Business Speaking

Telephoning: General Advice

06 Oct 2019

You have few problems reading the language or understanding others. But telephoning in English? That's when you start to panic. This is understandable. You can't see the other person, and voices are often more difficult to understand on the phone. All is not lost, however. There are some simple steps you can take to improve your telephoning skills.

  • Don't Panic
This is easier said than done, but really is the key to success. You must lose your fear of the phone. Make at least one call a day in English to a friend just to practice.
  • Learn Key Words and Standard Phrases
Key words and standard phrases come up again and again on the phone. Learn them and use them! Don't try to be too clever on the phone; stick to the standard phrases.
  • Start and Finish Well
A confident opening is important. Say clearly, and not too quickly, who you are and why you are calling: "This is Helen Chan from IBF Ltd. I'm calling about your order for ..." Try to avoid saying "My name is ..."; this sounds less professional. At the end of the call, thank the other person: "Thanks for your help." If they thank you, answer with "You're welcome".
  • Learn to Control the Call
Native speakers of English often speak too quickly and not clearly enough. Make sure you know how to stop them or slow them down. Phrases such as: "I'm sorry, I didn't catch that" and "I'm sorry, could you speak a little more slowly" will help you to control the situation. Don't be embarrassed to stop the caller.
  • Listen Carefully
Listen to the vocabulary and phrases that the caller uses. Often you will be able to say the same things later in the same conversation. Your partner might not notice what you are doing, but you will feel good that you have activated your passive vocabulary.
  • Soften your Language
Chinese speakers often sound impolite in English because they are too direct. 'Would' and 'could' are the two key words. "I'd like to speak to Jane Brown, please" is much better than "I want to speak to...".
  • Create a Positive Atmosphere
Smile when you are on the phone. It really does make a difference to the way you sound. And the impression you create can make a big difference to your chances of business success. If you are unsure how you sound on the phone, record yourself during a conversation. You may be surprised by the result.
  • Learn to Spell
Do you know the telephone alphabet in English? If not, learn it. It is important not only to know how to say the individual letters, but also to be able to check them: "Was that I for India or E for Echo?" (Don't say "E like Echo".)
 

What you can do to improve your spoken English!

29 Sep 2019
  • Listen to the radio. You could get up five minutes earlier and listen to the news in English.
  • Watch television programmes in English to improve your listening skills. Try watching the news in English instead of your own language. If you watch a movie and it has subtitles, try taping a paper over them. Listening to others talk is a good preparation for talking yourself.
  • Invite your English colleague to lunch! Find a friend who also wants to improve his or her English and have lunch or dinner together - speaking English of course.

  • Check out books, CDs, and other materials in English from your local library. Look especially for books which have lots of dialogue in them. Read plays. When you go to see English films, try not to read the subtitles.
  • Learn the words to some popular songs.
  • Find books-on-CD in your local library. Listen while you are relaxing at home or while commuting if you have a walkman.

  • Exchange taped messages with a colleague. Record a few minutes and then ask your colleague to respond later on the same tape.

  • Choose a famous person whose accent you admire, and if you can get recordings of him or her, imitate the way he or she speaks.

  • Practice situations when you are alone, perhaps in front of a mirror. Imagine introducing yourself, disagreeing with someone's ideas, being interviewed or asking for information. If you can get someone to help, assign parts and do role - playing.

  • Find a friend or two and agree to speak English at certain regular times.

  • Practice reading aloud - get someone to check your pronunciation and intonation, or record yourself and analyse your own speech. Set goals of specific things you can work on improving - for example, differences between words that contain "l" and "n" or "w" and "v". (e.g. There is no light at night at Wheatley University".) Keep notes of words you often mispronounce and practice them.

  • If you have a chance to travel, take advantage of the opportunities to use English - airlines and immigration personnel, hotel and restaurant staff, fellow travellers and passengers.

  • Sign up to Skype internet telephony. It's free. You can search for people in "Skype Me" mode who want to chat!
 

