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Make the most of your telephone time.

How many of your business conversations happen on the phone? For a lot of people, it’s most of them. Add the web-based platforms like Zoom and Teams, and some of us spend way more time talking to people remotely than we do in person.

The visual component of communication is huge. So, what happens when body language and facial expression are missing? Confusion, vagueness and misunderstanding.

Unless you know the secrets to compelling conversations with unseen others. So here they are …

Stand up.

Your voice will have more energy if you stand while you speak. Fitness gurus are telling us to spend less time sitting anyway; standing desks are all the rage. Even if you do most of your work seated, you’ll project more strength when you stand up for that important phone call.

But if you do sit, sit up straight.

Keep both feet firmly planted on the floor, your bottom squarely in the chair, your spine erect, and your shoulders back and down. No hunching over the desk. Sitting like this, you’ll be grounded and your voice will be stronger and more resonant.

Earbuds help.

Holding the phone to your ear makes your arm tired, and a lot of us press our ear to the phone and strain our necks in the process. Use a headset or earbuds instead—you’ll have the freedom to move and decent audio quality.

Speak from your core.

The energy should come from the power center below your navel, not from your throat or your head. With the phone or a mic close to your mouth, there’s no need for big volume. (Don’t be like those people you hear in line at Starbucks SHOUTING into their phones.) 

You do want energy in your voice though. You get it from being grounded, relaxing your body, and breathing from your belly, fully and deeply.

Energize your voice by moving your body.

Use gestures just as you would if you were right there in the room with the person. Your conversational partner can’t see your hands moving, but the gestures animate your voice, and they will hear the difference. When you gesture to emphasize a point, for instance, you’ll sound more emphatic too.

And don’t forget your face.

Facial expressions reflect your inner state. (They can also create a state!) People can sense your mood even when they can’t see your face. So don’t pick up the phone with a frown unless you’re about to let someone have it, for good reason. It can help to have a mirror near your desk—seeing yourself is a reminder to smile.

Or their face.

Talking to someone you don’t know? Let’s say you’re making a sales call. Or it’s the phone screening that precedes an in-person job interview. When the stakes are high, it’s easy to freeze up so you sound stiff and unnatural. 

As you prepare for your call, you might pull up the person’s picture on LinkedIn or their company website. It’ll give you something to focus on and help you sound as if you’re talking to an actual human.

If you do know the person, visualize them as you place the call. Just make a mental picture—there she is, sitting in her office, seeing your name on Caller I.D. and smiling as she reaches for the phone. See how that sets you up for a warmer conversation?

Speak a bit more slowly. Enunciate.

Remember that visual cues are missing. All they have to go on is your words and the tone of your voice. To make sure they understand everything you say, you may need a slower pace than you would in a face-to-face conversation. This is especially true if one of you is not a native speaker of English, or if you’re covering complex—or controversial—content.

Pause to project confidence.

A moment of silence will enhance understanding and give your listener a chance to absorb what you’re saying. Beyond that, the pause is a powerful signal that you’re comfortable and confident. You’re not rushing, you’re not apologizing for taking up their time, you’re not desperate for this conversation to be over.

This is especially important when you are desperate for it to be over!

You may have had an experience, where you didn’t know how to finish, so you just kept talking, and then you weren’t sure what else to say, so you talked some more and then they didn’t say anything so you sort of repeated yourself, and eventually you trailed off in a really awkward way…

Better to put a period on it and settle into the silence. Let the other person be the next to speak.

Listen more than you talk.

You’re brilliant; we know that. You have important information to impart and deep insights to share.  They’ll be more impressed with all of it if they hear as much of themselves as they hear of you.

On the phone, we can’t see someone’s eyes glaze over. We may not be aware that they’ve tuned out and started checking their email. The way to head that off is to say what you have to say—once. Say it well. Then stop talking and listen.