What are some key terms used to speak effectively on the phone while in the office or on the road in business environments? How can I ensure that the person I am speaking to understands my English even if I am not a native speaker? The two questions are discussed in this lesson along with key terms used for impactful Business English conversations on the phone.

Communicating Effectively on the Telephone

Vocabulary – Expressions – Phrasal Verbs – Idioms:

Hold the line – A request that you stay connected even though the person at the other end is not able to speak with you right away.

Please hold on – Another way of expressing the above

May I put you on hold? The person you are speaking to is going to play you some canned music (usually) while they go away to check something, or find somebody, for you.

Transferring your call – When your call is transferred, you are being connected to someone else.

I’ll put you through – The operator is connecting you to the person or department you want to speak to.

Switchboard operator – The person who answers calls as they come into an organization, and routes them to the appropriate person.

Mobile phone – British term for a cell phone

Cell phone – A personal phone which can be carried anywhere

May I speak to…..? – The correct way to ask for a person whose name or title you know

May I leave a message? If you don’t want to talk to a person at this time, or they are not available.

Caller I.D. Displays the name of the person calling.

Apex Holdings, John Evans speaking. The usual way to answer the phone if you are the first person the caller is speaking to on contacting the company.

Accounts Department, Mary Jones speaking. The usual way to answer the phone if you are answering a departmental or shared phone.

Graham Harris’s desk (or office), Paul Johnson speaking. This format is used if you answer the phone on behalf of somebody else, for example, if you are passing by an empty office with a phone ringing.

Gloria Ramirez speaking, how can I help you? The usual format for answering your own phone when you don’t have caller id. The “How can I help you?” is superfluous in some ways, but it is good practice because it allows the caller to collect their thoughts – you may have answered more quickly or more slowly than they expected.

Your call is being queued. Generally an automatic message.

I’ll give you a buzz – Slang for, “I’ll call you.”

Your party – slightly old fashioned, but still used, way to describe the person you want to speak to.

Communicating Effectively on the Telephone Live Example

Live Example:

In a busy company, the switchboard operator gives an important first impression. The job is all about customer service. Although these days much telephone communication is by cell phone, an effective corporate telephone system is still very important in most companies, especially those which deal direct with the public. “Your call is being queued” may well be one of the most unpopular phrases in the English language! Transferring your call from one person to another, instead of connecting you right away to the person you need to speak with, is highly irritating. Expecting a customer to hold the line for what feels like hours is a sure way to create customer dissatisfaction.

Communicating Effectively on the Telephone

Live Conversation Example:

Tracey Yang: Apex Engineering, how may I help you?

Don Miller: May I speak with someone who can answer an inquiry about some custom steel fabrication?

Tracey Yang: Please hold the line while I find the person you need.


Tracey Yang: Thank you for holding. The person you need is Pete Johnson. I’ll put you through.

Pete Johnson: Pete Johnson speaking, how may I help you?

Don Miller: My name is Don Miller. I’d like to make an appointment to come and talk to you about some custom steel fabrication which my company is thinking about purchasing.

Pete Johnson: May I have the name of your company, Mr. Miller?

Don Miller: Sure, it’s Global Yachts.

Pete Johnson: Oh, we know Global very well, in fact, didn’t we meet at that yacht building conference last month?

Don Miller: You’re right, I believe we did.

Pete Johnson: It’s nice to speak with you again Don. I’m going to put you through to my secretary and have her set up an appointment for us to meet.

Don Miller: Thanks, I look forward to seeing you soon.

Pete Johnson: Me too. Putting you through now!

Communicating Effectively on the Telephone Practice


Remember that when you answer the phone you should always smile. A smile can be heard in your voice. So can lack of attention, anger, and a multitude of other feelings – so be on your guard, and make sure you are giving the impression that you actually want to convey.

How important are telephone communications in your organization?

Has the widespread use of cell phones led to an un-business-like attitude to using the phone?

How does telephone use differ between younger and older employees within your organization?

How could you use good telephone technique to improve your company’s profile?

Is it necessary to control the use of cell phones by staff in your company? If so, how?

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