Here are some tips to get the most out of phone conversations. Whether you are looking to recruit members or talking to voters in far-flung electorates, these are some basic guidelines…
It can help your confidence to familiarise yourself with the topic you are engaging people around. This doesn’t mean that you have to be an expert – for example if you are encouraging people to get active about climate change you really don’t need to know all the science of climate change or the technicalities of renewable energy.
Just be interested in your topic and find out what actions make a difference, and the rationale for the actions you ask people to take. Chat with other volunteers about how they communicate with people. What have they found works well? What kinds of issues come up a lot?
Work on a strong opening
Try not to sound like a salesperson in a call centre. There are a few basics to help you break into the conversation and minimise people hanging up on you:
- Be friendly
- Be informal – just use your first name, and try and say things in your own words so you sound natural
- Say that you’re a volunteer
- Cut to the chase about why you’re calling them
Once you have engaged someone in conversation, really listen to them. People can tell when you are focused on them, and if nothing else this will contribute to a positive experience of your organisation. Show you are listening by summarising and checking for understanding, or asking follow up questions. People are more likely to shift their position when they feel listened to and respected, not talked at.
Pro tip: You can jot down some of the phrases you hear the callee use, and reflect this back to them in the conversation, e.g. if they describe the ‘corruption of politics by vested interests’, use this language in the conversation, either straight away or later on. You might ask them to call their MP because ‘the best way to combat the corruption of politics by vested interests is for ordinary people to hold politicians directly to account.’
Questions are a great way to get people talking, but also get them thinking about things they may not have put into words before. Ask open questions (which can’t be answered with yes/no) to encourage people to talk, and go deeper. For example:
- ‘What would you like to see change in your community/in Australia?’
- ‘What do you think are the most important issues for the future of Townsville/the country/ your family?’
- ‘Why is that important to you?’ or ‘Why do you care about that?’
Respond to people where they are at
If you have a sense of the kind of issues people care about from talking to them, tailor your messages to that. Avoid making assumptions, moralising, or generalising about people. If people are definitely not interested, leave them be.
Share your story
Sharing a little about yourself can be great for building rapport, making it a two‐way conversation, and adding authenticity. Don’t give your life history or hog the conversation! Think about why it is you are active. What could be good to share? Remember to respond to where people are at, and don’t share your personal story in a way that shames them, or suggests you are better than them.
Make your ask and handle their objections
Usually we are calling to ask people to take a particular action. Often they will decline, but without being pushy, there are ways to hear and work through their objections (see the LEAP objection handling framework handout).
Lock it in!
If people agree to take the action you’ve asked them to take, they’re usually only halfway there. To increase the chances of them actually following through, research shows that talking them through how they’re going to take the action and thereby getting them to mentally rehearse and visualise the process will significantly increase the action rate. For example, if you’re asking people to come to an event and they agree, then ask them if they know how to get there – will they take the train or drive?
If you get stuck
If someone asks you a question you can’t answer, don’t panic. Some useful responses:
- ‘That’s a great question. To be honest I don’t know the detail on that one. How about I take your contact details and we’ll get back to you?’
- ‘Can you tell me more about this issue? Why is it important to you? What would you like to see happen?’
- Refer them to your group’s website or other resources.
- Don’t argue
- Don’t be rude
- Don’t be superior
- Don’t get bogged down in detail
- Don’t ever lie or make things up
- Try to stick to the conversation guide for your initial calls
- Then adapt
- Listen to underlying values and motivations and try to draw these out and connect with them
- Take breaks as you need them
- End conversations quickly that you’re not comfortable with or are going badly
- Share your successes and failures with others
- Be friendly
- Be respectful
- Be yourself
- Represent your group well
- Support your fellow volunteers
- You don’t have to be an expert, it’s the human connection that matters most
- Have fun!
- Campaigning - Distributed network
- Members and Supporters
- Organising - Community