Getting Native Speakers to Speak More Slowly on the Phone!

22 Sep 2019
One of the biggest problems is speed. Native speakers, especially business people, tend to speak very quickly on the telephone. As a non-native speaker, you need to develop techniques which will allow you to take control of the call. Here are some practical tips:
 
  • Immediately ask the person to speak slowly

Could you speak more slowly, please?
Would you mind speaking more slowly, please?
Would you slow down a little, please?

  • When taking note of a name or important information, repeat each piece of information as the person speaks.

So, you say you can give us a discount of 10%?
OK, you are willing to extend the warranty to 30 days, right?
Your telephone number is 2718 3892 and your email address is.....
Let me just confirm that. Your name is Andy Hogg and your company is called ‘Gtech Ltd’.
Let me just repeat what you have said.
I’d just like to confirm what you’ve just told me.

This is an especially effective tool. By repeating each important piece of information, or each number or letter, you automatically slow the speaker down.
  • Do not say you have understood if you have not. Ask the person to repeat until you have understood.

I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you’re saying.
I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean.
I sorry, but I don’t follow you.
Would you mind going over that again for me?
Could you say that again, please?
Could you repeat that, please?
Could you explain what you mean?

Remember that the other person needs to make himself/herself understood and it is in his/her interest to make sure that you have understood. If you ask a person to explain more than twice they will usually slow down.
  • If the person does not slow down begin speaking your own language!
A sentence or two of another language spoken quickly will remind the person that they are fortunate because THEY do not need to speak a different language to communicate. Used carefully, this exercise in humbling the other speaker can be very effective. Just be sure to use it with colleagues and not with a boss!

 

 

Tips for Successful Communication

25 Aug 2019

If you work in a company which has offices in different countries, or if your company does business with foreign companies, you probably use English to communicate.

To avoid misunderstandings or poor working relationships it is very important to have good communication.

The following tips will help you communicate more effectively in English.

Use Simple Words and Sentence Structures

Avoid idioms and phrasal verbs and keep grammatical structures simple. This has two advantages: the person you are dealing with will be more likely to understand you, and secondly, you will be less likely to make mistakes.

Clarify and Rephrase What You Say and Hear

Rephrasing (if the other person doesn't understand) saves time in the future. Try these useful phrases:

If I understand you correctly.
If I can rephrase what you've just said.
So you mean.
Let me rephrase what I've just said.
Let me say that in another way.
In other words.

Ask If You Don't Understand

Don't just guess the meaning of what someone says. If you are at all unclear, you should ask them to repeat or explain. Here are some useful phrases:

Sorry, but I don't understand.
Can you go over that again?
I'm not sure I understood your last point.
Would you mind repeating that?
Could you say that again, please?
Could you explain what you mean?

Prepare for Meetings, Presentations and Negotiations

Before you meet someone, make sure you have prepared any vocabulary or questions you might need. The more familiar you are with any particular vocabulary, the more relaxed you will feel when you meet. It's also often helpful to "role play" a meeting or negotiation, so that you can predict what sort of questions or issues will arise and how you can best deal with them.

Take Written Notes

Ask for a written agenda before a meeting so you can prepare. Take notes when others speak (during meetings, telephone conversations, etc).

Follow up meetings or spoken agreements with a written note. Try using these phrases:

It was good to meet you yesterday. I'm just writing to confirm the main points of our meeting:
Following our phone call this morning, I just wanted to confirm our agreement:

 

Business Greetings

11 Aug 2019

Proper etiquette is important in business greetings. Make sure to use polite language such as "please" and "thank you.". Appropriate titles and gestures should also be used. Shaking hands is common in most English-speaking countries. It is also important to smile.

Here are a number of useful phrases for greetings. Click on the audio links to hear the sentences.

Greeting Phrases:

  • Introduce yourself with your name and title:

May I introduce myself? I’m Roger Cook. I'm in charge of client accounts. Here's my card.

Hello Mr Williams. I'm Jane Seagrove, client relationship manager. Let me give you my card.

