Tips to create an authentic, meaningful connection with someone the first time you speak to them over the phone.
Living in a world that becomes seemingly more and more “connected” every day also means that your first connection with nearly anyone does not happen in person, but virtually. Depending on your lifestyle, this could be the case in your personal life as well. That is why it is so important to learn how to make a strong first impression when speaking with people on the phone. Today, introductions via phone and video conference are increasingly becoming the norm and, as we’ve all noticed, this trend has only been exacerbated by COVID-19. Some readers may feel as if most of their introductions happen via Zoom or Microsoft Teams, and while this article is not about how to look “prim and proper” on a Zoom call, these tips and best practices will still help you create a positive, lasting impression on a video meeting as well.
Another reason why it is so critical to make a strong impression is that you could be missing out on huge opportunities if you don’t. What if, sometime in the future, an opportunity came along for you to work on a big project with this person, but they won’t return your calls because they don’t remember talking to you six months before? People will not remember what you spoke about, they will remember how you made them feel (if they even remember you at all). And if your first conversation was as interesting as a saltine cracker, who could blame them for not wanting to speak to you ever again?
The good news is that there are things you can do to be intentional and authentic in creating a meaningful connection with someone the first time you ever speak to them over the phone. As an advisor with Zweig Group’s mergers and acquisitions team, I typically make and/or take about 100 phone calls in any given week, many of which are with people I have never spoken to before. This experience has given me many opportunities to learn what to do (and perhaps more importantly, what not to do) to make a strong first impression in these situations.
Here are a few ways I have found that help to create a favorable impression when speaking to someone for the first time over the phone:
- Come prepared. Even if it is just a quick Google search five or 10 minutes before the call, do some research on the person or people you are about to speak to. What is their name and title? What firm do they work for? How long have they worked there? Has their firm released any news lately? Do you have any mutual connections on LinkedIn? Have they written any articles recently? You get the idea.
- Ask meaningful questions to get to know them. Your time is certainly valuable, but that doesn’t (and shouldn’t) mean you can’t take five minutes to be human. Make small talk that is not about the weather (this is the default topic of meaningless chit-chat; the goal is for your conversation to be meaningful). If you completed the task outlined in my first point, this will be easier. Hear a dog in the background? Ask what the dog’s name is. Where are they taking the call from? Where are they from originally? What do they do on weekends? What sports teams do they follow? You might be surprised how much you have in common with them.
- Motion creates emotion. If you are about to fall asleep on the phone (or sound like you are), the other person will not only be able to tell, but they will likely match your same energy as well. Stand up and walk around the room. If you’re on Zoom or Teams, make eye contact. Talk with your hands. Write your notes on a big white board instead of your notebook. Project your voice (if you aren’t disturbing others around you). Go into the conference room instead of taking the call at your desk so you can move around. Motion creates emotion, and making a lasting impression on someone requires that you make some kind of an emotional connection.
- Repeat their name throughout the call. Everyone loves the sound of their own name. Not only do people love hearing their name, but repeating it on your call will help you commit it to memory at the same time. It also proves to them that your call together is not some boiler-plate elevator spiel, and that it is important to you that you are speaking with them specifically. You don’t need to say it so much that you sound like Apple’s Siri, but saying a person’s name several times throughout your conversation will make a big difference to just about every person you talk to.
- Smile, and don’t be afraid to laugh. When you smile, your brain releases tiny molecules called neuropeptides to help fight off stress. Even forcing a fake smile can legitimately reduce stress and lower heart rate. As I mentioned above, the person you are speaking to will almost certainly match your energy level while on a call, it happens to some extent on essentially every phone call as a natural part of human empathy. Simply smiling and having a positive attitude on a call will be infectious and even change the behavior of the person you’re talking to as well, which will lead to a more enjoyable (and more memorable) conversation for both of you.
- Schedule a follow-up. Send them an interesting article after you talk that pertains to the conversation you just had. Ask them if they want to grab coffee or happy hour in a few months. It doesn’t have to be right now; leave it open-ended. Even if they live in another city – people travel. This gives you a reason to follow-up later, and also shows that you enjoyed the call and would like to continue building a relationship with them. It doesn’t even have to be in-person. Just ask them if it’s OK to check in in a few months and put a reminder on your calendar. This small gesture will often be the difference between one nice call and actually making a meaningful connection with someone that lasts over time.
John Bray, CM&AA is an advisor with Zweig Group’s M&A and executive search teams. Contact him at email@example.com.