How to be a conference call guru – understanding vocal cues

With conference calling being such a useful business tool, it may already be an important part of your working week. With experience, conference callers pick up certain tricks and tips that help boost teleconferencing success, but there is no doubt that conference calls come with their own unique challenges. In a face to face meeting, you can see your clients’ and colleagues’ body language, but in a conference call, much more is left to the imagination.

Of course, this may not seem like too big of an issue, and the benefits can certainly outweigh the cost, but body language is important – it can account for up to 55% of how we communicate. Therefore, when you’re making use of conference calls, it can be a good idea to pay attention to vocal cues, to make sure you aren’t misjudging people’s feelings, which could cost your business. When you’re just figuring out how to recognise these, it might help you to record the call, and go over it later, picking up on possible clues that you had on the way. This may be easier at first in retrospect, when you have a clearer understanding of the outcome and how people were actually feeling. Eventually, though, these things will become second nature, if you learn to pay close enough attention.

If you are hosting the call, whether it be as a potential employer, pitching your business to a client, or in another professional capacity, there is a good chance you will have to do a good deal of the talking. You may have a lot to explain, and a lot of good points you want to make about why your business is such a good one. However, you need to listen out for clues that the people in the call might need some points clarified, or to be reassured about certain issues. Behaviours that might indicate this include nail-biting and pen-chewing, so if you can hear strange nibbling going on in the background, or people sound as if their mouths are full when they speak, give them a chance to explain what might be on their minds. Also, if anybody is speaking more quietly than usual, this can also be a key indicator, and you may want to ask them if they have any particular concerns or questions at that point. Try not to focus all your attention on your own voice and message, as you will get more out of the call the more perceptive you are of other callers thoughts and opinions.

Other indications that somebody may be feeling unhappy or uneasy for some reason include clearing the throat, or even whistling. If you can hear their voice getting quieter as they move away from the telephone, or they seem to be taking shorter breaths than usual, these are also signs of some sort of uneasiness. Again, pause and give the participants a chance to speak out about what might be bothering them. This will help increase productivity, participation and your colleagues’, employees’ or clients’ happiness with the call, and your company as a whole.

People can also become bored and distracted during conference calls, particularly if it is a long call. Being miles away, and hidden behind a phone, can allow people to start browsing the internet, texting and so on, without much worry about being caught. You need to listen out for boredom so that you get a chance to reel the participants back in and keep them excited about the topics being discussed, and engaged and participating in the conversation. If somebody is leaving long pauses before speaking after being asked a question, or you can hear pens doodling, computer keys tapping and a mouse clicking, consider whether somebody has grown weary of the call, and think about how to bring them back on board, or alternatively, whether it’s a good idea to be working with them at all!

Of course, we don’t assume there will always be negative responses to look out for! There are signs that the people in the call are really pleased with what’s being said and how the teleconference is going, and you can take definite encouragement from these. If somebody seems to lean in towards the phone, if they make encouraging or appreciative noises (like ‘mmhm’, ‘uh-huh’, ‘wow’, ‘ahh’ and so on), you can feel like you’re doing a good job. Similarly, if you hear a smile in their voice, obviously you should take some reassurance, and if their voice sounds warm, friendly and at ease, you know you are doing things right. Make sure you take advantage of their positive response and good mood, and keep doing what you’re doing!

Don’t forget, though, that you don’t have to be a virtual mind-reader. Nothing beats asking a participant how they feel about something, whether they like how the teleconference is moving along, if they have any doubts and if they like your approach. This is also a good way to make sure participants are staying engaged in the conversation, and getting a chance to speak up. So, pay careful attention to what people are telling you without words – and what you’re telling them in return.

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