  • Shake hands, greet and express happiness to meet the other person.

How do you do?

I'm pleased to meet you.

Pleased to meet you too.

Other Useful Phrases:

  • If you are late for a meeting or appointment:

Sorry to keep you waiting.

I'm sorry for being late.

Did you get my message to say I'd be a few minutes late?

  • Introducing Colleagues:

This is Jeremy Benting, my associate.

I'd like to introduce Janice Long, my personal assistant.

I'd like you to meet Paul Wheeler, our training coordinator.

May I introduce Jason Isaacs, head of Sales?

 

Opening a Business Meeting

23 Jun 2019

Small Talk

Whether you are holding the meeting or attending the meeting, it is polite to make small talk while you wait for the meeting to start. You should discuss things unrelated to the meeting, such as weather, family, or weekend plans. Here's a short sample dialogue:

Jane:

Hi Jack. How are you?

Jack:

Great, thanks, and you?

Jane:

Well, I'm good now that the warm weather has finally arrived.

Jack:

I know what you mean. I thought winter was never going to end.

Jane:

Have you dusted off your golf clubs yet?

Jack:

Funny you should ask. I'm heading out with my brother-in-law for the first round of the year on Saturday.

Welcome

Once everyone has arrived, the chairperson, or whoever is in charge of the meeting, should formally welcome everyone to the meeting and thank the attendees for coming.

  • Well, since everyone is here, we should get started.
  • Hello, everyone. Thank you for coming today.
  • I think we'll begin now. First I'd like to welcome you all.
  • Thank you all for coming at such short notice.
  • I really appreciate you all for attending today.
  • We have a lot to cover today, so we really should begin.

Here's a sample welcome from the chairperson of a meeting:

I think we'll begin now. First I'd like to welcome you all and thank everyone for coming, especially at such short notice. I know you are all very busy and it's difficult to take time away from your daily tasks for meetings.
 

Useful Phrases for Business Meetings

16 Jun 2019

Here, we're going to introduce you to a few useful phrases for 1) watching the time, and 2) regaining focus in a business meeting.

Watching the Time

One of the most difficult things about holding an effective meeting is staying within the time limits. A good agenda will outline how long each item should take. A good chairperson will do his or her best to stay within the limits. Here are some expressions that can be used to keep the meeting flowing at the appropriate pace.

I think we've spent enough time on this topic.
We're running short on time, so let's move on.
We're running behind schedule, so we'll have to skip the next item.
We only have fifteen minutes remaining and there's a lot left to cover.
If we don't move on, we'll run right into lunch.
We've spent too long on this issue, so we'll leave it for now.
We'll have to come back to this at a later time.
We could spend all day discussing this, but we have to get to the next item.

Regaining Focus

It is easy to get off topic when you get a number of people in the same room. It is the chairperson's responsibility to keep the discussion focused. Here are some expressions to keep the meeting centred on the items as they appear on the agenda.

Let's stick to the task at hand, shall we?
I think we're steering off topic a bit with this.
I'm afraid we've strayed from the matter at hand.
You can discuss this among yourselves at another time.
We've lost sight of the point here.
This matter is not on today's agenda.
Let's save this for another meeting.
Getting back to item number 5.
Now where were we? Oh yes, let's vote.

 

How to Start a Conversation

02 Jun 2019

Start out by asking the person questions that are easy to answer.

A good balance is around two or three closed questions, that have short answers, and then one open question, where they have to think and talk more. Early on, it is often better even with open questions to keep them simple and easy.

Tips

  • Ask them something about themselves.
  • If you do not know their name, then start there.
  • Compliment them about their appearance. Ask them where they got that nice suit, watch, hat or whatever.
  • Comment on their good mood, ask them why they are looking a bit down. Say they look distracted and ask why.
  • Ask if they have family, the names of their children, how old they are, how they are doing in school and so on.
  • Ask about their occupation, their careers and plans for the future.
  • Ask about hobbies, interests and what they do with their spare time.
  • Pay attention when they give you an answer. Show interest not only in the answer but in them as a person as well
  • And when they tell you something, show interest in it. Follow up with more questions.

