The phone is a powerful tool for your business, relationships and communication. But do you know how to use it?
I want you to be a phone ninja. A cold-calling genius. A mobile power player.
Why is the phone so important? Sure, people listen to our words but they are REALLY listening to how you are saying your words. We communicate tons of nonverbal cues through our voice tone, volume, cadence and speech patterns.
Research has found that our nonverbal communication is 4 times more powerful than our words. In other words, what you say, “I want to do business with you” is far less important than how you say, “I want to do business with you.”
Below I have outlined 10 Successful Phone Strategies you can use for:
- Overcoming Phone Anxiety
- Developing Business Contacts
- Online Dating
- Building Long-Distance Relationships
- Relationship Phone Etiquette
How would you rate your phone skills on a scale of 1 to 5? (5 being stellar, 1 being needs work)
____ Warmth: Do you sound friendly, warm and approachable on the phone?
____ Competence: Do you sound competent and credible on the phone?
____ Confidence: How confident do you sound on the phone?
____ Effectiveness: How effective are your phone conversations?
Read on to get all of those numbers up to 5!
1. Harvest Honesty
No matter who we are speaking to, we ALWAYS want to hear the truth. Can you guess:
Which mode of communication has the most amount of lies?
The answer is C. Phone. People lie least on Email and IM because there is a paper-trail. Next comes face to face, because it is hard to lie while looking directly into someone’s eyes. So we lie the most on the phone–no paper-trail and less guilt producing looks. If you want to have more honest phone conversations you can do this easily by invoking the paper-trail. At the beginning of your business calls, mention that you will take notes on the call and send them over in an email to make sure you didn’t miss anything. This does 3 things. First, it shows you are diligent, organized and dependable. Second, it helps you reference the conversation. And third, most importantly, it invokes the paper-trail so they know you are taking notes and they have to confirm everything was correct in a follow-up email.
2. Tell, Don’t Ask
We can’t help but associate high voice tones with children. When you answer the phone or talk to someone in a higher pitch you are signaling to them that you are not competent, mature or dependable. When you are having phone anxiety you tend to go into the higher end of your range. Everyone has a natural range of voice tone. I want you to stay in your lowest natural range. You can do this by taking a deep breath in and then slowly letting it out as you relax your shoulders, neck and head. Do it again and this time say hello on your out breath. It is impossible to speak in your higher range when your shoulders and vocal cords are relaxed–that’s what you want. If you find yourself getting nervous on a call or your voice begins to crack, take a deep breath and speak on the out breath as you lower your shoulders. This will drop you down into a more mature tone.
- Ninja Tip: Don’t use the question inflection. Another way we signal confidence is by telling someone our ideas as opposed to asking. When talking to the other person be sure you go down at the end of your sentence instead of going up. Read this out loud in the question inflection: My name is Vanessa? Versus: My name is Vanessa. I always want you to say your statements and ask your questions–never confusing the two!
3. Your First Impression MATTERS
May I tell you a story? It’s a bit ridiculous, but couldn’t fit more perfectly for this point. My Dad was on the Dating Game back in the day–it’s that show where 3 bachelors or bachelorettes compete behind a screen for a date, thus taking out the physical appearance part of the competition. The chooser only has voice tone and words to rely on. The set looked like this:
As the legend goes, my Dad practiced and practiced potential answers. He was going for humor. He went on the show and had really funny answers–the audience laughed and the bachelorette chooser kept giggling. But in the end, he didn’t get picked. He was pretty devastated. When the producers asked him to come back for a reunion show (because he had been one of their funniest guests) he jumped on the opportunity. Now, my Dad is pretty competitive so he stayed home for an entire week to study episodes of the Dating Game (this was before TIVO and VCR). He wanted to figure out if there was a pattern to the winners. He quickly realized that it had nothing to do with the verbal answers and very little to do with anything that happened after the first set of hellos. He figured out that the female decided right away who she was going to pick based on how the hello was said. My Dad practiced and practiced his hello and nothing else. And can you guess it? He won. He made his first impression awesome. Here’s how you can make your hello awesome:
- Don’t hold your breath as you wait for someone to pick-up. This tenses your vocal chords so you sound anxious when you say hello.
- Don’t rush to say hello when someone calls you. This makes you sound impatient and disorganized. Take a small breath and settle before saying hello.
- Use the lowest end of your natural voice tone. (See Tip #2)
Bonus: Can you make your voice sound more attractive? Yes! Research shows that people decide how trustworthy or dominant you are within seconds of hearing your voice. With judgements being made that fast, you don’t have time to warm up in your presentation. Whether you’re a rising public speaker trying to improve your reputation and land more events or if you’re striving to become a more influential leader at work, the key to making people listen to and remember what you have to say is mastering your public speaking voice. Check out more on the science of vocal power in this video:
When we lose confidence we drop our volume. Whenever I do sales trainings or negotiations I have people practice their pitch. Over and over again people will drop their volume on the point or issue that makes them most nervous. For example, someone might say, “I can’t wait to work with you and all we need is a $500 deposit to get started.” with a severe volume drop on the $500. This is begging someone to negotiate with you. This is telling someone you do not feel confident in your price or what you are saying. Practice your pitch and keep your volume level throughout. Here’s an example I recorded for you:
- Special Tip: Sometimes people increase their volume too much when they are excited. This makes people feel like you are yelling at them. While some volume increase is ok, try to keep it level.
