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Your Telephone Voice

By: Joni Wilson

The telephone, especially the cell phone, is your lifeline to your world—professional and personal. Over the phone, we fight, profess our love, close huge business deals, lose large sums of money, receive good news and, too often, receive bad news. We discuss and decide on some of the most important events in our lives over the telephone. Our conversations can often be emotional, extremely stressful and very challenging to our voices.

Is it any wonder that all of this talking—especially if it is emotional or stressful—can lead to a very tired voice at the end of a long working day? There was a time when we could leave our telephones at home and escape the constant barrage of words coming at us. There was also a time when we could give our voices a rest, listen to music and relax while driving to and from work—but no more. Now, our work goes wherever we go, and no excuse is acceptable for not answering an emergency phone call or avoiding an emotional confrontation at work.

How to Make an Impact on the Phone
To create the perfect business telephone voice, it’s important to keep in mind that for most of us, the telephone is predominantly an audio device. Even with text messages and video cameras, hearing is still the dominant sense used when we communicate over the phone. You can do business with people over the phone for years and never know what they look like.

The man in accounting with that low, masculine voice may instantly bring to mind an image of Matthew McConaughey, but he may actually look more like Mr. Whipple squeezing the Charmin. The nice woman in shipping whose gentle, helpful voice reminds you of your favorite aunt may actually be an ogre in person, but you formed an instant rapport with her and that has helped immensely when shipping problems come up. Your only link to her is as a faceless voice on the other end of the telephone.

Thus, the opinions you form of the person you are doing business with are based on one thing only-that person’s voice.

It is vital, therefore, that you project the correct voice image. The point is this: The sound of your voice over the phone instantly creates an image of who and what you are and how well or poorly you will interact with the person on the other end of the line.

Remember, the telephone only transmits the voice; it does not enhance it.

How important is a good telephone voice? If you are a salesperson, it can make or break your income; if you are a candidate for a job and trying to get your foot in the door, it can be the difference between getting the interview or not. That’s how important it is.

Bottom line: Your voice is your most effective business tool, especially during the first few minutes of a cold call. Let’s face it. If clients are turned off by your voice, it’s hard to keep them on the telephone long enough to get their attention or their order.

They Had You from “Hello”
We all have a natural telephone voice personality; that is how we recognize each other by a simple hello. It can be either an asset or a detriment to your business image. I have a girlfriend whose natural telephone voice is very breathy and sexy. It’s interesting because when you talk to her in person, her voice doesn’t sound that way at all. Some connection between her and the telephone instantly turns her into Marilyn Monroe. Can you imagine the image she creates? It wouldn’t work for me, but it seems to work well for her.

I have a client whose natural voice personality is short and very businesslike. She becomes a butter-would-melt-in-your-mouth, warm personality when the telephone rings. I also know a man whose natural voice personality is very stern. Yet he uses a gentle, fatherly voice on the phone, especially when he speaks to women. Whether we are aware of it or not, we are already blessed with multiple personalities—and voices—when it comes to the telephone.

How to Create a Telephone Voice That Sells Your Message
Now let’s look at some of the major problems you may encounter in your everyday telephone interactions. To begin, let’s take a reality check of your telephone voice personality. I need to emphasize the word telephone, because just like my friends, many people completely change their voices when their hands reach for the receiver. How we hear ourselves is seldom how others hear us. By the time the voice has traveled out of your mouth and floats back to your ears, it can become distorted by the traveling space. Even recording your voice is not an accurate sample of your actual sound, especially on a small recording device.

Here are two simple exercises to help you hear what everyone else hears when they call you on the telephone.

Record Your Voice Exercises
Settle down in a nice, quiet place where you will not be disturbed for at least 30 minutes, and please turn off your cell phone. Pick up your favorite book, a magazine or the local newspaper and begin reading any page aloud into your recorder, speaking just as your favorate news anchor would When you have recorded at least 15 minutes of material, listen to your voice as if it belonged to someone else, keeping in mind that even the best performers are very critical of their own voices.

Exercise 1: Write down what you like and what you don’t like about the voice you hear. Be as honest and objective as possible. Then analyze your voice. Is it too soft, monotone, slow and drawn out, harsh or high pitched? Is it emotionless and boring, too muffled (no articulation) or too nasal? This exercise will help you get to know your voice better so you can pinpoint those areas that need improvement.

Exercise 2: Next, let’s see how you sound on your answering machine or voicemail system. Everyone who calls you will hear this voice. Put yourself in the ears of the person on the other end of the telephone and be honest about what you hear. Does the voice you hear sound warm and friendly, detached and cold, intelligent and trusting, mature, sympathetic, impatient or angry or—last but not least--sexy? Ask yourself, “If I heard this voice over the phone, would I want to do business with him or her?” I hope your answer is yes. If not, try again.

Warming Up the Cold Calls
Now that you have an idea of what you sound like on the other end of the telephone, here is a list of things to do to help you improve your business telephone voice.

1. Take a moment before you make a call to analyze the reason for the call and the reaction you would like the person on the other end to have. Go over the characteristics and qualities you want to send through your voice. Always keep your own motivation in mind.
2. Say your name right up front or the person on the other end may miss your first two sentences trying to figure out who you are. This is a good business practice even if you think they'll recognize your voice. You may catch them at a busy moment when you’re not on their mind.
3. Put a smile on your face before you pick up the telephone. If your voice is cold and unfriendly, a smile will not only make you feel better, but it will instantly lighten the sound of your voice.
4. If you are leaving a message, say your phone number slowly, pausing between the numbers, at the beginning of your message. Repeat it again at the end. If the person misses it once, she or he will have another shot at it.
5. Take a few pant-breaths if you find your voice becoming tense and choked in the middle of an emotional conversation. Tension in the voice is easy to identify.

When you feel that lump coming up in your throat, politely say, “Excuse me a moment.” Cover the receiver and do a yawn-sigh—Haaaaa. Then take a few pant-breaths and come back to the conversation with a relaxed, controlled voice.

Excerpted, with permission of the publisher, from The Voice of Success by Joni Wilson. Copyright 2009, Joni Wilson. Published by AMACOM. For more information, visit www.amacombooks.org

About the Author(s)

Joni Wilson has been a top voice and performance coach for over 18 years. She is president of SalesTalkBiz™ International, a training company that teaches voice communication skills to corporate professionals.