Effective Communication over the Phone

Conversations on the phone can be a fast way of getting things done, but they can also leave room for confusion if you’re not clear about what you want to discuss at the start, and what the outcomes are of that phone conversation.

It is great to chat, but sometimes you might go around in circles. You might also end up seeming to agree to a particular action step, only to find that the person you were speaking to forgot that part of the conversation. This means you might expect something important to get done, but it never materializes.

The best way to handle phone conversations are to plan them ahead of time as much as possible. If you have to make any “cold calls” – that is, call people you don’t know in an effort to try to do business with them, determine their level of interest and ask for a follow-up call at a set time that works for them, and/or an email address where you can contact them.

Don’t try to push ahead like a charging bull. You might just get a no as a result and end up with no opportunity to have a meaningful conversation. People are busy, especially journalists. If you are trying to pitch a story to them, for example, and you ring them when they are on deadline and try to launch straight into your pitch, you will most likely get a “no, and don’t call again.”

On the other hand, if you call and ask if it is a good time to talk, and whether they are on a deadline, they will see that you understand their working conditions and time constraints. If you then explain that you would like to pitch a story, ask when would be a good time to call back, and whether they would prefer the phone or email.

If you schedule a follow-up call, be organized. Jot down talking points prior to each call. Check them off one by one. Make notes as needed.

If you are worried you might miss something, use dictation software such as While it is true that you will only be able to record your side of the conversation, in this way you will at least have your side of things. You can take notes about what they say as needed.

Once the conversation is over, review your notes and type them up so they make sense. Once you are sure you have an accurate summary of what was discussed, send an email thanking the person for their time. Send a copy of the notes that you have made.

In particular, highlight any action steps, deadlines, or follow-ups that need to be taken. In this way, you can ensure that you are on the same page about what was said. You can also ask if there was anything you missed, or anything else they wanted to discuss. Ask them to add it to the email, or arrange another call.

Once they have offered their input, you will end up with a shared document and “paper trail” containing all of the most important points that were discussed in the phone call. You can then use that to track progress, create a new contract, update an existing one, and so on.

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