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Telecommunications - How Good Are You on the Telephone?
By Chris King

I have recently received several questions that relate to telecommunications. These questions are not only geared toward the unwanted and bothersome phone calls we receive from telecommunicators trying to sell us something - although we can certainly learn what not to do from them - but also are concerned with how we can present effectively and powerfully over the telephone. I think we can all agree that the telephone is an important instrument of business and pleasure, but can also be an "instrument of the devil." What do I mean by this? Read on as I share the good, the bad and the ugly of telecommunications - at least, in my opinion.

Telephone impressions are as important as in-person impressions. I have written before about the importance of a first impression. Whether we are recording our own answering device message, leaving a voice mail message on someone else's device, speaking to an assistant, answering a call, making an order, asking a question or trying to establish a relationship with a potential client, the first impression we make over the telephone will be lasting and will set the tone for the present and/or any upcoming interaction we will have with that person. What kind of impression are you making? Let's discuss some of the various areas of phone presentations.

Remember that the person on the other end of the phone can't see you, so your voice, pacing, and words are all important. When we are presenting to an audience or leading a meeting, we have the benefit of our physiology - our breathing, eye contact, physical appearance, and movement, all of which give impact to our message. Therefore, it is imperative that you practice your telephone voice and tone as carefully as you would practice a speech in front of an audience. Remember to use vocal variety, with tonal inflection. Add enthusiasm to your voice. Remember to pace your words and speak clearly. And, people can hear a smile, so be sure to act and smile as if you were speaking face to face, eyeball to eyeball. This is where we can learn from those unfortunate people who are employed by telecommunications firms and have to make calls to the unsuspecting. First of all, they seem distracted. When I answer, it usually takes them a few minutes to start their spiel. Then when they do start speaking, it is in a monotone, too quickly with no pauses or pacing (probably because they don't want us to get a chance to say, "no). They are prepared with a written speech which is delivered poorly. This leads me into my next point.

It is important, as always, to be well prepared. Just as I have repeatedly mentioned before, the more prepared you are for any presentation, the more smoothly it will progress and the more professional you will appear. Before you record a message on your answering device, take the time to consider the impression you are trying to make. When I receive a canned message - especially one that comes with the answering system, right away I form the picture of someone rather unimaginative. How do you want the caller to react? For a business, I don't suggest (and this has happened to me) that you have your five or six-year old leave a cute, giggly message or record a joke or wild music, etc. But, I do suggest adding some personality to your recording. Take the time to review what you have recorded and then call yourself from somewhere else to hear what you sound like. My message usually gets a "WOW!" and an answer, because one of the phrases I use is that "I am excellent at returning phone calls, so leave an interesting message, and I will get back to you as soon as possible." And, I do, which to me is telecommunications' etiquette.

Also, be prepared when you leave a message or speak to another over the telephone. Before making any call - even a personal one - know what the purpose of that phone call is. Most people today do not appreciate rambling any more than they would if you were presenting to them as a member of an audience. I suggest jotting down the main points you want to cover, have any phone numbers and/or details handy, and I always make sure that I have a pen and paper ready for taking notes. If you are leaving a message on someone else's recording device, be clear and succinct (unfortunately, many have only a short time set for messages - something that I don't appreciate or suggest), say your name clearly along with slowly and clearly saying your phone number, a short reason you are calling, and then repeat your name and number. This may seem obvious, but you and I know the frustration of trying to decipher a mumbled message (I figure than many people are in a huge hurry because they have been cut off so many times).

Politeness goes a long way when it comes to telephones. Personally, I hate being put "on hold" but realize that it will happen. If there is any way you can avoid putting others on hold, do it. If we are put on hold, we must just accept graciously with a, "no problem." I also feel that it is imperative to identify yourself, "Hi! This is Chris King, do you have a moment to talk?" When we do reach a live person, I suggest always checking to make sure the time is opportune for them. It usually is if they answered, but they may say, "Yes, but I only have a few minutes before I need to leave for a meeting." Be sure to honor this request, and if you have more to say than can be said in a few minutes, it is better to ask what would be a better time to call back and set a phone date on your calendar. I earlier mentioned appearing to be distracted. Even if someone extremely important walks in and tries to get your attention while you are on the phone, don't let their rudeness affect your complete attention to the person with whom you are speaking. It is important for them to know that they are more important to you at the moment than anyone or anything else that is attempting to interrupt. While we are on the subject of politeness, let me follow with my reactions to cell phones.

Even though cell phones are the "rage" and may be necessary - or, at least, you feel that they are necessary for your success - I implore you to consider others who are in your vicinity when you take and/or make a call. Not only have I heard unpleasant and loud personal calls during my fitness classes, in line at the grocery store and post office, at the next table in a restaurant, on public transportation and walking down the street, my enjoyment of a program or presentation has been compromised by the ringing of and even answering of cell phones. It is hard for me to believe that we have to ask everyone in a crowd at a seminar, at a concert, at a performance and in the theater to be sure to "turn off their cell phones." And, I am not even going to vent about how I feel about those who are driving while talking on the phone. You get the picture!

It has become so unusual to be greeted, when making a call, with a pleasant voice by someone who sounds delighted that you called and is there for you, that when this occurs I always compliment them on their voice and their civility. I am sure that you are one of those people too. And, if you haven't been, I hope you'll start right now.

Remember, anytime we surprise others by our special uniqueness and style by going beyond their expectations, we will seldom be forgotten. It is likely they will remember us for the next job they need done or will recommend us to others.

Let me know how you feel about telephones and telecommunications. I love getting your FEEDBACK!

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