We live in a digital age where so much of what we do is now conducted online, through an app, or via text / email. However, it’s a mistake to assume that because of that, the phone doesn’t matter as much anymore. Indeed, it matters more because the stakes are higher.

Nowadays, if someone is taking the time to either make a call (or even answer a call), it’s usually because what’s at hand is too complicated and/or too important for anything else except a real-time, in the moment conversation. In other words, this is not a phone call you can mess up.

Over the phone, all we have is our voice. We don’t have the back-ups of facial expression and body language to help us communicate effectively. That’s why perfecting your phone voice is so essential to success.

Communicating effectively over the phone is three-pronged: what you say, how you say it, and how well you listen. Take away any one of these elements and communication fails.

In this article, I’ve decided to focus solely on the second prong—how you say it—and here’s why. You can be the greatest listener in the world and have the most wonderful and compelling things to say, but if the person you’re speaking with can hardly stand to listen to you, you’re toast.

Here are my top 10 tips for perfecting your phone voice:

  1. Listen to yourself. The only way to gain an objective understanding of your phone voice and where it needs work is to record yourself. The very idea makes most of us cringe, but it’s the best way to learn and improve.
  2. Position your mouthpiece correctly. When you record yourself, experiment with holding your device at different angles and distances to find the best position for optimal sound.
  3. Speak from your diaphragm. When you speak from your diaphragm, your voice is in its most natural and powerful state. This way of speaking also causes the least strain on your voice and is the most pleasant one for others to listen to.
  4. Breathe. People who speak from the diaphragm breathe from the diaphragm. When you pause to take a breath between sentences, it signals that you have something important to say and worth listening to.
  5. Be in a good mood. People can hear your mood and people like friendly voices the best. Fake smiling doesn’t cut it. People can hear your real mood behind the fake smile. So, do what you need to put yourself in a good mood before you make that important phone call!
  6. Good diction. If the person on the other end can’t understand you, it really doesn’t matter how friendly or pleasant your voice is. There’s nothing more annoying than having to say over and over, “Can you repeat that?”
  7. Good pace & volume. People who talk too fast are irritating because we can’t understand them and our minds can’t keep up with what they are saying. People who talk too slowly are irritating for the opposite reason. Talking too loudly or too softly also irritates the listener. Figure out where your voice lands on these spectrums and course correct.
  8. Good vocal energy & inflection. Have you ever called someone and immediately knew that they were tired or run down? Alternatively, have you ever called someone and could immediately tell they had way too much coffee that day? There is a sweet spot to vocal energy that everyone must find. However, do not allow your voice to remain monotone. Inflection is also important. Monotone voices put us to sleep.
  9. End your sentences strong. Some people have a bad habit of trailing off at the end of sentences. Others sound like they are continually asking a question. And sometimes people don’t finish their sentences at all, as if they’re half-expecting you to do it for them. Ricky Gervais has made a career out of poking fun at these people! It’s important to finish a sentence strong, at the same level as when you started. To do otherwise undermines the confidence your listener has in you.
  10. Beware of your “Ahs and Ums.” If you were to count how many times you said “Ah” or “Um” or “So” during a conversation, you would be astounded. These are words we fall back on when we are trying to come up with the next thought or idea. It’s better to just simply pause without saying anything at all.

Perfecting your phone voice is really about honing your vocal ability as a speaker overall. This skill will help you not only over the phone, but in person as well, not to mention public speaking and speaking for the media. It’s a skill I strongly believe every business should invest in teaching to their employees and one that should also be taught in schools, because it is such an essential life skill.