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April 2nd, 2009

Conference Call Primer: A Bad Pitch Thought

Conference calls! We all do them. They can be a great way to touch base without having to fly anywhere, so long as you keep some simple rules in mind.

Intuitively, you might think that a conference call is more informal or – ahem – easier than face-to-face. Not so. In fact it’s often harder to get your messages across over the phone. Remember that body language is a huge part of human communication, and you don’t get the benefit of using it when your conferee is in another time zone. Have you ever had the feeling: “What the heck am I talking about? These people must think I’m nuts!” Of course you have. We all have.

With that fear firmly in mind, here is a guide to help you through the calls:

  • Be prepared. Preview a written agenda (definitely run a spell check) with everyone on “your side” of the call to anticipate possible questions from the other side.
  • Practice can really make the difference (being well prepared and making sure you know your stuff). Try having an intra-office meeting via a conference line. May as well hone your skills with the people you know. This way, you can prepare and present without worrying—practice gives an aura of confidence.
  • Open calls with a happy greeting to set the tone, but avoid too much chit-chat. Small talk doesn’t really work on the phone.
  • Be upbeat and physically smile (it actually does translate through the phone); sometimes it helps to stand, too. Keeps you on your toes! Literally.
  • Speak slowly and deliberately. Phones don’t pick up nuanced speech. You need to be clear.
  • People who speak too quickly are not viewed as “in control” or knowledgeable. Remember, you don’t have body language or gestures to rely on. Be measured.
  • Dramatic pauses every once in a while give people time to think. Don’t go over the top, though. Nobody wants to conference with Kenneth Branagh.
  • Using first names gets—and keeps—people’s attention. Anything you can do to personalize and humanize is key!
  • Focus on what you are saying and how this is ultimately helpful to the person listening. Eloquence means that everything you say means something. Be precise and eloquent.
  • Don’t let yourself get sidetracked. Remember the objective of the meeting.
  • Keep your eyes on the ball (use written notes). If you are not sure what you want to say, start an outline or start writing and then organize your thoughts after you’ve committed everything to paper.
  • Questions to ask: Does it make sense? Is it concise? Is it coherent? Do you care?
  • Refer to notes, but try not to depend on them word-for-word.
  • Channel someone you have listened to on conference calls and admire; adopt his or her style. Good conference callers wing it. Great conference callers copy other people.
  • Confidence on a call will extend to those listening, who (1) will be rooting for you—honestly, nobody wants a call to go poorly, and (2) will feel at ease and relaxed.
  • Combat nervousness (conference calls can be nerve-wracking!)
  • Visualize yourself doing well. Choose to be great.
  • Think of your “audience” as just plain people —even the most senior folks. Imagine them in their underwear. They have dogs, families, car trouble, and boxers. They want the meeting/presentation to go well—it makes their day better. You can do that for them!
  • Remember that the party on the other side has the exact same issues with conference calls that you do.

There you have it. Now go back to work. Call someone. And as usual, print this out, distribute it, hang it on the conference room whiteboard and on the refrigerator door.

The next post, promise, will be the worst pitch imaginable.

twitter @laermer

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