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Stop Being Awkward on the Phone

Are you a member of the texting generation who's more than a little awkward on the phone? VC Mark Suster has tips for you.
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No one uses the phone anymore, the New York Times declared a couple of years ago and millions of young people shrugged.

Texting? Sure. Chatting online? Of course, but for a certain generation of young business people currently entering the world of work, actually dialling a number is mostly for moms and telemarketers.

But however much the phone may have fallen out of favor for personal use, professionally, the fact remains that every now and again you’re actually going to have to put headset to ear and chances are, with so little practice, you might be a bit rusty at this simple but essential skill.

So how can you make your telephone calls less awkward and more efficient? VC Mark Suster recently offered some tips on his blog that are worth reading in full for every digital native with a slight phone phobia. He’s not talking about anything specialized like interviews or sales call, "I’m talking about simple and quick calls to your business peers, VCs or other players in your ecosystem," he writes. Doing this well is trickier than it appears for many people, he continues, but you can up your chances of getting your business done smoothly and quickly by following this advice:

Prepare! Write your set of bullet points on paper before the call. Write out the reason you’re calling, your key points and “the ask” in advance and your time allotment so you can always refer back and make sure you’re tracking to your plan.

Start informally with banter: Two things to watch for: 1) if you’re trying banter to build rapport but not "feeling it" then quickly shift to business.  Some people just aren’t "chit chatters" and prefer to get on with things. I find that kinda boring, but I know some people are just wired that way. 2) some callers take this banter too far  It starts to border on disrespectful of the person’s time or wasteful of your 15 minutes. Don’t be that person. How long you go for is really a judgment call because there’s no right answer.

Let them know why you’re calling: When you’re ready to pivot the conversation your next line should be some derivative of, "listen, the reason I’m calling is … blah, blah, blah"  25 percent of people or less actually do this. They just talk and I’m not really sure why they called. If you’re calling for a reason, the sooner the recipient knows the sooner they can help.

Don’t hang yourself: One of the other big mistakes callers make is going “off to the races” talking about their business without getting any feedback from the recipient of the call.  This is bad enough in person but I promise you if you do it over the phone the recipient will start to tune out.  If you listen closely you’ll probably even hear the tapping of a keyboard. You can talk for a bit but then seek feedback and make sure the other person is “with you.” When I used to do a lot of recruiting we used to call it “hanging yourself” because people who talk for long periods of time without seeking feedback are generally not self-aware or good at human interaction.

Check out the complete post for several more phone tips and further details on how Suster likes callers to behave.


Do you have telephone anxiety?

Last updated: Jun 27, 2013

JESSICA STILLMAN

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.




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