Conversation Starters

  • General starters

Hi, I'm Paul.

Sorry, I didn't catch your name.

I like your dress. Where did you get it?

Nice hat!

You look worried.

What's the matter? You look down.

Is there anything wrong? You seem distracted.

  • The weather (especially in climates where it changes often).

Nice day, isn't it?

Beautiful day, isn't it?

Can you believe all of this rain we've been having?

It looks like it's going to snow.

We couldn't ask for a nicer day, could we?

How about this weather?

  • Recent news (though be careful to avoid politics and religion with people you don't know very well).

Did you catch the news today?

Did you hear about that fire on Fourth St?

What do you think about this rail strike?

I read in the paper today that the Sears Mall is closing.

I heard on the radio today that they are finally going to start building the new bridge.

How about United? Do you think they're going to win tonight?

  • Family (siblings, where they live, etc.)

Do you have any children?

Do you come from a big family?

Do you have any brothers or sisters?

Do your family live close by?

Do your children go to the local school?

  • History (what school they went to, where they have lived, etc.)

Are you from around here?

You're not from around here, are you?

Have you lived here long?

Are you from London?

Where are you from?

How long do you plan to live here?

Where did you live before coming to Singapore?

Did you go to school around here?

Which school did you go to?

How do you find living in Singapore?
  • Work (what they do, people at work, etc.)

Looking forward to the weekend?

Have you worked here long?

I can't believe how busy we are today, can you?

You look like you could use a cup of coffee.

What do you think of the new computers?

  • Holidays

Are you going away anywhere this summer?

Do you have any plans to go away somewhere?

Are you doing anything special at the weekend?

Taking a vacation this year?
  • Hobbies and sports

Are you interested in football?

Which sport to you like best?

My passion is golf. What about you?

Are you a member of any clubs?

How do you spend your free time?

Are you going to the game tonight?

Great win for United on Saturday.

What's your favorite sport?

 

 

Controlling a Telephone Call with a Native Speaker

19 May 2019

One of the biggest problems is speed. Native speakers, especially business people, tend to speak very quickly on the telephone. As a non-native speaker, you need to develop techniques which will allow you to take control of the call. Here are some practical tips:

 
  • Immediately ask the person to speak slowly

Could you speak more slowly, please?
Would you mind speaking more slowly, please?
Would you slow down a little, please?

  • When taking note of a name or important information, repeat each piece of information as the person speaks.

So, you say you can give us a discount of 10%?
OK, you are willing to extend the warranty to 30 days, right?
Your telephone number is 2718 3892 and your email address is.....
Let me just confirm that. Your name is Andy Hogg and your company is called ‘Gtech Ltd’.
Let me just repeat what you have said.
I’d just like to confirm what you’ve just told me.

This is an especially effective tool. By repeating each important piece of information, or each number or letter, you automatically slow the speaker down.
  • Do not say you have understood if you have not. Ask the person to repeat until you have understood.

I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you’re saying.
I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean.
I sorry, but I don’t follow you.
Would you mind going over that again for me?
Could you say that again, please?
Could you repeat that, please?
Could you explain what you mean?

Remember that the other person needs to make himself/herself understood and it is in his/her interest to make sure that you have understood. If you ask a person to explain more than twice they will usually slow down.
  • If the person does not slow down begin speaking your own language!
A sentence or two of another language spoken quickly will remind the person that they are fortunate because THEY do not need to speak a different language to communicate. Used carefully, this exercise in humbling the other speaker can be very effective. Just be sure to use it with colleagues and not with a boss!
 

Showing Empathy in Business Situations

12 May 2019

In the key expressions box below, you'll find a number of standard phrases that you might find useful for showing empathy in business situations. Click on the audio link to listen to the expressions.

