“You give good phone.”
Someone said this to me years ago. A client? A co-worker? I don’t remember. I do know the words were intended as positive feedback for my professionalism (not as some Urban Dictionary statement about my sexy voice).
I took the compliment to heart and resolved to give even better phone. This could be a differentiator, I reasoned, positioning me as a consultant and colleague who can be productive and effective—and even fun to work with—without face-to-face contact.
That turned out to be strong rationale. For the past 15 years, most of my work has revolved around virtual relationships. One-to-one phone discussions, teleconferences across time zones, mass audience webcasts, coaching sessions via Facetime or Skype, team meetings on Google Hangout, interviews over Telepresence, teaching via Jabber or Fuze or WebEx …
A few days ago, a writing student marveled at how easily I seem to manage our video discussions. “It just takes practice,” I told her. “It all comes down to your habits.”
Next time you dial into a phone or video meeting, here are three habits to practice:
1. Make full, smart use of the technology.
At a minimum, know how to mute and unmute your own line. And if you’re moderating, know how to silence participants whose audio disturbs the meeting with crackly interference, barking dogs, or transportation noise.
If video is an option, sign in early enough to find the camera icon—and test it. Bonus points for angling your laptop or mobile device so your face fully fills the frame, and a gold star if you’re sitting in quiet, tidy room with good lighting.
2. Manage the time.
Be prompt to arrive, and stay attuned to your scheduled end time. If time is ticking faster than you’re progressing through the agenda, be the one who forces a reality check: “I’m conscious of the time. Do we need to schedule another discussion, or can everyone stay on for an extra 15 minutes?”
If possible, finish early. Who wouldn’t appreciate the gift of five or ten minutes of breathing space between appointments? Well, maybe a client who has paid for a full hour of consulting. In that case, I explain how I’ll use those minutes. “Let’s wrap up early. I’ll use the time to assemble the information you requested. In about 10 minutes, check your inbox.”
3. Bring your best, focused, honest self.
Virtual discussions deserve the same preparation and presence you give to in-person meetings. Think about how you behave when joining a group in person. How do you enter? How do you greet others? How do you participate? By adapting those face-to-face techniques, you can make a strong contribution—and a great impression—on the line:
- Smile and stand. When you’re introducing yourself, a smile is the audible equivalent of a handshake. And when you speak on your feet, your voice conveys greater energy and influence.
- Don’t multi-task. Ever. If your client or boss could look over your shoulder or across the table to see what you’re doing, would you check email or scan Facebook or reorganize your files? No way. “No one can see” is no reason to focus away from the business at hand.
- Announce your truth. If you didn’t hear what someone said, don’t guess; ask them to repeat it. If you need to look something up, be upfront about it. “I need to find the email where we covered that. Give me a moment.” Don’t rush into an answer or idea just because phone silence feels awkward. If you need a moment to think, say so.
What else? Tell me what you practice to give good phone.