5 Tricks for Being a Pro at Business Calls

Our generation hates talking on the phone. Hell, we don't even answer it if we don't know the number. But being able to successfully handle business on the telephone is integral to career success. We've got 5 beginner's tricks for coming out on top.

Public speaking is one of man’s greatest fears, conjuring up images of solo spotlights and big auditoriums crammed full of faceless stiffs who speak only in the occasional cough.

But what about phone calls as a form of public speaking? They can be just as intimidating, especially when it comes to making the right business call. Plenty of make-it-or-break-it company deals are made over the phone.

Here are five tricks for being a pro at business calls:

1. Start on a positive note.

Ask them about something specific to the area they are in, like maybe the weather in Portland as opposed to your snowy Philadelphia location. Also, even if the phone call is scheduled, it’s good to ask whether it’s still a good time to talk. You want the person on the other end of the call to feel comfortable. Also, it’s great to be direct; ask the person about his or her business and what he or she is looking for pertaining to your role in the possible partnership.

2. Write down notes.

If you’ve met this person briefly before, write down little quirks you can remember. For example, if you gave them a promotional product, mention it: “Hope you’re enjoying that widget.” This personal touch makes the phone call a little easier when breaking the ice. If you haven’t met them before, it’s good to take notes during the call, especially if you will be doing business with them more often. If they mention something personally noteworthy, write it down.

3. Make a list of three points you want to hit.

You can also call this step a “script,” but you don’t want it to appear that way. You don’t want to write word for word what you are going to say. If you simply have a list of points, it keeps you on track and focused so that you’re not wasting anyone’s time, and it doesn’t sound like you are reading the phone book. You can even practice your “script” before the call to make sure you come across as casual and confident.

4. Always know the goal of the call.

Related to item number 3, you want to make sure you know what you want from the call. How can you achieve a particular outcome? What direction should the conversation go? Plus, if you have a direct point to the call, it keeps the conversation brief (for the most part) and makes it less painful on you and the person on the other end.

5. Don’t feel forced to fill the silence.

Silence can be golden…and painful. If you don’t have an answer to a question or if you need a moment to think through something, take the moment. Or if it’s something you might have to consult others with, politely tell the person on the other line that you have to talk it over with the team.

On a side note: similar to public speaking, some callers use a lot of “ums. . .” and “uhhs” when they speak, which can be distracting to the person on the other line. To get rid of this trait, practice reading a magazine article or pretty much anything out loud. It helps your mind get adjusted to sentences without “uhh”s tossed in.

It’s great to send a follow-up email to the person you speak with, to make sure everyone is on the same page. It’s kind of a nice courtesy, like a post-job interview “Thank You” note. Plus, it gets things down in writing, should there be any confusion about what you spoke about if there are actionable items moving forward.

The double-edged sword when it comes to phone calls versus public speaking is that you can’t see who you are talking to. The best advice is to think of business calls as a little like Catholic confession with a priest: tell them what you’ve done and can do, make a deal with the big man upstairs, and then get out of there.

Megan McLachlan currently resides in the Pittsburgh area where she freelance writes, drinks coffee, and obsesses over popular culture. She was an English major, but doesn't think she wasted her life. Yet. Her blog is megoblog.com.


  • Reply December 7, 2011


    Megan – Great tips. Number 5 is something that often goes over looked.
    Phone calls are like any conversation in business, sometimes by not saying anything you can get the other party to disclose soemthing thay may not to.
    Another thing is be brief. If you can say something in 5 words, don’t use 10. If you think you are going to impress the other party with your command of the English language – your not, you just come off like a jerk. You touched on it, but if its a sales call and you are the seller.
    Make it all about them. Honestly, clients don’t care about how great you are, they care about how your product is going to cure their ills. So ask them about their objectives and frame everything around that.
    Again, great column!, Thanks.

  • Reply December 7, 2011


    I disagree with the recommendation in #1 to ask if it’s a good time to call. For most business people, there is rarely a “good” time during their day to talk. Especially if you’re making a sales call, even if scheduled, you’re immediately giving the buyer/call recipient an easy excuse to avoid your call. In my experience, people will come right out and tell you it’s not a good time.

    Otherwise, generally agree with the points in the article, esp. writing yourself notes to help keep things straight. Nothing’s more embarrassing than getting halfway through a conversation before realizing you’ve confused two clients/prospects!

  • Reply December 7, 2011



    This is in reference to scheduled calls. If the person is looking for an easy way out of the conversation, even when we’re on the phone, I haven’t done my job. Suppose the recipient IS looking for a way out, I’d prefer not to brand my business as “the annoying guy that always wants to talk on the phone.”

  • Reply December 7, 2011

    Megan McLachlan

    I suppose it could go either way! Asking if it’s OK to talk can be good or bad, depending on the person. As a default option, it’s just a common courtesy, I suppose. Good point, though, Jeff.

  • Reply December 8, 2011

    Paul F

    Great stuff Megan. Always know the goal of the call, and keeping good notes are the cornerstone to good business dealings. Nothing worse than the uncomfortable uh’s and ah’s of an unprepared caller.

  • Reply December 13, 2011



    Great tips. As I read them I realized these are things my VP does on the phone all the time. “How are you guys handling the heat/cold out in DC?” That’ll break the ice every time.

  • Reply December 13, 2011

    Megan McLachlan

    Thanks, Troy! Yes, the weather topic may be cliche, but it’s timeless. It always works as an icebreaker!

  • Reply December 28, 2011


    #1: Asking me if it’s a good time to talk is friendly and courteous. These days phone calls should be used as a last-resort communication option: they’re extremely disruptive and inefficient. If you ask I’ll almost always say it’s fine to talk, because at this point my concentration has already been interrupted so I might as well talk for a couple more minutes anyway.

    On the other hand, bringing up the level of snow is a great way to infuriate me from the very start of the conversation. Already I know that you don’t value my time at all and I’m just about ready to hang up the phone. Get to the point or get off the phone.

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