and remember what you read. Leave a sticky note with concise instructions on your phone it you have to. If you’re afraid of screwing up (like I did today), give the caller the number you’re trying to connect them to, so they can call back on their own.
What do you do to prepare for a dreaded phone call? Or are you totally okay with the phone? If so, tell me your secret!