Recently, one of my students told me she was having difficulty when she spoke to people on the phone at her work. She felt that people didn’t trust her and her expertise. Even though she spoke English well, she still had an accent and noticed that people would treat her differently on the phone because of this. She asked me if I could give some tips to help speak clearly on the phone.
Obviously, the person you are talking to on the phone can’t see you and so doesn’t have visual cues and body language to help them. You are only relying on creating a good impression using your voice and speech, so the way that you speak is very important.
The following tips apply whether you are answering the phone at work, ringing up to apply for a job, or speaking on the phone generally.
Tips to speak clearly on the phone
1) Speak slowly
Even native English speakers can’t be understood if they speak too quickly on the phone!
Speaking slowly makes you instantly much clearer. This also gives you an opportunity to pronounce the sounds in your words more clearly.
Speaking slowly may seem obvious to you, but often people have great difficulty putting this into practise. People often feel embarrassed to speak slowly or think they are speaking slowly, but it isn’t slow enough. This is especially important if your native language is spoken more quickly than English, for example Spanish and some Indian background languages.
Secret: Your listener won’t notice you are speaking slowly (and won’t think you are being stupid), they will just notice that they can understand you.
When people have to strain to listen to you they get tired and don’t want to listen.
How to do this?
Write out what you want to say.
Practise saying it clearly and slowly in front of a mirror. This gives you feedback and you become more comfortable and confident speaking at this pace to speak clearly on the phone.
You could record yourself speaking at different speeds and see which is the clearest and then practise that speech rate.
If you work at a particular company, say the name of the company slowly so people don’t miss it.
2) Choose one thing and use it
This means choose something you know you don’t pronounce clearly in English when you speak on the phone and practise changing it.
It may be a sound or a word.
If your native language is an Asian one, just by making sure you pronounce the end sound in every word will make you much clearer. Write down what you are going to say on the phone. Get a marker pen and put a line under the end consonant ofevery word. Practise saying what you have written slowly at first so you say every end sound. Then speed up but make sure you don’t forget to still say all the consonants at the end of the words.
If you don’t pronounce ‘th’ properly, write down what you want to say on the phone and practise saying any ‘th’ words correctly till it becomes flowing and automatic.
Just by changing one element you will immediately become clearer. Every single change you make, no matter how small, makes your English pronunciation clearer.
3) Learn the phone etiquette
You will notice that people have their own telephone styles and tend to answer the phone in different ways. This is fine when you are talking to family and friends. When you want to speak clearly on the phone in other situations, it is important to find out how people usually say things in the situation. How do they phrase things? What combination of words do they use?
This will make your speech more easily understood, and also will make the person you are speaking to more comfortable and so trust you more.
For example, in some Chinese background languages people may answer the phone or ring you up and say “I am Suzie”, because this is the way it’s said in their background language. This is confusing if you are trying to be clear in English.
In English we would say ‘Hi, it’s Suzie here; or Hello, it’s Suzie speaking.”
Notice the way people answer the phone or greet you when they speak to you on the phone and practise that.
Notice what words they use and the phrases they use. Write them down and practise them.
This may sound funny, but if you smile while you speak on the phone you will sound friendlier and warmer on the phone. When we smile our mouth shape changes and so does our vocal tone and resonance. You don’t need to smile the whole time you are speaking! Smile when you say the first sentence. If you are at work and are asking how you can help the caller, smile. When you say goodbye, smile.
Enjoy practising to speak more clearly on the phone.
Want to get specific training for speaking English clearly on the phone? Learn how to speak clear, confident British English in the workplace with my British Business English ebook.