Product Design Lessons

Mastering Design Feedback  |   Lesson #44

Win Big in Phone Meetings

Learn to speak clearly and persuasively to make phone conversations that actually garner results.

Part 1: Setting Up for a Meeting

Come prepared

Planning may seem obvious, but ignoring a few key details make you look less professional than being unprepared. Getting ready only takes five to ten minutes.

  • Know who you're talking to: Their name(s) and role(s) in the project.
  • Come to the meeting with a goal. "We're here to discuss…"
  • If you have a computer, bring a power cable — even if your battery is charged.
  • Showing up late and flustered is easy to prevent if you have the phone number or meeting access code ahead of time. It's so simple that if you miss this step, you'll feel all the more foolish.

Limit distractions

Chat. Email. Twitter. Eliminate these from your meeting to give your full attention to your client. Right now, they're more important than kittens on Pinterest. Facebook isn't paying you to design. Another tip: If your meeting room has windows, face away from them.

Prime the call

Set a positive mood right from the start. We begin most calls with an enthusiastic "Hello, this is (your company name)." Any exciting greeting will set a positive — even fun — tone that carries throughout the call. We call it priming.

We're just as pre-programmed to ask "how are you?" as we are to answer, "fine thanks." Make it personal, if possible, by asking about their family or recent vacation — something to show that you're actively interested in them as people. If you don't know them well, try a more engaging question, like "what did you have for lunch?" Unexpected beginnings get everyone thinking instead of going by rote.

Coming into a meeting prepared, limiting distractions and starting off with an upbeat note will make you look like a pro.

Part 2: During phone calls

When it comes to getting feedback, nothing beats a conference in person. But that's not always practical, especially with clients in other cities. Yet something gets lost in phone calls.

Speak slowly

Your brain works faster than your mouth. It may feel strange at first, but slowing down your speech reduces your "ums" and filler words — "like," "you know" — and chance for stutters.

Also try to pause now and then. Short breaks give your listeners a chance to absorb what you just said. It also helps create inflection, a great way to guide your customer through the call. As a bonus, pauses also help prevent "um"s and filler words, while allowing smooth transitions from one idea to the next.

Be someone with whom people want to work

We all have problems and bad days. Leave it at the door. Professional designers bring more than sketches and ideas to the table; they're positive influences. If your client's having a bad day, don't let them bring you down. The more positive you can present yourself, regardless of circumstances, the more clients will enjoy working with you. Each pleasurable experience crucial to keeping clients for the long run.

Exude confidence

People build confidence over time. As time goes on you use past experiences and apply them to new projects. Past experience also helps you tell a better story to customers and get their buy in because you have an idea of how a project might turn out.   

Repeat key points

To confirm that you understand (and to underscore that you're actively interested in the client), repeat your client's thoughts in your own words.

Above all, practice these points. Make them habits. Don't get discouraged — most of us start off slowly.

About the instructor


Ben Gremillion is a Design Writer at ZURB. He started his career in newspaper and magazine design, saw a digital future, and learned HTML in short order. He facilitates the ZURB training courses.