The moment you pick up the phone to contact a customer or a prospect, you use a set of communication skills often neglected these days. Facial expressions and body language disappear. The only relevant meaning comes from your tone of voice and wording.
Today, communicating via texting, email, and social media produces floods of content that lacks the primal bond of the human voice.
So why has making a sales-related phone call come to almost the point of extinction for younger business professionals these days?
I believe the phone should not be relegated to an inferior status because the voice is still a vital communications skill. And because voice is so important in business conversations on the phone, learning how to use it effectively will pay off with prospects and customers who will learn to trust and respect your voice long before you ever meet them face to face.
It may seem like you’re swimming upstream against the social media current, but your “phone voice” is really a valuable asset. Using it to educate and influence is a deeply embedded habit that’s been part of the human race for thousands of years.
Let me give you a salient example.
One of the most successful strategies in social media involves storytelling. Since the beginning of time, primitive tribes sat around a campfire after dark listening to stories. The best of them really knew how to tell a memorable story! In fact, a few were such powerful storytellers that their tales were passed down as part of a rich oral history, long before the written word ever existed.
It’s too bad that the actual sound of their voices couldn’t be recorded. The best storytellers probably had wonderful voices—captivating and expressive. Wouldn’t you like to share the best of what they had to offer?
Perception = Attitude + Inflection
The human ear is attuned to capture your attitude by the sound of your voice. On the phone, much of your message is projected by your tone.
- If you’re tired or depressed, you communicate slowly at a low pitch.
- If you have no interest or are bored, your voice is flat and monotone.
- If you’re angry and not receptive, your voice becomes pronounced and loud.
- If you’re interested and enthusiastic, your voice is higher pitched and emphatic.
The moment a listener hears the tone of your voice, they pick up on your attitude. Test this out on a colleague or friend with a phone call. While you’re talking, listen to yourself. Then ask your listener to tell you whether or not they want to continue talking to you.
The same is true for those storytellers who captivated their listeners. They were enthusiastic about their stories. They not only had the excitement; they conveyed it using inflections that told everyone they meant what they were saying. They said it like they meant it. In the presence of a storyteller with the right attitude (enthusiastic) and tone of voice (inflection), the audience was attracted instinctively.
Physiology is an important factor in determining how you sound on the phone. I used to be a singer in a rock ’n roll band. I always got nervous before a gig. My muscles seized up and my throat got tight. In this kind of stressful situation, my voice sounded breathy and strained. But early on, I learned to take a couple of deep breaths before the first set. Almost at once, my voice’s pitch dropped and the tone calmed.
And all this happened even before I sang a single word!
Years later, as a business owner, I had to make cold calls on the phone. This time, I was nervous and frightened. Deep breaths helped, but I didn’t communicate very well because even though I believed in my message, my tone was stilted.
Then one day I began to relax in a phone conversation with a very warm, emphatic voice on the other end of the line. I remembered when I’m with friends, my dry sense of humor emerges and it helps me enjoy their company. So I tried the same thing with that friendly voice and the dialog opened up immediately. Whatever I said (I wish I could remember), it made us both smile. I could hear that smile. So although I may not try to be unnecessarily funny in my phone conversations these days, I do begin to smile even before I pick up the phone as I anticipate a warm, receptive conversation.
Once you learn, then you listen
As your ability to talk with prospects and clients grows, you should begin to concentrate on not only what they say, but how they say it. Listen to the stress they put on words because it conveys the underlying meaning of what they’re saying. For example, take the phrase “Can you help me?” Placing emphasis on different words changes the feeling. “Can you help me?” might sound annoyed, as opposed to “Can you help me?”, which sounds more receptive.
Try it for yourself. Say that phrase out loud and change the emphasis on words to hear the different tones of voice. Then, in conversations on the phone, be aware of your tone because it’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it.
Talking on the phone can be a rewarding experience if you’re willing to develop those skills with your voice that help you communicate effectively. In business, it will definitely help you win friends and influence people.