 

FUNCTIONS

KEY EXPRESSIONS

Reflecting - Reflecting on how you can see what someone is feeling:

I can see that you're really upset about this.
You seem to be upset.
You seem upset.
You don't seem to be very happy at the moment.
You seem to have made your decision already.
 

Legitimizing - Putting yourself in the other person's situation:

I'd be upset, too.
I can understand why you would be upset about that.
I can definitely see why that would be frustrating.
I'm sure that irritated you!
I can understand your concerns, but.
I understand that.
I can see how hearing those comments might annoy you.
It's not very nice to hear comments like that, is it?
I can understand your feeling betrayed by my not talking to you directly.
I can definitely see why that would upset you.
 

Supporting - Offering to help in a specific way:

I'll be here if you have any questions.
If you are unhappy here, I am here to discuss it with you.
 

Partnership-building - Offering to work together as a team to solve a problem

Maybe we can focus on,,,,
Let's see what we can do to resolve this problem together.
 

Respecting - Expressing admiration for how another person is coping with a situation

You don't seem to be too upset about this.

You are dealing with this very well.

 

Expressing Opinions and Agreement

21 Apr 2019

In the key expressions box below, you'll find a number of standard phrases that you might find useful for expressing opinions and agreement in business situations. Click on the audio link to listen to the expressions.

 

 

FUNCTIONS

KEY EXPRESSIONS

ASKING FOR OPINIONS

What do you think about...?
What's your opinion of...?
Do you think that...?
Tell me what you think about...
How do you feel about...?
 

EXPRESSING OPINIONS

I think that...
I don't think that ....
In my opinion...
In my view...
It's my belief that...
I reckon that...
I don't reckon that ...
I feel that...
I don't feel that ...
I believe that ...
I don't believe that ...
If you ask me, I think/feel/reckon that...
As far as I'm concerned...
 

CHECKING AN OPINION

Do you think so?
Do you feel that?
Is that what you think?
Do you really believe that?
 

AGREEING

I think you're right.
I agree with you.
You're right.
 

STRONG AGREEMENT

I couldn't agree with you more.
You're absolutely right.
I agree entirely.
I totally agree.
I completely agree with you.
 

AGREEMENT IN PART

I agree with you up to a point, but...
That's quite true, but...
I agree with you in principle, but...
 

DISAGREEMENT

Note that when you disagree with someone, you can often sound more polite by using a phrase such as 'I'm afraid...'

I'm not sure I agree with you.
(I'm afraid) I don't agree.
(I'm afraid) I disagree.
(I'm afraid) I can't agree with you.
(I'm afraid) I don't share your opinion.
 

DISAGREEING STRONGLY

I don't agree at all.
I totally disagree.
I couldn't agree with you less.
 

Handling Difficult Requests

07 Apr 2019

In the key expressions box below, you'll find a number of standard phrases that you might find useful for handling difficult requests at work. Click on the audio link to listen to the expressions.

 

 

 

FUNCTIONS

KEY EXPRESSIONS

SAYING WHY YOU'RE CALLING

The reason I'm calling is:
I was calling to ask a favour:..
I'm calling to ask if you could:..
I'm calling because we need some help......
 

EXPLAINING THE PROBLEM

The situation is this....
Here's the problem.....
Let me explain the situation......
 

REFUSING A REQUEST

I'm afraid that's not possible.
I'm sorry but we just can't do that.
I wish we could help you, but:..
I'm sorry, but I'm not in a position to do that.
 

STATING YOUR POSITION

I understand your situation, but we really must request:..
Our company policy is to:..
It's not our company policy to.....
We always demand .....
We never allow.....
 

MAKING A POLITE REQUEST

Would it be possible to.:?
We were wondering if you could possibly.:?
Would you be able to:.?
Could you please.....?
We'd appreciate it if you could.....
We'd be grateful if you could.....
 

SUGGESTING A COMPROMISE

How about if we......?
What (about if we...?
If we were to ....... would you....?
We'd also be willing to.....
How would you feel if we...?
Why don't we/you:...?
 

