Prepping Clients for Conference Calls
By Rob Howard & Phil Wade
Copyright © Phil Wade & Rob Howard 2017
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This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment. It may not be re-sold or given away to other people. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
Rob Howard is the owner of Online Language Center, a live online course for C1/C2 level students. He is a teacher, tutor, trainer, material designer and writer for ESL/EFL. He is also a consultant and has been a frequent speaker internationally regarding online retention as well as using technology in and out of the classroom.
He is the founder of EFLtalks, utilizing social media to build a worldwide PLN+ for new and future teachers through free 10-minute videos by education experts. Rob is also developing ‘The Teachers’ Video Glossary’ which is an online reference guide to pedagogical terminology.
His latest venture is the newly formed ‘Business Language Training Institute’ where he and 3 other educational professionals provide low-cost Business English teacher training for English teachers new to the Business English market.
Phil Wade is a Business English teacher, coach and author of over 20 ebooks including the BESIG David Riley award winning ‘Presentation Lesson Hacks’, the ‘a 10 minute intro to Business English Teaching’ series and is co-author of ‘10 Quick Prep 1-2-1 Business English Activities About Work Life’ along with Noreen Lam.
Kati Bilsborough has been drawing, designing and making things since a young age. After getting a degree in Interior Design, and doing an internship with a design company, Kati decided to explore other areas of design including Graphics, Web Design and Illustration. This led to creating ELT ebook covers for numerous writers and organisations, one of which won the BESIG David Riley award for innovation. She is currently working on original artwork for a primary coursebook and is designing materials for an online English course.
Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @bilsdesigns and on [+ Facebook+]
The idea behind this series was to create a series of short and very niche ebooks on specific events that 1-2-1 Business English teachers, trainers and coaches help clients prepare for.
1. To understand native speakers
Some business people participate in conference calls with native speakers on a weekly basis, especially ones who work in large international companies. Clients can be communicating with 2, 3 or more people in numerous countries during a single call. Being able to understand and follow these native speakers can be a challenge for those clients only used to talking to non-natives.
2. To understand non-native speakers
English is a world language and the number of non-native people speaking English now outnumbers that of natives and will continue to rise. However, not all non-natives use the same kind of English or speak in the same way, presumably on account of L1 influence on what they say and how. This creates difficulties for clients only accustomed to speaking English with people from a single country who all share the same variation.
3. To recognise and use appropriate jargon
A major part of business English is vocabulary. It is important for clients to know the ‘jargon’ related to their jobs that their colleagues use. Otherwise, they risk missing important points in conference calls and getting left behind. Using such jargon is also necessary to enable clients to ‘talk the talk’ with their peers, to sound professional and to get things done using the right words. If they utilise basic terms they risk sounding like an outsider and it could lead to confusion as people try to figure out what they mean.
4. To be able to use correct body language
Some claim a lot of communication is conveyed non-verbally. In a conference call situation, where the screen view could potentially be limited to only the face and shoulders of attendees, transmitting the same message with your words and visible body is essential. This is not an easy skill to master though as it requires clients to focus hard on what they are transmitting and how it is interpreted.
5. To be capable of managing miscommunication
People have communication issues even in their own language but when using another and dealing with various cultures, there is a higher chance of problems. Some people are also not great communicators, shy or just are not accustomed to the conference call format. Add on technical problems such as sound quality and you have a potential recipe for miscommunication disasters clients must navigate to succeed in their conference calls.
1. Problems and solutions
Tell the client to identify and write down the problems they usually encounter during conference calls with native speakers on a piece of A4 paper. Then ask them to share their list and next individually brainstorm a list of solutions on another piece of A4 paper for 1 minute. At the end, read through the list of problems again and elicit and offer some of your own solutions for each. Discuss them and select the best 1 for each problem and ask the client to write them down on the problem sheet so they have a list of problems and corresponding solutions.
Search on the internet for a podcast or recording about the client’s industry or job by a native speaker and play 10 seconds of it on your phone, tablet or computer. Elicit how much of it they understood and, what they did not and why. Ask them to try 1 or more of your brainstormed solutions and play it again. Once it’s finished, discuss how successful they were and rate the strategy. Next, decide which strategies they will use in future and how. Make a list of them and select a future date to review their progress.
2. Slow it down
Explain how each language has its own differences in pronunciation, structure and grammar based upon their own sound matrix and language structure. Also how each speaker has their own idiolect and way and style of speaking. Convey how important it is to be able to adapt to these so as to be successful in communication in a conference call.
Elicit the people the client has conference calls with who cause them communication problems. Next, draw a stick man or woman on a sheet of paper to represent each person and give them a fun name like ‘Manager Mike’ or ‘the IT man’. Ask the client to write the specific aspects of each person’s communication that creates difficulties for them such as speed, intonation or non-RP pronunciation of words.
Ask the client to demonstrate each problem for you until you can emulate it. For example, talking too fast. Next, choose a simple conference call topic, talk about it and slow your speech down until you find the level the client is most comfortable at then do some dictations. Gently increase the speed with every sentence until you reach the one they have issues with. Work on it and then increase the speed a bit so they can get to cope at a level even higher. Use this same process for training the client to get accustomed to the other difficulties is a step-by-step manner.
