Many people don't realize how tense they become in phone conversations until the end of the day, when they have splitting headaches, sore shoulders, and upset stomachs. To minimize such unpleasant symptoms of phone fatigue and to keep your voice sounding alert and positive, learn to register and respond to early warning signs of tension. If your neck and shoulders feel tight, get up and do some stretching exercises. If your vocal cords and facial muscles begin to tense up, yawn once or twice and take a break of a few minutes to breathe from the diaphragm.
One of the best ways to improve your telephone personality while reducing tension is to walk and gesture as you talk. Verbal and nonverbal fluency go together. People are slower in selecting and articulating words when stationary than when in motion. In addition, a stationary speaker usually has a static voice one with little variation in pitch, tone, pace, or volume. Variations communicate emotions, including enthusiasm, warmth, excitement, involvement, and interest; without them, your voice sounds dead.
A related phone technique is to keep a mirror handy for periodically checking your facial expression. Literally put a smile on your face before making each call. The physical act of smiling can change both your voice and your mood. During calls, check your expression occasionally, looking for furrows, frowning, and tightened lips. Again, physically adjusting your facial expression can help you act the mood you want to project and may even change your mood to conform to your more relaxed expression.
Telephone Tip 2: When you leave a message whether on a machine or with a person leave your number as a matter of courtesy but keep the initiative for calling back on your side of the line.
Some telemarketing mavens take this piece of advice a step further and counsel against ever leaving a number. They reason that leaving a number leaves you open to getting an important call back at a time when you are psychologically and intellectually unprepared to do your best. They are right there's nothing more unnerving than having the important person you've been trying to reach all week call you back just as you return from a jog or emerge from the shower. But never leaving your number puts you in the position of initiating a game of phone tag and does not give the person on the other end of the line the opportunity to call at a time that is psychologically and otherwise good for him or her.
Additionally, not giving a number may seem discourteous or unprofessional, especially if you are specifically asked to leave one.
On the other hand, never expect calls to be returned simply because you have left a number. Instead, provide your number but also indicate your intention to call back at a given time or within a specific interval: "This is Mary Caye at xxx xxxx. I'm calling to follow up on the letter I sent last week and would like to arrange a time to meet with you. I'll try calling again later today." When you follow through as promised and still get an answering machine or intermediary, do not give up (remember the magic number, three). Again leave a message and indicate that you plan to call the following day or early the following week. If you are talking with an intermediary, ask when a call would most likely get through.
Telephone Tip 3: The early bird often gets the worm.
When you have repeatedly tried to reach someone during normal business hours (which vary from industry to industry), without success, try calling a half hour before or after normal hours. You may, of course, risk interrupting time set aside for desk work or collection of wits, but if you acknowledge the possible inconvenience good naturally, you will usually get beyond ill humor quickly. For example, you might say quite honestly, "I'm glad I was able to reach you. I know I'm probably disturbing the only quiet moment of your day, but I'm very eager to talk with you and promise not to take more than a few minutes of your time." Then keep your promise even if the other person seems eager to go beyond five minutes, bring the call to a close. "I really appreciate the time you've given me, but I promised not to take too much of it. So I'd like to break now and set up a time for us to meet in person."
Weekends and holidays are also good times to try contacting elusive people on your list.