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Advice / Job Search / Networking

5 Conversation Starters to Make You Sound Less Awkward on the Phone

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Talking on the phone can be awkward. I mean, in all seriousness, who really calls each other any more? While you may still dial up your grandma every now and then to check in, the age of phone calls has definitely diminished. At least in your personal life.

So what do you do when you have to make an important professional phone call, but you haven’t honed your small talk phone skills?

If you’re introverted (like me), these interactions can feel even more uncomfortable. I’ve been known to wince during phone calls even when they’re going well. But, I’ve learned some tips and tricks from awesome professionals that know how to build a rapport from the first hello. Over time, their advice has helped me to relax into a conversation.

So, next time you have a call for work, try incorporating some of these go-to conversations starters. They can help you set the foundation for a positive conversation, and soon, you’ll be conversing on the phone with ease.

Talk About Today

A lot of us start phone calls with a generic, “How are you?” But adding one little word to that sentence turns a default phrase into a meaningful question. Instead, say, “How are you today?" By narrowing the scope of the question, you increase the likelihood that you’ll get an engaging answer. After all, it’s tricky to answer those big, general questions with someone you don’t know very well. Get specific, and the conversation will evolve naturally from there.

In Practice:

How are you doing today?

How is your day unfolding so far?

Anything new happening today?

Mention an Industry News Trend

Instead of diving straight into the agenda, take a moment to bring up a piece of news that’s relevant to both of you. You’re offering value and an exchange of ideas before you even dive into the purpose of the meeting. Maybe there’s an industry blog post that resonated or a recent merger that’s the talk of the industry. Plus, this approach shows that you’re tuned into what’s going on in the world.

In Practice:

I thought of you when I saw that big New York Times article this morning about travel in the Maldives. It was so interesting. Did you get a chance to read it yet?

Are you headed to the conference in Houston next month?

What did you think about the news that Instagram changed its algorithm—again?

Ask About Their Work

So many professionals spend their days running in and out of meetings. They’re lucky if they have a minute or two to process what’s on their agenda during the work day. Digging into what someone is focusing on gives them the opportunity to reflect and digest before they switch gears to your call. Plus, it will give you interesting insights into their day-to-day that could become useful at another time.

In Practice:

Are you still leading the new education initiative? I know that’s a huge project.

Have you been tackling anything fun this week?

What’s the next big project down the line for you at work?

Chat About the Company

Whether you’re interviewing for a new position or pitching a prospect, do research on the company beforehand. Follow the organization (and specifically their HR team) on social channels for inspiration. For example, maybe you noticed that the company had its holiday party a few days beforehand or celebrated a colleague’s five year anniversary. These are fun icebreakers to bridge an awkward introduction and show that you resonate with a company’s culture.

In Practice:

Your team get-togethers always look so fun on Instagram. Does your office do bagel Fridays every week?

I saw on Twitter that your CEO just celebrated five years at the helm. That’s really exciting. Did you celebrate the work anniversary?

I was really impressed by the new rebrand. I love the font of the logo. Were you involved in that at all?

Keep it Practical

When you’re really nervous, stick to the basics and focus on the practical. If you set up the conversation through a scheduling app or dial-in, briefly touch on that process. Check-in and make sure that the people you’re calling can hear you clearly on the line. It may seem dull, but it shows you’re invested in the other person’s experience and you take the conversation seriously. It will also give you a moment to gather yourself before diving in.

In Practice:

I realized might have been a new dial-in method for you. They have this pesky requirement that you download the app. Did you manage it okay?

Can you hear me okay? My service is a bit patchy sometimes.

Thanks so much for arranging the call. Let me know if you have any trouble hearing me at all.

These conversation starters are just the beginning. The more you practice feeling comfortable on phone, the less likely you are to seem awkward every time you pick one up. Start with these tips, and ask some of your friends for their ice breakers, too. Everyone (and I mean everyone) has struggled with phone calls at some point—we all benefit from brushing up on our conversation starters now and then.

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