Sounding Credible on a Conference Call
No doubt you already know just how important credibility and professionalism are in business interactions. Conference calls present great opportunities to establish your credibility - even where you don't entirely deserve it! Other participants (who might be far more experienced or senior than you) have much less data to form their judgments about you - sometimes just a voice down the line plus what they hear about you from the chair or yourself. They won't see the suit you are wearing, the car you are driving, the office premises you work from or the grey hair you don't yet have. They will often form their judgments based on the quality of your teleconferencing techniques, rather than how good or experienced you might be in your field.
Most business people are very casual about conference calls and hence don't prepare for them. Be different! A little preparation goes a long way.
Since you only get one chance for a first impression, write out or practice any reports you need to give. Anticipate questions or concerns and prepare for them. Remember you have the advantage that nobody can see if you are relying heavily on notes, so have all the facts and figures at your fingertips.
There are a few things you can do before the call starts to ensure you are "positioned" in the right way in people's minds.
- Ensure your name, title and other details are correct on any contact lists or agendas. The organiser might still have an old business card and there is a big difference between Associate and Associate Director!
- If appropriate, ask the chair to circulate your credentials or Web site address with the agenda or prior to the call.
- Ask the chair to introduce you in a particular way. It's often a good idea to write down exactly how you want to be introduced (this also applies if you introduce yourself). This is quite natural by e-mail and if you feel a bit awkward just explain that it will be helpful for people to know how you fit in when they address questions to you.
Naturally the way you perform on the call will have a huge bearing on people's perception of you. Most of this book is designed to improve your performance, but here are a few things that will particularly help with credibility.
- Learn and demonstrate best practice conference calling etiquette, as we've described earlier. By following these practices you will immediately establish yourself as highly professional - and experienced, even if you are not!
- Be assertive and straightforward. Be polite but don't be too apologetic or timid. Avoid sarcasm and aggressive or passive-aggressive behaviour.
- Err on the side of professionalism when you are first dealing with people. You will have plenty of time to prove what a funny bloke you really are once they have come to accept you. Don't cover nervousness with humour - it usually doesn't work and will make you more uncomfortable.
- Avoid swearing unless you know the people well.