Q: I have a question that I have not seen addressed.
When I call somebody I do not know, or don’t know very well, I get a little nervous and tend to talk too fast and gabble. The impression is less than professional (blathering idiot?), things I say are sometimes missed or misinterpreted, and usually a conversation does not develop. Useful tips?
—Judith Airey, Trenchant Web
A: The key is preparation.
There is nothing better than being prepared to make phone calls, whether it’s one tricky call or several calls of the same type.
A script can help you by taking the pressure off so you don’t have to remember what to say. But it can also lock you into a dialogue with very little wiggle room. You don’t want to sound like an automaton when you’re in a conversation with someone.
To get around this, try writing out your idealized version of the entire exchange. This will familiarize you with the ideas you want to convey and help you find the most important ones. It will also help you
envision a positive outcome. Then, turn that script into an outline or a list of talking points. That way, you can refer to it easily.
Here’s what you need to have ready:
- Two or three opening statements that say concisely who you are and why you’re calling (and the connection between you, if there is one). Experiment with these opening statements to see which makes the most sense, is more comfortable for you, which flows easier. Ask a friend or colleague to listen to you say them and decide together which one to start with. If possible, try them all in the real situation and see how the actual response is.
- Two or three questions you’d like answered. You may not get to all of them, depending on the response. But have them ready, in case the person you’re calling is open to chat. Otherwise, offer to send them. Or leave them in a voice mail message and repeat them in the email follow up.
- One or two closing statements that include a call to action or next step. What you will do next, what the other person will do next. What do you expect to receive or send to the other person. Follow this up with an email message that reiterates what you’ve agreed to, especially if it’s a difficult situation.
- As for not talking too fast, make a big sign for yourself and post it on your computer (or wherever you’ll see it best) that says: SPEAK SLOWLY.
More about this in the chapter called “Hang Up On Phone Fear” in book, Stop Pushing Me Around: A Workplace Guide for the Timid, Shy and Less Assertive.
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