Monday, June 17, 2013

Tips for Client Telephone Interviews

It's not a common practice, but a number of clients are using telephone interviews as a step in their procurement process. It saves money but can cost you plenty if you're not prepared for the special nuances involved in making a good impression over the phone.

There are a number of drawbacks in doing telephone interviews, the most significant being the lack of visual contact. This eliminates nonverbal communication, which comprises over half of the message sent and received in face-to-face conversation. It's important to take steps to compensate for this missing element in your dialogue with the client. Here are a few tips:

Do "blind" rehearsals. Phone interviews are variously constructed depending on the client's preferences. But most offer you the opportunity to prepare in advance, whether it's making a brief presentation or responding to questions that are revealed in advance (or that you anticipate being asked). Much as you would in rehearsing for a typical shortlist interview, you want have team members practice delivering their message or response. Only in this case, the audience should be sitting facing the opposite direction, hearing the speakers without the benefit of visual contact. This enables them to better sense how it will be experienced by the client.

Tip: Better still, do your rehearsal over the same speakerphone you will be using for the interview, with your test audience listening in from a different location. That's a truer test of what the client will hear, and can help you identify the need for steps such as better mic positioning or removing background noise.

Vary your voice tone. A monotone delivery should always be avoided, but it's particularly annoying when heard over the phone. Without the benefit of facial expressions, it's up to voice tone to give your words context and feeling. Make sure you sound enthusiastic and confident, but avoid speaking so loud that it garbles your voice at the other end.

Tip: Stand up. Use body movement and gestures as if the audience was present in the room. This will naturally give your voice tone a boost. (A good quality wireless headset is recommended.)

Punctuate your points. In coaching presentation teams, I often have to encourage them to add "contours" to their talk. This involves giving your presentation a clear structure, with key points easily distinguishable from supporting information. This is particularly critical in a telephone interview, since without visual feedback the key points can be readily missed. 

Tip: One simple way to accomplish this is to enumerate your key points. For example, say, "There are five primary steps we will take to ensure cost control. First... Second... (etc.)."

Periodically review what you've said. A reasonable amount of repetition is advised to increase your audience's retention of your key messages. You should identify 3-5 key messages in advance of the interview, critical points that you think are most important—and that you want the client to remember after the interview.

Tip: At every transition in your talk or conversation (junctures when you move from one topic or segment to another), quickly review the main points of the last segment (or the previous segments).  

Be concise. This is another universal principle of good communication that is especially important over the phone. People are more likely to tune you out or be distracted when listening over the phone versus in person. Don't give them a reason to by saying more than needs to be said.

Tip: Make this a point of focus in your rehearsals: Getting to the point without unnecessary elaboration. Have your test audience listen for wordiness and point out where the message could be delivered with greater efficiency.

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