It’s now 30 years since Jerry Seinfeld said that a ringing phone was the equivalent of someone perched on the edge of your desk screaming “I WANT TO TALK TO YOU NOW! I WANT TO TALK TO YOU NOW!” If you have a millennial in your life, your office or your home they’ll identify with that. Try ringing them from an unknown number and watch their horrified expression. Ever tried getting them to answer their phone? They won’t. They’re too busy using it to message, send a Whatsapp, use as a torch, a calculator, a radio or even a paperweight to hold down all that boomer A4. Anything but…talk.
Some of the young people we see at interview and when they start at Ballou are phone resistant in the extreme. Unfortunately though for successful PR pitching the phone is still vital – not for the initial contact maybe, but certainly to get feedback on the idea, on the issues around it or any other strands that may lead to more coverage. There is nothing more dispiriting than looking at a list of publications with the word “pitch email sent, no reply”.
So what’s the problem? Much research has been done into the phenomenon of telephonophobia among the young and companies are sending their new recruits on phone confidence courses. Whether it’s fear of rejection, fear of failure or simply the novelty of speaking rather than tapping, here’s how you can help those with phone-fright in your office
- If you’re overcome with shyness on the phone, having to make the call in front of your co-workers makes the situation even worse. So give people a quiet room in which to do their calls or sanction going to a quiet area outside the office.
- Let them role-play the conversation with you before they do the first call. Anticipating what the responses might be gives more of a feeling of control and calms the nerves.
- Don’t dismiss or under-estimate the nervousness. We all got anxious doing phone pitching at first and if you’re over 30 then you were brought up speaking on the phone…
- A little training on performance can do wonders – treat the phone pitch as a mini-public speaking slot and ensure breathing is right, shoulders are down, voice is slow, calm and confident.
- Many people are more confident standing up and walking around when talking on the phone. Don’t tether people to landlines if you don’t have to.
It’s tough, but until journalists are happy to accept pitches via TikTok then we’re all going to have to make friends with the phone. And if we phone-pitch veterans are ever tempted to feel superior about telephonophobia, give it twenty years. We’ll be struggling to cope with the new tech on the block and the millennials will be sniggering at us. Plus ça change.