Allison Smith

Phone Phobia

It’s not technically a phobia. It’s actually more of a preference, but despite the fact that voicing telephone systems is my bread and butter, I can’t actually stand talking on the phone.

Is that odd?

I’ve always been like that. I come from a family where we talk with brevity, stating our piece and then getting the heck off the phone. Even as a teenager, when many girls my age spent long hours on the phone recapping and analyzing the day with the same friends with whom they had just spent their day, I was prone to lightning-quick homework checks over the phone and that was it.

Email has become my preferred mode of communication, and I know I’m not alone in that regard. Many people love how it allows them to organize their thoughts and plan their words and requires less thinking on the fly. You can meter out your reply with as much care (and redos) as you desire. You have the control of replying when you have the time set aside to focus on your response, even if it’s right on the heels of receiving the enquiry.

Increasingly, I’m getting initial email from clients who are interested in hiring me to voice their projects, and in the box on my Web site where I ask them to describe their projects, an increasing number of clients simply write “Call me.”

This makes me cringe for several reasons. Calls—if I allowed them to—could take a gigantic chunk out of my day, a chunk better spent in the booth recording. A description of their project—its length and scope, the mood/feel they’re looking for, and for bonus points, attaching even a rudimentary script right out of the gate—will go a long way toward fast-tracking communication.

I can usually render a quote and answer most questions in a good information-filled initial email moreso than I can in a protracted telephone call. Seldom are their requests or needs so complex that I haven’t encountered many similar projects in the past, and I’m more than happy to schedule a follow-up call if their specific requirements still need ironing out.

But I’m encountering more and more people who want that initial direct phone contact at the outset. Maybe they’re trying to determine if there really is a living, breathing entity behind “the voice.” Maybe it’s a quality control check, like sample day at Costco. Or,  maybe they’re surreptitiously recording me for their own text-to-speech application. (“We should talk on the phone about a dozen more times and I should pretty much have all the information I need…”)

I have a friend (actually, we go far enough back for her to be one of the friends with whom I used to do homework checks) who automatically assumes that if the phone rings, it’s bad news. Even though financially solvent, healthy, and fortunate enough (like I am) to be living a relatively carefree existence, her default thought when the phone rings is that  it’s a bill collector is calling to inform her of financial ruin; her doctor calling, thinking that the “thing” warrants a few tests; or, especially if the call comes late at night or early in the morning, that the morgue needs her to come down and identify someone.

While not that fatalistic, and while I don’t necessarily presume the worst when the phone rings, I do dread the act of outbound calls, and I’m happy to say that my marketing plan of recent years requires less and less cold calling and more fielding of offers that come in. Is this preference for written discourse symptomatic of the more insular life we’re all leading? Is it indicative of the fact that we actually prefer the detached, somewhat removed nature of “virtual” contact over direct, human-to-human interchange? I would have to say a resounding no. I’ll still take face-to-face human interchange over practically anything. But I, along with a growing number of people, will limit my time on the telephone in favor of concise, efficient communication via email.

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Allison Smith is a professional telephone voice, having voiced platforms for Sprint, Verizon, Qwest, Cingular, Bell Canada, Vonage, Twitterfone, Hawaiian Telcom, and the Asterisk Open-Source PBX. Her Web site is www.theivrvoice.com.