5. Build Oxytocin
You know how you can talk to some people and just feel super connected to them? There is a physiological reason for this–it’s called oxytocin. Oxytocin, also nicknamed the cuddle hormone, is what courses through our body when we feel connected to someone. It is the chemical explanation for love. Oxytocin is produced a number of ways–mostly through mutual eye contact and physical touch, which only happens in person. One way you can increase your oxytocin on the phone is by pulling up their LinkedIn profile, dating profile or website as you chat. This helps your brain feel that the person on the other line is a real person. This is also logistically handy because you can reference things about them as you speak. I always have people’s picture or profile pulled up on my computer while on the phone with them. This helps my voice be warmer, it helps me feel more connected and it is great for building rapport on their relevant details.
6. Video Calls?
Sometimes adding video to calls can make phone anxiety even worse! So what should you do about video calls–Zoom? FaceTime? GotoWebinar? I am so glad you asked! I love turning on my video camera when possible. A few things to keep in mind if you decide to do so:
- Back That Thing Up! It’s tempting to just show your face on video, but if you can push back your webcam or computer so they can see your torso and hands. We love to see people’s hands and this helps you come across as more charismatic. This also feels much more like a real meeting–the close up face can feel a bit odd in business situations.
- Don’t look at yourself…I know, I know! You’re gorgeous! But, on your calls make them feel gorgeous and make eye contact with the camera not yourself and not their icon. If you look anywhere but the camera it makes you look shifty eyed even if you are not! Another way to build oxytocin is through mutual gazing and we can still produce oxytocin even through a lens.
- Wear pants. But really, you think you might not have to get up during the call, but what if the doorbell rings? Or your dog starts choking? Or there is a hurricane? Don’t be caught in PJ bottoms–or worse.
Another way that our voice tone sends positive or negative signals is through our emotions. If you are having phone anxiety, sometimes this nervousness can come through. When someone speaks to us with a lack of emotionality or tonal warmth we have trouble connecting to them. Make sure that when you speak with people you are sharing your feeling and emotion through your words. How do you do this?
- Tell Stories. When possible tell stories from your life, about your business and your past. Stories are wonderful ways of bringing emotion into your voice AND they turn people on (mentally, of course).
- Elicit Stories. If possible get them to tell you stories. This helps them feel more emotional and engaged.
- Share Passion. Talk about subjects, people and issues you feel passionate about. Don’t tamper down your feelings, express them. This is the basis of charisma. People who are rated as highly charismatic are extremely good at sharing their passions and getting excited about many subjects.
- Elicit Passion. Get them talking about topics they are passionate about. Sometimes I feel like during conversations I am just searching for the topics that light them up. This makes the entire conversation more interesting, you more engaging and them more excited about the conversation–win, win, win.
8. Don’t Script
If you are doing a lot of cold-calling, customer service or business calls you might want to script out your answers–BUT DON’T! I know it is common practice to work with scripts but here’s the problem. I have never, ever found someone who can do their script over and over again without it sounding memorized or boring. When you script, it literally sucks the emotion, passion, and verbal warmth right out of you. Scripting shuts down your charisma and other people’s engagement to you. It also shuts down your brain from thinking and feeling so you become less engaged and engaging.
- Ninja Tip: Instead of scripting, bullet. Write down common questions you get and write down ONE WORD bullet points you want to hit. This makes sure you remember what you need to cover, but also allows you to say it a new way every time.
9. Please Leave a Message
Do you think about your voicemail? Listen to it right now and tell me what impression do you think you leave? Do you sound rushed? Is it noisy in the background? Is it too quiet? We often don’t really think about our voicemails, but when someone can’t reach us our voicemail gives our first impression. Here’s how to properly leave a message:
- Get in a quiet place so there is no background noise.
- Use a headset or keep the phone close to your mouth (not on speaker) so the audio is clear.
- Don’t hold your breath right before you speak (so your vocal chords relax and your voice is nice and low).
- Smile while you record it to bring some warmth into your tone.
- Suggested Format: I like to start with a greeting and my name. Then a request. Then a short and sweet goodbye. Like this: “Hi, you’ve reached the voicemail for Vanessa Van Edwards. Please leave a message here and I’ll get back to you soon. Have a lovely day.”
Make your voicemail count. Click to Tweet if you are going to supercharge your phone skills.
10. Tricks of the Trade
I have a few other tricks of the trade you can use if you are on the phone a lot:
- Get a standing desk or have a phone call area where you can stand and move around while you talk. This has helped my phone anxiety tremendously. Why? Testosterone–because you are taking up more space AND lets you be more engaging and dynamic while you speak.
- Close your email. Don’t have anything distracting up as you speak. I close all of my tabs and just have their website or profile up so I don’t have my attention pulled away.
- Depending on how I feel I might also have a word document open or a notebook to take notes. Remember, I mentioned at the beginning of the article about taking notes on the call and asking for confirmation after. You can do this typing (although make sure they can’t hear you typing because they will think you are emailing) or written notes that you type up.
- Some sales people I know have a mirror at their desk so they can see their own face while they speak. This is an amazing tool if you are willing to do it.
Research has found we can identify 16 different types of smiles by voice tone alone.
- Our emotions play out on our face and through our voice. If you are angry, your brows furrow and your voice tenses and becomes more terse. Having a mirror can help you spot a negative facial expression more quickly. Smiling loosens our jaw muscles and adds warmth to our voice. If you feel your call is getting a little stale you can smile in the mirror and see if it adds more to your tone.
I hope that these nonverbal phone tips help you be more effective. There are also some verbal strategies you can use to increase your influence.
About Vanessa Van Edwards
Lead Investigator, Science of People
I’ve always wanted to know how people work, and that’s what Science of People is about. What drives our behavior? Why do people act the way they do? And most importantly, can you predict and change behavior to be more successful? I think the answer is yes. More about Vanessa.
Join Over 500,000 Students
Are you looking to kickstart your career? Level up your leadership? Join thousands of students learning to master their people skills and make an impact on the world. And for joining today I'm giving away a free one hour audio training to help you jump start your learning!