Skype. MegaMeeting. Face Time. SightSpeed. Tinychat. ooVoo. Pidgin. Google Talk. Nefsis. WebEx.
If you’re in business it’s highly likely that you’ll be using one or some of these tools. Skype alone is used by 35% of small business as their primary communication service.
You might be using these programs for person-to-person calls, interviews, conference calls, instant messaging or recording audio files.
Technology today is wonderful. That doesn’t mean, however, that conferencing calling in a foreign language is easy. In fact, the experience can be agonising for non-native English speakers. Even if your written and conversational English is excellent you may struggle over the phone or during video conferencing, and feel alienated from the call.
Some of the problems you encounter during conference calls are:
Poor sound quality.
Difficult subject matter or topic.
Large number of participants all wanting to have a say.
Ineffective leadership during the call i.e. your boss or chairperson doesn’t ensure that everyone feels they can participate.
Cultural difficulties – use of complicated idioms and differing senses of humour.
In addition to the added stress of presenting yourself professionally on camera.
Many of these problems are beyond your control. Here are some of our tips on what you CAN do to make conference calls a less stressful experience.
BEFORE THE CALL
1. Learn the software you’ll be using inside out, and practise using it.
2. Make sure you’re somewhere quiet to take the call.
3. Prepare thoroughly. Look up some of the vocabulary that you anticipate needing. Make sure that you’re absolutely confident with whatever it is you’re going to have to talk about, or present during the call. Maybe you can even do some background research so that you feel well qualified to give your opinion. The British Council has some great resources for practising your conference call skills.
4. Practice some key words. Particularly if you’re going to be asked to speak, run through some words and phrases with a colleague who’s a native speaker. You need to make sure your pronunciation and intonation is really clear, particularly for conference calls when the sound quality might not be perfect.
5. If it’s available get a copy of the agenda so that you can follow the structure of the call. This will help you to anticipate some of the language you’re going to hear.
6. Before you begin ask your boss, or the person leading the call to make pauses between points.
7. You can expect to hear the following phrases before the call gets started properly:
‘Are we all on?’ (Checking if everyone has joined the conversation)
‘Can everybody hear me?’
‘Did everybody get the agenda?’
‘Let’s keep this short.’
‘We’ll just wait a few minutes.’
‘Sorry I’m / we’re late.’
DURING THE CALL
1. If there’s a problem, say something. Politely ask the leader to speak more slowly and clearly. If there is background noise, ask for the source to be removed before continuing with the call.
2. Ask for clarification: Check that you have understood by asking questions.
3. Some useful sentences:
‘Could you speak more slowly please?’
‘I’m afraid I didn’t get that’
‘I don’t follow you’
‘Could you explain that in another way?’
‘I’m sorry, I don’t understand the word … What does it mean?’
‘Could you repeat that?’
‘[your name] speaking. Can you repeat / that?
‘[your name] speaking. Can we take a break?’
‘[your name] speaking. I need to leave for ten minutes.’ ‘[your name] speaking I’m back on line’
TIP If you use “a bit”, “a little”, “quite” or “very well”, in your sentences you soften your meaning and sound more polite.
4. Useful phrases to make yourself noticed:
“Can I just come in here?” and “Can I add something quickly?”
“I´d just like to add something”: ‘Just’ and ‘quickly’ tell everyone you will be brief.
If someone interrupts you should say ‘Just let me finish.’ or “Can I quickly finish?”
5. Help your colleagues by speaking slowly, loudly and clearly. Remember that the Internet connection or call quality may not be great which can lead to confusion and stilted conversation.
You can say ‘The line / connection is very bad today’ if this happens.
6. Anticipate features of spoken conversation: “Uh”, “Right”, “Uh-huh”, “Um”, “Like”, and “You know” i.e. fillers that will disrupt the flow of the conversation.
7. Use names: Try to address everyone by their first or second names. This will make you sound confident and well informed.
8. Use the modal verbs could, can, may, would. This makes your speech sound more formal.
‘Could we discuss the situation with our buyer in India?’ ‘May I just point out that there are cheaper options.’
9. If you get really stuck, use the Instant Messaging, or Chat service (if available) to try and make yourself clear.
10. Don’t forget about eye contact and facial expressions. You’re on camera!
11. And finally: Focus on your knowledge and don’t let your insecurities stop you from communicating.
AFTER THE CALL
- Give feedback to the call leader: Let them know how your colleagues can help you during a conference call.
For example, ask your English speaking colleagues not to use idioms, colloquialism, slang or cultural expressions that don’t translate easily.
- Ask to have the call transcribed or recorded so that you can check that you followed everything that was said.
Some vocabulary you might come across during a conference call:
Absent: Adjective, to not be present.
‘A number of the team are absent today.’
Address: Verb, to formally talk about something.
‘There are a number of issues that we need to address today.’
Adjourn: Verb, to stop something until a later date.
‘I suggest that we adjourn now and talk about this matter next time.’
Agenda: Noun, a list or schedule of matters to be dealt with.
‘First on the agenda is whether or not to give everyone a bonus.’
AOB: Abbreviation, (Any Other Business) an item on the agenda where miscellaneous or random points are dealt with.
‘Well that’s everything important covered. Any Other Business, anyone?’
Hold on: informal, to wait.
‘Hold on, I’ve got another call waiting, I’ll be right back.’
Hang up: informal, refers to literally putting the phone down and means to finish a call.
‘We’ve covered everything we needed to talk about so I’m going to hang up now.’
Wrap up: to conclude, or to finish something successfully.
‘Good, that’s everything. So to wrap up, Alice will be in charge next week and any complaints should be forwarded to her.’
Turn over: Verb phrase, to show that it’s someone else’s turn to speak.
‘I’d like to turn the conference over to…[someone’s name]…now.’
Log in: Verb phrase, to enter or sign into a system.
‘First log into Skype, then join the group chat.’
For more useful phrases, vocabulary and tip on English for meetings, take a look at this site.
What do you think is the most challenging thing about conference calls in English? Share your experiences with us!
About the Author: This post comes to you from Natalie, English Trackers’ current intern. After graduating with a degree in Classics and English from Exeter University she moved to Beijing for six months to learn Mandarin.
Photo credit: farouq_taj & Leo Reynolds via photopin cc
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