Friday, February 15, 2008

The Freelancer's Guide to Giving Good Phone

I don't like talking on the phone. I always get a bit nervous when a potential client wants me to call, rather than send an email. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I feel much more confident in writing. When I email a client, I can write out an articulate response, put the right tone in, proofread and check everything over to make sure I'm saying what I want to say, and think about it for a bit before I send it. When I'm talking on the phone--particularly to a new prospect--I have a split second to make a good impression. Here are a few things I do to make sure I don't screw it up.

Write down what you expect to be asked, and what you plan to say. Maybe you know exactly how to improve Mr. Prospect's website copy. But when he asks, your answer doesn't come out as brilliantly as it sounds in your head. Maybe you say "um" a lot. Maybe you suddenly forget the word "benefits" (I swear, stuff like this has happened to me before) and you suddenly find yourself groping for a synonym or going "um, you know, those things that tell customers why they, uh, you know. Starts with a B." To prevent any unfortunate stumbling, write down your responses to the questions and comments you expect. Read them aloud a few times to make sure they sound natural. You don't have to read from the script when you call, but the info is there if your brain suddenly freezes.

Do your research. Don't go into a call cold. Check out their website or catalog. Have a few things in mind to say if they ask you something general, like what you think of their website. Get a sense of who you think their target audience is, and look around to see what some of their competitors are doing. Make some notes to yourself before you call.

Remember: You know your stuff. Sometimes I get nervous because I'm afraid someone might ask me something I don't know. But it's important to remember to keep in mind what you do know, and keep the focus on that. I may not know a lot of things, but I sure as heck know how to write. Remember: you know your stuff. Have confidence in that.

Practice before calling. Nothing freaks me out more than having someone pick up and suddenly blurting out the wrong pronunciation of the prospect's name. Practice saying what you want to say before calling. If the prospect's name or the business name is long, complicated, and full of alliterations, say it to yourself a few times before calling. If you've jotted down your responses to questions you anticipate, practice saying difficult phrases--or better yet, break difficult phrases and words down into something easier to say. You want to make this as easy on yourself as possible, and you don't need big words to sound smart.

Breathe. You want to sound upbeat, energetic, confident, and delighted to speak to the person on the other end of the phone. If you're nervous, you probably won't come off that way. To keep the jitters out of your voice, take a deep breath as you call. Let the breath out on your "hi" and let the energy carry you through your opening sentence. Breathe deeply as you talk and support your speech with your breath. Breath support is important in singing, but it can also make your voice sound more confident, energetic and authoritative when you're talking to clients.

So next time you get an email from a prospect saying "give me a call," don't panic. Instead, get prepared, email back to set a time, and go from there. With practice, you'll be just as comfortable on the phone as you are in writing.


Anonymous said...

This was so funny to read, because I'm a real people person and deal well with phone conversations - plus, I have 12 years' experience in customer service. It helps.

Two bits of advice I can add:

If you're a woman, sit down to talk on the phone.

If you're a man, stand up and pace while you talk on the phone.

Most men prefer to be active and think better when their bodies are moving. Women tend to speak and think better when having telephone conversations while sitting, because it relaxes them. There's a psychological theory behind this, but damned if I can remember what it is right now.

Works, though!

Michele said...

This is invaluable advice, Jennifer. I can't believe as successful as you are, you still get nervous talking on the phone. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who detests phone conversations. You've just made my day!


french panic said...

ever have something in mind to comment on, and then after reading other comments, whatever you had to say is completely gone?

I am struck speechless/type-less after James' comment: genderized generalizations! eeeek!

Besides, what's a pacer gonna do if "he" has one of those old-timey phones that aren't cordless.....? The tangles! The twists!

I have to sit down and make some phone calls now.

Jennifer Williamson said...

@James: it's funny, because I consider myself a "people person" too in casual circumstances--but when I'm working I definitely feel the pressure. I worked as a waitress, a teacher, and even an actress--so performance isn't really hard for me. But for some reason I just am not crazy about the phone.

@Michele: I've heard plenty of other experienced freelancers say they're not crazy about phone time, either. I think it all depends on your temperament, and a lot of writers are introverts. Not all of us, but if you're someone who can happily sit in a room all day alone and type, you're probably an introvert.

@French: I'm not sure about all women or all men, I can only speak for myself--but I do need to sit down and stay still when I'm having an important conversation on the phone. However, on "What Not to Wear" the other day they were revamping the wardrobe of a woman who was a lawyer, and who wore comfy bunny slippers when at home on the phone with prosecutors and clients. She was a pacer, and she had actually paced holes in the slippers. Gross.

Anonymous said...

@ French - It's not *me* making genderized generalizations. I'm sharing a psychological quirk that is different between men and women. We have different brains, different body chemistry and different instincts. Men pace. Women sit.

Sheesh. It's perfectly *okay* to make male/female generalizations. It's not like I said all women belong in the kitchen and all men wield power tools. If there were no difference between the two genders, the world would be a boring place. Chill.

@ Jen - There are exceptions, of course. Most exceptions are people who have psychological tendencies to be closer to one gender group than another based on behavior, action, hormonal levels and all that. It makes sense to me that someone who enjoys the career of lawyer would pace.

Unknown said...

Stand up while you're speaking. It helps you to sound more confident. Seriously!

Unknown said...

Oh, I can't agree with you this time, James (and that's a first!). You're very right that some of us like to sit while talking on the phone, but I think the main focus should be on feeling in control of ourselves and the conversation. Standing works for me in those cases where I need to sound more confident.

Anonymous said...

@ Lori - That's a good point to make. Though I was saying that the stand or sit thing is to relax and feel more comfortable ;)

Anne Wayman said...

I'm in the stand up while you talk camp... and remember to smile... in fact real phone pros actually keep a mirror so they can keep track of their face, knowing that how they look effects how they sound.

Crystal S. said...

There are other people like me in the world? Nice! LOL I will do anything to avoid the phone.

The standing up trick really works. I used to observe my ex conducting business meetings over the phone and if he was sitting down, he didn't sound nearly as professional as when he was pacing around our small living room. It drove me nuts, but it really did work. Ha!

hbhalepis said...

Jennifer --- thank God I am not alone!

I absolutely hate cold calling and talking to clients. Still, there are some people out there that just want to chat. Thank you for posting this!