Telephone conferences

„So let’s make a telephone conference?“ Na klar, sehr gern! Telefonkonferenzen gehören mittlerweile zum Alltag der Geschäftswelt. Gerade in international tätigen Unternehmen finden sie oft auf Englisch statt. Das kann selbst bei sehr guten Sprachkenntnissen eine große Herausforderung sein, besonders wenn Sie die Konferenz selbst moderieren oder protokollieren. Aber wenn Sie die Ruhe bewahren und sich gut vorbereiten, können Sie die Sorge um die Sprache vergessen. Mit unseren Tipps organisieren und leiten Sie auch eine „telephone conference“ problemlos.

Who would have thought that the humble telephone would take on such an important role in the modern office? Yet most professionals engage in telephone conferences on a weekly basis and routinely communicate with business partners over hundreds of kilometres as an alternative to the face-to-face meeting. Let’s look at how you organise conference calls.

As a chair person at a telephone conference

As the chair person:

  • Introduce yourself and state the purpose of the meeting.
  • Introduce the other participants and allow newcomers to say something about themselves so that the listeners can recognise their voices. Obviously, this is only possible when the number of participants is limited.
  • Otherwise, make sure that everyone introduces himself before they take a turn to talk.
  • Try to choose a positive, confident person to start. Somehow, the loss of facial gestures and other body language has to be compensated for. Voice quality (whether positive and energetic or monotone) will be the first impression the other group has. Get off to a good start with a buoyant participant.
  • Summarize what is being said for everyone’s ben efit at regular intervals. If the participants are not all native speakers, the strains on those people will be much higher than at a meeting.
  • At the end, there should be time allowed for summary and checking understanding/agreement.
  • Any kind of back-up in written form, such as an e-mail with what worked well, what didn’t work and how this can be improved, will be a bonus to creating the right atmosphere in the next call.

Active listening

It may be that you feel quite happy to listen and assume that this is enough. However, silence on the telephone is nearly always perceived by the listener as a failure in communication. Without actually interrupting the flow of the dialogue, there are several ways of signalling that you have either understood, such as uh-huh, I see, OK etc. On the other hand, if you are struggling to keep up, either for acoustic reasons or with respect to content, step in to ask for clarification such as:

  • Sorry, could you repeat that?
  • You think we should what, sorry?

There is a difference between active listening and interrupting. Turns at speaking are normally shorter in Britain and America than in Germany. It is actually considered rude in the US and Britain to hog the floor for too long without signalling that you are interested in the other person’s reaction.

Pace yourself

The voice is the key instrument you have on the telephone, therefore it is worth perhaps knowing a little about intonation in English if you regularly have to participate in English conference calls. Intonation is not simply a haphazard melody graft ed onto grammar – it is responsible for giving meaning to what you say. Although it is not necessary to project your voice as if on the Shakespearean stage, slowing down will be important. Articulating words more clearly, pausing, stressing key words and simplifying complex content helps. If telephone conferences hit the right note, they should be something like a cross between a presentation and a meeting. Recording yourself can be an interesting way to see how you really sound. Try putting it on the agenda of the next conference call!

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