Successfully leading or participating in a conference call can be challenging, even in your own language. You can have multiple people speaking at once, technology that can (and will) malfunction – and the difficulty of interpreting tone without seeing body language. Add speaking and listening in a second language, and conference calls become that much harder.
Here are our top 5 tips for being confident and clear on English conference calls, so you impress colleagues and get the outcome you want.
1. Learn key phrases before the call
English conference calls have their own jargon. Review key phrasal verbs beforehand and get familiar with the idioms.
Key call-related phrases
- To call back = To call someone after the call has finished
- To hang up = To end the call
- To cut in = To interrupt
- To put through = To connect someone to the conference call, usually when a colleague or secretary is calling in on someone else’s behalf
- To hold on = To wait
- To join in = To participate
- To get back to = To return to a topic or person at a later time
- To mute = To silence your microphone so other participants can’t hear you
If you’re leading the call, it’s also helpful to prepare phrases for dealing with difficult situations or disruptive people.
Key phrases for managing difficult situations and people
- I’d like to hear what other people think
- If nobody has any better ideas, how about…?
- Thank you for your comments – we’ll take them into consideration
- We have a lot to get through and time is short
2. Consider cultural differences
Even if everyone’s speaking English, conference call etiquette differs from country to country.
Americans, Germans and Swiss, for example, tend to be direct, jumping straight into the matter at hand. In Japan and South Korea, this approach is considered rude, with participants circling round an issue first. Italians tend to have less structured conversations, and it’s common to include wider subject matter during the call.
Before you dial in, look at who is leading and who else is participating so you can prepare your approach and anticipate how the call might flow.
3. Focus on listening – and remember to summarize
The less you talk, the more you can focus on listening and understanding. And that means actively listening rather than getting distracted by your computer or smartphone. This is especially important if figures, statistics and data feature heavily.
Before you make a comment or answer a question, wait 3 seconds. This gives you time to formulate an intelligent response and cut out “ums” and “ahs”, making you sound more authoritative.
If you’ve spoken at length, finish by summarizing your point and then ask if everyone has understood.
Key opening and closing phrases
4. Take notes in English
Often people take notes in their native language. This is a mistake. You waste valuable brain power translating, which distracts you from listening. Plus, if you need to discuss or write about it later, you don’t have to translate your notes back into English.
Don’t bother writing down everything everyone says. Instead, focus on the important words and phrases in a sentence – and on any numerical data.
It also helps to develop your own abbreviations, for example, “co” instead of “company”, “biz” instead of “business”, “GPM” instead of “gross profit margin.”
5. Ask for clarification (not repetition)
Don’t be embarrassed to ask about something you don’t understand – most likely you’re not the only person struggling to follow the conversation. The secret: ask the person to clarify.
If you ask them to repeat, they’re likely to say it again without slowing down or using simpler language. Asking for clarification encourages them to reframe what they’re saying, giving you a greater chance of understanding their meaning.
Try this 3-step strategy for seeking clarification
- Ask once for repetition
- Ask for clarification
- Repeat it back to check your understanding
Key phrases for requesting clarification
- I didn’t quite catch all the data you just mentioned. Could you explain it again, please?
- I’m afraid I don’t quite follow you. Could you clarify that, please?
- Forgive me for interrupting, but…
- I’m sorry, but I don’t understand the word “liaise.” What does it mean?
Are conference calls becoming increasingly important in your role?
Our business English courses can help you become a more effective call participant and leader – so you impress your clients and work more efficiently with colleagues to achieve your goals.
Past students have won lucrative deals, qualified for promotions and secured overseas transfers thanks to our practical and skills-orientated approach.
Zoe Flaherty, Founding Director of The Language Grid
Image: © Roberto De Riccardis