July 1, 2015

Mistakes Americans Make on Conference Calls

Often Indians blame themselves for not being able to understand the American counterparts, when there are clear cases it's the American's fault for not speaking clearly enough.  

Often Indians feel they are the ones who need all the training because they are not classifying themselves as 'native speakers,' and therefore not good communicators in English. While, yes there are some weak communicators in India, there clearly are weak communicators in the US, too. Being a native speaker in ANY language doesn't qualify one automatically as a good speaker in that language. In this post I share 5 mistakes I have heard Americans make on conference calls.  

Before diving into the points, note Americans also refer to Canadians, people from the UK and other nationals who consider themselves native speakers of English. 

Speaks in Thick Accents, Uses Slangs or Idioms  
Once, I met a British business person and we were talking about British accents. I asked him, "Can you understand all British accents?" He laughed and said no, and followed that by educating me on various accents in the UK and Britain. While now it seems quite obvious that it would be true, at the time, it was a shocking revelation to me. It's clear to me that accent reduction can help us understand each other better whether we are talking to people from our own country, other native speakers or foreign speakers of "our" language. Additionally, the use of idioms or phrases is so natural for a native speaker of any language, it's hard to know when we are using an idiom. Please become aware of your language and make it as plain as possible to attract an international audience that doesn't speak English as a first language or doesn't know American English idioms (idioms vary from country to country). 

Speaking Too Fast 
We are not asking anyone to speak like a robot, but we are hoping that people can speak at a pace so that people from other areas of the country or world can understand with more clarity. Often there are conference calls with international participants from more than two countries, some of those participants speak English as their first and only language, and some do not. 

Speaking in Long, Complex Sentences 
Everyone can benefit from the KISS principle, which I expand with the words Keep it Simply Simple! The most complex thing in the world is to simplify things. When one person speaks for longer than 4 or 5 minutes on a call in long, winding sentences (longer than 12-15 words, using filler words or connector words), listeners will tune out and get bored or get tired from listening. Listening is an active activity, and for non-native speakers can be even more taxing. And, on the phone, all we have to go by is voice. With an absence of non-verbal in-person cues, listening can be twice as taxing for your participants on the phone. 

Not Testing the Equipment or Understanding of Acoustics 
Just recently I overheard a conference call where an English native speaker was speaking on a conference call. To me, it clearly sounded as if she was using a speaker phone that was sitting on a desk, possibly sitting in a room with other people and sitting far from the speakerphone. It sounded as if she were in a tunnel. She did not know how to project her voice properly, and it was hard for international participants to hear. What complicated things is that native speakers from other countries did understand her (maybe they have known each other longer, and understood each other's tones and pitches better), so those who were not non-native speakers could not understand what she asked. 

Bending into the Call 
When a person doesn't have good posture or breath, they will not sound clear and may speak too fast. I have heard this on quite a few calls, too. Possibly, a person who has not been participating in the call for ten or fifteen minutes has been asked to participate and is now bending into the table speaks. Now they will not sound clear as they are constricting the air in their abdomen or their neck. This will impact clear communication. 


Jennifer Kumar helps your US and foreign colleagues communicate more clearly in professional and global contexts. Training programs on Meeting Management and Phone Skills can be delivered to your US-based American native English speaking staff as well as the Indian counterparts or other non-English native speakers on your team. View the links for more information or contact us today. 

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