3. Personal learning dictionary
Elicit what industry magazines, newspapers and websites the client reads related to their job. Ask them to bring some to class for you to use. In the lesson, tell them to go through some of them and to underline any key words they hear or read a lot of, both ones they know and don’t. Colour code in green the language they are used to, and red for the unfamiliar language. This will help to demonstrate progress in the client’s future as they refer back to their personal dictionary.
Explain that a good way to understand and then be able to use this jargon, is to start a personal learning dictionary by adding jargon words they come across at or beyond work in a notebook or on their phone. They can write L1 definitions and copy and paste examples if they want. Say that they must pay attention to new ‘buzz words’ as well as essential daily job vocabulary jargon. Next, ask them to draft a rough version of their first dictionary entry on a piece of A4 paper or on their phone and discuss the layout and how they can revise, practice and ultimately learn the jargon. Share strategies that have worked for you and your students but do not impose them. You need to select ones that work for the client.
4. Mind and body harmony
Ask your client to talk about the basics of their current job. Take notes of their body language and add your interpretations of the meanings. For instance, for you is pointing rude or a demonstration of determination? After they finish, share your notes and discuss any differences in interpretation that come up between you and them. This is often cultural so be careful to just highlight differences and not to get into the idea of ‘better’ or ‘worse’. Where cultures are concerned, there is just ‘different’.
Explain to the client that you want to body language can affect the message you want to convey. Tell the client to ask you several questions about your first job. Answer the questions but use the wrong body language. For instance, use aggressive hand gestures, shrug your shoulders like you don’t care and cross your arms. When you’ve finished, elicit what body language you used and what message they received then give your perspective and discuss what you should have done to match what you said. Next, ask the client for several topics they talk about or questions they regularly answer in conference calls. Brainstorm what body language such as hand, shoulder and head gestures they should use to emphasis their answers. After that, ask the client to try them out and comment.
5. Miscommunication management
Explain to the client that you want to test how they manage unhelpful speakers in conference calls. Tell them to ask you an important question from their last call and to take notes from your answer. Listen to the question then talk too fast, avoid important information, speak informally, ask strange questions, talk over them, make bad jokes and play down the importance of the topic then just stop.
Next, elicit what strategies the client used to navigate the conversation. Did they ask for repetition or confirmation, push for answers, adapt to the informality, politely ignore strange questions, leave longer gaps to reaffirm the turn taking, laugh at the bad jokes and/or stress how important the call was? Make a list of all the successful ones on a piece of A4 paper and add some more of your own. Roleplay a conference call where you both have to convey information about previous lessons. Take turns being a difficult speaker and managing the miscommunication. The goal is to get as much information as you can from the other person.
1. Listen to related podcasts
The web is packed full of useful podcasts for training purposes. For example, I had a Brazilian accountant, an advanced speaker, who had trouble understanding native speakers using accounting terminology as they spoke so quickly. We found many podcasts where the speakers were discussing accounting practices. In taking the time to listen carefully, she was soon able to understand 90% more during calls.
2. Listen to accents if dealing with other foreign speakers
There is a wealth of YouTube videos online. My Brazilian accountant had trouble understanding her Chinese counterpart during conference calls. We found many YouTube videos by Chinese speakers discussing mathematics, law and accounting practices. In taking the time to listen carefully, she was quickly able to understand 80% more of the recording by training her ear to the appropriate accent and understanding where their pronunciation differed. Movies can also help with this. With Netflix, you can see many nationalities speaking in English and train your ear.
3. Review appropriate vocabulary for the subject(s) to be covered
Tell the client to find the subject of the conference call in advance, then to do a vocabulary review and practice the structures by using the language in real conversation. This can be done using their personal dictionary, meeting pre-notes or even emails sent prior to the lesson highlighting the topic(s) to be discussed.
4. Online conversation practice without camera or using WhatsApp or the phone
Some companies still use the ‘phone only’ conference call method due to costs which makes it impossible to view these other communication indicators. How better to practice a ‘blind’ conversation than do one…or more. If you use Skype or another platform with a camera, turn it off. I like the flexibility of WhatsApp or Facebook messenger, both without camera. The more you can recreate the conference call setting, the better the practice, the more experience and comfort the student will gain and the more confident and successful they will be.
5. Review general communication skills and intercultural customs
Reviewing the basic skills is a nice exercise for newbie conference callers. Cover phrases like ‘let me confirm, let me be sure I understand, let me review the facts, do you understand as I’ve explained it, do you have any questions, let’s review step-by-step the next moves’. I also like a method I call the “Action Checklist”. I train my students to make an action checklist and read it back at the end of meetings. It has caught on in some companies and is a great relief from intercultural problems whereas some cultures will “yes” you to death and not ask questions so they don’t lose face. This gives a mild yet effective method to make sure everyone is on the same page and to confirm the points of the conversation without any possibility of embarrassment.