AGREEING TO A REQUEST

We could probably accept that.
We might be able to agree to that.
We could agree to that on condition that......
I suppose we could accept that.
That is a possibility, but I'd have to check with....
 

Ending a Conversation Politely

31 Mar 2019

In the key expressions box below, you'll find a number of standard phrases that you might find useful for ending a conversation politely. Click on the audio link to listen to the expressions.

 

 

FUNCTIONS

KEY EXPRESSIONS

BEGINNING
(you hint to end a conversation)

A: Well, it was great meeting you.
B: Yes, it was nice.
A: Well, I'm glad we had a chance to talk.
B: Me, too!
A: It sure has been nice seeing you.
B: Yeah, I enjoyed it!
 

MIDDLE
(you have to go soon)

A: I'll be sure to call you.
B: That'd be great.
A: I'll send you an email next week.
B: OK. I'll look forward to that.
A: I hope to hear from you soon.
B: Yes, me too.
 

END
(you really have a chance to leave now)

A: Bye for now.
B: Bye!
A: I'll talk to you later.
B: OK. Until then.
A: See you again soon.
B: See you.
A: Take care.
B: You, too. Bye.
A: Keep in touch.
B: I will. Bye.
 

Giving Presentations - Survival English

17 Mar 2019

If you get your facts wrong.

I am terribly sorry. What I meant to say was this.
Sorry. What I meant is this.

If you have been going too fast and your audience is having trouble keeping up with you.

Let me just recap on that.
I want to recap briefly on what I have been saying.

If you have forgotten to make a point.

Sorry, I should just mention one other thing.
If I can just go back to the previous point, there is something else that I forgot to mention.

If you have been too complicated and want to simplify what you said.

So, basically, what I am saying is this.
So, basically, the point I am trying to get across is this.

If you realize that what you are saying makes no sense.

Sorry, perhaps I did not make that quite clear.
Let me rephrase that to make it quite clear.

If you cannot remember the term in English.

Sorry, what is the word I am looking for?
Sorry, my mind has gone blank. How do you say 'escargot' in English?

If you are short of time.

So just to give you the main points.
As we are short of time, this is just a quick summary of the main points.
 

Complimenting Someone at Work

03 Mar 2019

In the key expressions box below, you'll find a number of standard phrases that you might find useful for complimenting someone at work. Click on the audio link to listen to the expressions.



FUNCTIONS

KEY EXPRESSIONS

MEN COMPLIMENTING MEN
(on their clothes)

I really like that shirt.
That's a nice jacket.
I like your shoes.
That tie (really) suits you.
It looks good on you.
It (really) suits you.
 

WOMEN COMPLIMENTING WOMEN
(on their clothes and accessories)

Your bag is so cute.
Your dress is beautiful.
It looks great on you.
It really suits you.
It's lovely.
I love that bag.
It looks great with your.....
That's a lovely necklace you're wearing.
 

WOMEN COMPLIMENTING WOMEN
(on their hair, figure, appearance)

You look really fabulous today.
I love your (new) hairstyle.
Have you lost weight?
Are you on a diet?
You've lost loads of weight.
You look so slim.
 

BOSS COMPLIMENTING SUBORDINATE
(on a job well done or performance)

You did a (really) great job on....
I'm impressed.
I was impressed with....
I'm (really) pleased with...
Your presentation was excellent.
Keep up the good work.
 

COLLEAGUES COMPLIMENTING COLLEAGUES
(on success)

I just wanted to congratulate you on .....
I'd (personally) like to thank everyone for....
Congratulations!
Congratulations on your promotion.
I (just) wanted to let you know that I liked your.....
 

RESPONDING TO COMPLIMENTS

Thanks a lot.
Thanks
Well, thanks.
Thank you so much.
Yes, I love it..
Thanks for noticing.
I appreciate that.
Thanks for your comments.
Thanks for letting me know.
Thanks. That means a lot to me.
 
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