Most of our work with professionals has to do with their high-pressure, face-to-face communications. We’re all about helping them find the right words to tell the right story, and tell it with body language that communicates confidence, passion, and empathy.
But more and more communication these days is done at a distance, over the phone, without the benefit of body language or visuals of any sort. And so, more of our clients are asking about how to communicate confidently over the phone. This is in reference to phone calls of all kinds, but I think most commonly, they have sales conversations in mind, and teleconferences that they need to lead.
The single most important thing you can do to project confidence in any situation is, of course, to be as prepared as possible and know what to say. But, beyond that, let me focus in on the delivery of what you say, offering 4 Do’s and Don’ts for sounding confident over the phone:
1) Don’t sound too eager or too formal. Do sound professional. This, like many things that we do with clients, can take a respect for nuance and several practice run-throughs, recordings and play-backs to really get a good sense of the distinctions here. Eager and too-friendly can sound “juvenile,” “junior,” and “unprofessional.” Formal can sound stiff and off-putting. Professional is that sweet spot in the middle that communicates an understanding of the whole conversation and your place in it. It has elements of friendly and enjoyable in it, and it also contains respect for the audience as well as a sense of that respect being reciprocated by the audience.
2) Don’t trail off. Form complete sentences, and end them crisply. Trailing off in volume is the non-verbal equivalent of ending a sentence with “or whatever.” It communicates that your sentence wasn’t really going anywhere, that finishing your sentence doesn’t really matter to you, and that you weren’t really paying attention to what you were saying anyway, so why should anybody else on the line pay attention? Focus on what you’re saying and make sure that your sentences are complete. Do the same for the words themselves.
3) Embrace silence. Okay, here I’m straying from the “Do” and “Don’t” format because I’m not a big fan of telling people not to say “um” — mostly because, as soon as I do that, people get hyper-aware of the “um’s” and tend to say them more frequently. Instead, I vastly prefer having people choose silence. It’s easy to feel like silence is a problem in a phone conversation, in the way that it seems to be for radio professionals. But conversations and meetings and presentations need silence. People need time to process and anticipate. When you speak, allow pauses and gaps. Give other people time to hesitate and consider. This alone is a huge way to communicate to your audience that you are confident in how the call is going.
4) Don’t “pitch up.” Be definitive. “Pitching up” is raising your voice up a note or two at the end of a sentence. It’s what you naturally do when you ask a question. As a result, when you do it when you’re not asking a question, you sound like you’re uncertain. It’s the vocal inflection version of asking, “Do you know what I mean?” or “Am I making sense?” It’s another way to sound “junior” or “less experienced.” Notice the difference between how you sound and feel when you’re asking a question compared to when you’re making a definitive statement, and practice that distinction, so that your questions end with a question mark and your statements end with a period.
In reviewing these tips, I’m a bit concerned that the net effect here is to make you hyper-aware of how you sound over the phone. If that happens, I’ve only made you more self-conscious in these moments where you want to come across as confident. To avoid that, my recommendation is to notice how you sound over the phone when it doesn’t really matter, and to practice these distinctions consciously before an important conversation. But once the conversation starts, focus on what you’re saying, on what they’re saying, and on making progress with the whole conversation.
Good luck, and let us know how it goes.
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