8 Steps To Actually Get Good At Phone Calls

Remember phone calls? You should, because they are often the best way to get your ideas across. Here’s how to give good phoners.

8 Steps To Actually Get Good At Phone Calls

We can’t hide behind email. Why? Real business relationships are formed in two ways, says entrepreneur-turned-investor Mark Suster: in person and over the phone. The dude knows how to keep a phoner concise and effective-so let’s heed his call to make better calls.


1) Get prepared

You don’t have to be a politician to have talking points in your pocket–or, maybe more accessibly, written down before you make the call. From Suster’s description, it’s prep like how reporters do phone interviews: sketch out the points you’d like to cover, the “ask” that you’re making, and how much time you have. This gives your call an anchor.

The best interviews are conversations, but as Miles Davis might tell you, it takes a lot of preparation to properly improvise.

2) Open with banter

Leaping into your hard “sales pitch” is awkward, Suster observes, so start soft: while you might consider yourself too cool to talk about the weather, asking what the other person is experiencing is an easy way to build empathy and co-investment. But if the rapport isn’t rising, it’s get to business time.

3) Be explicit

Once the banter buffer has been built, transition to the matter at hand–and let the other person know what it is (they can’t read your mind, especially over the phone). Suster says you should say something like “listen, the reason I’m calling is…”–which is as direct as it is useful and helps each of you align your interests.


And if you don’t have a specific ask, you can say something a simple as “I was just hoping to get 10 minutes of your time to tell you what we’re up to so that the next chance we get to meet down the line you’ve got more of an understanding.”

4) Don’t monologue

Yes, you’re excited about your business, but a phone call is a dialogue, not a monologue.

“This is bad enough in person but I promise you if you do it over the phone the recipient will start to tune out,” Suster says, “If you listen closely you’ll probably even hear the tapping of a keyboard.”

To prevent that, you can pause your pitch to ask if they’re with you and maybe gather some feedback–which will make you smarter on your next call.

5) Know your ask

“Don’t ask for four things or you’ll get none,” Suster quips, and your one ask should be obvious, easily achievable.


6) Know the relationship

Don’t ask for a big favor lest you have a tight relationship, Suster says. Your network isn’t just the number of nodes, we’ve learned; it’s the quality of relationships.

7) Know the timeline

Assume this won’t be the only time in your life that you’ll talk to them, Suster says, so you don’t need to fit everything into a single conversation.

“If you cultivate a good long-term relationship through patience, persistence and reciprocity there will be many more occasions,” Suster says, echoing the tenets of scum-free networking.

8) Keep it short

Your reputation is the sum of the interactions people have with you. Phoners are a part of that process, Suster says:

When you think of your relationship with the individual as a relationship you’ll build over time and over many calls, discussions, chats at conferences or whatever you’ll realize you need to be known for being respectful of others’ time. If you’re known as the person who’s always long winded you’re less likely to get the next few calls on the calendar. Less is better, I promise.

Hat tip: Both Sides of the Table


[Phone Call: Everett Collection via Shutterstock]

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.