From your tone of voice to camera angles, we've got you covered.

By Caylin Harris and Maggie Seaver
Updated September 25, 2019
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Credit: Abbey Lossing

The art of the professional phone conversation may not be quite as relevant as it once was—especially with email and instant messaging becoming many people's main mode of work communication—but sometimes a phone or video call really is the best way to communicate at work. How do you know whether or not something's worth a verbal conversation (that can't get done through a productive, in-person meeting)? Easy: A call should be scheduled when you can’t meet face-to-face with someone or the topic is too long for email (over three paragraphs). Here are three things you can do to make sure your next work phone/video call goes as smoothly and effectively as possible.

1. Be physically engaged.

You don't have the luxury of conveying emotions and intentions through facial expressions, so it all has to come from your tone of voice. Smiling and hand motions come through in your voice, so try to be as involved physically as you are mentally. Vanessa Van Edwards, author of Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People ($12;, likes this trick when she’s on calls for work: She pulls up the person’s LinkedIn photo and talks to it, making her feel more present.

2. Do some prep work.

If it’s your first time talking with someone, jot down a few notes beforehand. Start with the person’s name and any details about them you already know or gathered from LinkedIn. Being aware of someone’s background and interests, especially those relative to your upcoming conversation, can set you both at ease and help conversation flow.

3. Minimize visual distractions.

Chatting via Skype or other video call platform? Melody Wilding, a licensed social worker and career coach, recommends sitting in front of a plain wall and making sure the camera is set at a flattering angle. When speaking, look into the camera instead of at your image. Place a small sticky note with an arrow above the camera as a gentle reminder. If you have the time, it's smart to get yourself and your tech set up early (if you booked a conference room, make the start time 15 minutes before your scheduled chat). Calling—or having to answer the call—late due to technical issues is always a drag.

  • By Caylin Harris
  • By Maggie Seaver