The client conference call: what consultants, trainers & thought leaders may be doing wrong–and how to fix it

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Synopsis: How are we perceived by listeners—say, our clients—on the other end of conference calls? How do we show up and make impressions—indelible first impressions—on those who make our livings possible? In my work, I participate in countless speaker-client calls, and this post is born from that experience.


If you’re a consultant, trainer, or thought leader who schedules conference calls to strategize live events or meetings with larger audiences, you well know the importance of delivering content from your clients’ points of view. What you may not fully appreciate is that customers are listening long before you step into the larger spotlight—during preparatory conference calls.

As the owner of a speaking agency for nearly two decades, I often participate in calls between clients and speakers. Why take the time? Because these conversations offer a treasure trove of back-door R&D. And they provide crucial windows through which I learn more about client culture, needs, team dynamics, and pain points. I listen for both what’s at stake at the pending meeting—and for future needs.

As a result, I have a front-row seat to these client-speaker exchanges.

And I gotta tell you: too many miss the opportunity to shine here, on the fringes of the limelight.

It’s easy to take a somewhat casual approach to these virtual meet-ups. After all, you already have a contract, right?! Yet these calls are not only about discussing plans and how you will align with them.

An unspoken truth: they are also a way for clients to affirm their choice in you. These conversations may be the first time many or all on a client team have heard you speak in real time, depending on where the business originated. So the ball is in your court to be prepared with a level of vigilance you may apply when preparing for the contracted engagement itself, whatever it may be in your world.

In an effort to suggest a more rigorous approach, I offer here five subtle and not-so-subtle ways to improve word choice and adjust your point of view to nail these calls. In doing so, you’ll bring more focus on what listeners care about as you further position yourself as the thought leader you are. These calls—while essentially set up on your behalf—are really not about you; they’re about those on the other end of the line.

  1. Arrive early.

If you modify only one conference call behavior, dial in a couple minutes early. This simple act has a two-fold impact: we know call-in systems can be problematic. What if your access code doesn’t work, or your cell phone has a hiccup? Extra time brings peace of mind.

As important, I know clients are positively gleeful when they call in to find contractors already on. The vast majority of the time, I see speakers dialing in late. So why get off to a negative start when a powerful, positive remedy is easily available?

  1. Perform as the thought leader you are.

Depending on where you’re at in your career, you may well be perceived as a thought leader. Thought leaders communicate effectively, succinctly and with conviction. They deliver proven credibility, niched expertise, an extensive following, and a commanding presence. Thought leaders’ word choice greatly matters, and clients are all ears to hear you. You will further solidify clients’ perceptions of you when you adjust even a few key words to be more authoritative (not to be confused with egotistic).

This in part requires excising words like “try,” “kind of,” “maybe,” “hope,” “just” and “could”—weak words I overhear on nearly every speaker-client call. Replace them with power words. For example:

  • “When I deliver my keynote, I’ll try to…” becomes, “This opening session will fully hit the mark because I will deliver on your top three messaging goals in my program.” (Thank you, Yoda, who knows there is no try, there is only do.)
  • “At this point in the program, I’m kind of thinking I could break people into pairs. What do you think?” …when expressed in the words of a thought leader who knows to speak with authority…becomes, “At the half-way mark, I know people are craving interaction, so I recommend breaking participants into pairs so they immediately start applying this pivotal takeaway.”
  • “I hope your attendees will be able to communicate more effectively” is made stronger with, “Participants will learn a three-step process for improving communication that other groups have said is the most practical part of this session.”
  1. Strike “excited.”

Just as more commanding word choice influences listeners’ perceptions of your credibility, so does how you express your emotions. Of course clients want to hear enthusiasm and passion for your topics and want the opportunity to feel them along with you. How can you parlay your delight in ways that speak more directly to what clients care about—and less what you care about?

In short, your excitement matters not. What matters instead: your ability to show and tell how you will help them meet their most important goals.

Let’s put some rather trite words and expressions into a “passion-translation” machine, to uncover phrases that focus instead on what listeners care about:

  • A predictable, tired comment, “I am excited to come to your conference,” will be seen as more credible and engaging when worded with your audience in mind: “I will share some success stories that will give your managers tools they can use immediately to boost sales from top-tier customers.”
  • Translate “I love Orlando” into, “Your attendees in MarComm will find a case study I’ll share about SeaWorld directly relevant to their challenges in managing a global PR challenge.”
  • “I can’t wait to talk to your group” becomes, for example, “Client feedback from similar groups confirms how participants love the interactive sessions I customize for specific roles.”
  1. Get extra credit for your homework.

Does it surprise you that some don’t come to a call well prepared? Unfortunately, that’s too often been my experience. Yet a little extra prep speaks volumes for your commitment to success.

At minimum, read client websites, find LinkedIn profiles of those on the call, and uncover background on the event (almost always available through a web search, even if you haven’t yet received this material from the client). Who presented last year? What’s been recently posted in the company’s virtual newsroom? Who are their main competitors? Mention a couple of these learnings on the call, and you’ll be seen as a true business partner who clearly cares about your role in the event’s success. I find these habits surprisingly rare.

  1. Be succinct.

If you ever present in front of groups, whether formally or informally, it’s easy to view a conference call as an event stage of sorts. Yet it’s not. It’s an intimate, credibility-building or credibility-dashing space. While on calls, I’ve heard versions of, “I speak for a living, so I may just keep talking at length on this call. But I’ll try not to!”

If you know you have a tendency to speak without checking in with listeners—especially when on audio-only calls with no visual cues—then train yourself to communicate your ideas more succinctly. Consider recording some calls so you know how you sound, and where you may want to improve.

Clearly, our short time with clients on pre-event calls matters much. With a few thoughtful adjustments, we can make each minute matter, and position ourselves as even brighter stars—long before we step into the spotlight.


This piece first appeared in the July-Aug. 2016 issue of SPEAKER Magazine