Like many introverts, I have a wee bit of an anxiety problem. And like many writers, I’ve learned to manage it by improving my written communication skills.
But what happens when you can’t rely on the written word to get the job done? What happens when you have to talk to someone to get attention, research an assignment or close the deal?
I’ve been wondering about this lately as I’ve landed more and more assignments that rely heavily on phone interviews and less on pouring over websites for information. Conducting business over the phone has never been an easy task for me. Years ago, I thought I would simply get better over time.
Now, more than a decade has passed, and I marvel at how I still get knots in my stomach every time I have to call up a source for a story. I'm faced with the reality that when it comes to communication by phone, I may never improve.
I can’t speak for others, but my anxiety is typically rooted in the fear of first-time performance vs public criticism. Whether I’m learning how to operate a cash register or teaching children how to paint with sand, my nerves can't help but scream, “They’re all gonna laugh at you!”
And phone interviews are no different. I’ve been a journalist for 18 years (including my college years on the newspaper) and my voice still shakes when I talk to a source for the first time. I try to counter this weakness by overpreparing with research and a makeshift script. It helps, and most of the time, my interview process isn't unpleasant.
Yet every once and a while, there's one phone interview that leaves me feeling like a real amateur. I can tell it's going badly, but no matter how much I try, I can't seem to turn it around. And the chorus in my head starts to sing, "They're all gonna laugh at you!"
I recently spoke to a few freelancing cohorts on this topic. I mentioned the possibility of "curing" my anxiety with an improv class at a local wing of ComedySportz. One friend, an actor and artist, agreed that it couldn't hurt. Ok. It could hurt a little.
However, a beginner's class in improvisation isn't like an episode of Whose Line Is It Anyway? He assured me improv lessons are meant to help you increase your comfort level and spark creativity, and beginners do get quite a bit of hand-holding.
But before I dive in, I want to ask for your input, dear readers. Let me know your thoughts. Please share your ideas on the subject: