Growing up I suffered from both a speech impediment and telephonophobia, a fear of speaking on the telephone (especially if I were the one placing the call). 

My speech impediment was detected early and addressed in special classes where I practiced saying the sounds that challenged me over and over.   After about two years of speech therapy, I trained myself to speak those sounds correctly.  

FEAR OF THE PHONE

My other challenge was that I would freeze up trying to talk on the phone filled with anxiety about not seeing the other person and not picking up on visual clues of their expressions and body language.   I feared I was annoying the other person or missing out on the subtext of things.  Because of this, I rarely used the telephone until my early teens when I decided to tackle this problem. 

EXPOSURE AND PRACTICE

Having fixed my speech impediment though continued practice, I took that path out of my phone dilemma.  I started by once a week calling every movie theatre in my home town with a prepared script written in front of me, “Hello, what starts Wednesday and what will be playing with it?” (This was before recorded messages, when films opened mid-week and there was always a double feature).  

At the beginning, I would usually hang up as soon as they answered.  I would hyperventilate and needed to slow down and calm myself.  Frequently, I could get through the first half of my script, panic and then hang up.  There were about 10 theaters in town changing schedules weekly, thus giving me about 40 opportunities to practice a month.  After a few months I got less anxious and could eventually go off script and improvise a little conversation with the person on the other end. 

COLD CALLING TO PAY MY RENT

By the time I moved to Los Angeles in my early 20’s I could handle fairly normal phone calls with friends.  I was supporting myself passing out free movie tickets for screenings for a movie research company (50 cents per person who actually showed up). 

Then it happened… They offered me a better position with more money by making cold calls to people pulled from the phone book to ask them research questions (“Would you be interested in seeing a movie called, Octopussy?”)

FACING MY WORST NIGHTMARE 

I took the position despite knowing that this would trigger my worst fears.  Not only did I fear annoying people, it was with strangers, and I was probably going to annoy a lot of them making unsolicited calls interrupting their day with a bunch of research questions.    

To deal with it, I took on a new phone persona, a calm smooth guy bringing movie magic to people across the country.   I even came up with a new name, Richard Barry.  

“Hi, this is Richard Barry from Hollywood, California calling you with some questions about the movies,” I would start with my most velvety tones.   

Most people hung up.  I would feel my heart racing.  I would slow down my breathing and forge ahead with my next call.  Some people were snappy and annoyed.  Some were fine.  And a number were delighted to share their opinions.  After about a month of doing this almost daily, the anxiety subsided and eventually faded away completely.  

THE IRONIC HAPPY ENDING

Sitting next to me in the research company phone bank boiler room was a guy who eventually left to work on publicity at a low budget film company.  He recommended me to operate their xerox machine.  I left the phone job, started at Cannon films and soon became their head of music which lead to me becoming a phone receptionist at a composer agency which lead to me becoming an agent myself.  

And 90% of my job as a talent agent is talking on the phone!