Conference Confidence: How to Master Business Conference Calls in English
They say the trick to facing your fear is to turn it into something fun… but that’s easier said than done!
Especially if you’ll need to be using your business English skills at the same time.
But in this post, I’ll show you how to make it easy and enjoyable. I’ll walk you through each step of a conference call, with essential business English phrases to use.
So let’s hang up those phone fears!
- Why Are Conference Calls So Important?
- What Exactly Happens in a Conference Call?
- What to Do Before the Conference Call
- How to Master Conference Calls in Business English
Why Are Conference Calls So Important?
Conference calls are a staple at any workplace, especially those where workers are scattered all across different locations. They might be used to:
- Solve an important issue
- Connect employees with their clients
- Discuss marketing strategies with several people
- Showcase a presentation and receive feedback
These calls save enormously in travel and accommodation expenses for the company. They also allow sudden issues to be tackled quickly and efficiently.
Today, conference calls are often conducted online with video conferencing. You can see the other callers via video and can share documents at the click of a button.
What Exactly Happens in a Conference Call?
I’ll answer this question by sharing the experience of my first ever conference call, which was typical of many you’ll encounter.
I’d recently joined as a graphic designer for an NGO that had several different offices. The members of the creative team were scattered across those offices, so the head designer decided to do a conference call.
The purpose of the call was to introduce us to the team and give us our first few assignments. We’d received prior emails confirming the date and time of the call.
As soon as everyone was on the call, the head designer welcomed us and asked us to introduce ourselves, which we did in alphabetical order.
She then proceeded to discuss the details of the company and job specifics and was open to questions. Then she gave each of us some simple poster design assignments with deadlines. After clarifying that we didn’t have any other questions, the call was closed.
Barely 15 minutes later, we received emails summarizing the details of the meeting as well as an editable Excel sheet containing our assignments.
The duration of the call was 50 minutes.
And no, it wasn’t scary at all.
What to Do Before the Conference Call
First, check that the technology is alright. If you’ll be using your phone, check your network and ensure your battery is fully charged. If the conference call is online, make sure your internet is already connected, fast and stable.
If it helps, you can plan out the conference call on paper and jot down (write) all the important points you want to cover. You want to feel prepared to participate. After all, it’s a discussion!
However, remember to also be a polite and attentive listener. You can have a pad ready to take notes on what others are saying.
Another source of stress is the fear of not understanding what’s being said. To prepare for this, try listening to this audio lesson from EnglishClass101, which is based on a business presentation.
If you prefer videos, look for TV shows set in offices, or perhaps TED talks to get a better feel for professional English. Some virtual immersion programs streamline the process. FluentU, for example, takes clips from authentic English videos and adds interactive subtitles that let you look up unfamiliar words as you see them. The program has a dedicated section for business-related content.
With preparation, you’ll hopefully feel a lot calmer. Otherwise, you can also try breathing exercises to calm yourself before the call.
How to Master Conference Calls in Business English
Before the call officially begins, you’ll likely hear questions like, “Is everyone on here?” or “Can you hear me?”
You can respond with a simple “yes.”
Usually the boss or whoever’s initiated the call will lead the discussion, and may ask for the other listeners to introduce themselves (particularly if they’re not familiar with one another).
When it’s your turn, keep it short and simple. State your name and your position. Try not to exceed two sentences.
For instance, you can say:
“Hello, everyone. My name is James Stuart and I’m the Marketing Executive at Acme Communications, San Francisco branch.”
Introducing the Subject
You’ll have to do this if you’re leading the conference call.
First, confirm that everyone is on the line, then briefly introduce yourself and allow others to introduce themselves, as discussed above.
After that, state the subject or the agenda of the conference call very clearly. You can use phrases such as:
- The purpose of this call is…
- Our agenda today will be…
- I would like your input on…
- I’ll be asking questions about…
“I’d like to clarify that the purpose of this call is to discuss the new marketing strategies for launching the fall 2018 collection.”
Deciding the Speaking Order
If there are more than three or four people involved, setting a speaking order will help avoid confusion or interruptions.
For example, participants can speak in alphabetical order. Whatever you choose, it’s important that the order is clearly stated in the beginning so that people are prepared to speak when it’s their turn.
So for example, after you’re done introducing the subject, you could add:
“We’ll follow an alphabetical speaking order. We’ll begin with Mr. Baldwin, followed by Mrs. Brown, Mr. Chatterjee, Ms. Evans, Mr. Richards, Ms. Stalling and Mr. Yaxley.”
When It’s Your Turn to Speak
As noted earlier, make sure you’re well prepared before the call! Write your main points on a sheet of paper and refer to it, if needed. Make sure it has a clear beginning, middle and end.
For instance, you can begin with something like, “Hello everyone. As the Marketing Executive, I have three suggestions for the project.” Then mark your three points with “first,” “second,” and “third” as you discuss them.
Finally, sum up with a positive sentence. You might want to mention key benefits/advantages of your approach. For example:
“So to sum up, by implementing these three strategies we can achieve a significant sales boost and build a stronger relationship with our customers.”
Try Not to Interrupt… But If You Must, Here’s How
If you disagree with something or have an objection to make, try not to interrupt whoever is currently speaking. Instead, wait for your next speaking turn. At that point, you can say:
- I’d like to raise an objection to…
- I disagree with…
If the conversation has already moved to a new topic, you can return to your objection by stating “I’d like to backtrack (return) to [topic].”
However, there’s always the chance that you might not hear or understand what someone else has said. Here are some useful phrases to stop the conversation and get clarification:
- If you couldn’t hear several words or sentences: “I’m sorry, I didn’t get that. Could you please repeat what you just said?”
- If there was a specific word you don’t understand or recognize: “I’m afraid I’m unfamiliar with that term. Can you explain it?”
- If you need clarification on an idea: “I’m sorry, I don’t follow you. Could you please explain that again?”
- If someone is speaking too fast or incoherently: “Can you speak a little more slowly, please?”
In short, try to be courteous. And when you’re speaking, you can allow for some clarifications after you’re done. For instance:
“Before we move on to the next speaker, I was wondering, does anyone need any clarification on what I just said?”
Ending the Call
Once everyone’s done speaking and all clarifications have been addressed, the conference call should end with a summary of what was discussed.
If you’re leading the call, you can say:
“Thank you everyone for your time. In this discussion, we covered the following points…”
You can even take short notes during the call itself to better remember what everyone said.
It can also be helpful to discuss solutions or plans for after the conference call. You might end your summary by saying, “After hearing your points, I feel the best course of action is to…”
But if you need to think things over, don’t be afraid to say so! For example:
“Thank you for all your input. I’ll let you know my final decision on this topic by email within a day or two.”
Once that’s done, thank your listeners (preferably by name if there are fewer people) for their time and sign off.
Once again, don’t panic! Prepare your input, check your phone/internet connection, keep the keywords and important phrases in your mind and when it’s your turn, take it slow. Even if something goes wrong just apologize and continue. Take the opportunity as a challenge, believe in yourself and you’ll be absolutely fine.
Archita Mittra is a freelance writer, artist, educator and a self-taught Italian speaker. Feel free to check out her website or contact her for freelancing inquiries.