Going from terror to comfort on the phone

Katie Ho talking to a source over the phone during a field trip to Chicago. Photo by Caitlyn Rosen.

Katie Ho interviews a source over the phone during a field trip to Chicago. Photo by Caitlyn Rosen.

My mind flashed back to when I was 5, busily playing with my stuffed animals, when the shrill sounds of the phone rang. My muscles tensed and — dreading the possible interaction between me and the stranger on the other end — I hoped one of my parents would pick up the phone soon. From an early age, I avoided telephone calls at all costs, preferring to speak to trusted individuals in person, one-on-one.

This summer, I could no longer avoid the telephone. So I took the plunge.

I scheduled my first over-the-phone interview three weeks into the program. Half an hour before the call, I sat in the computer lab, pounding out 10 questions to ask. When I ran to the printer to grab my sheet, I breathed a sigh of relief. No matter how nervous I was, I could always glance down at my questions and ask another one.

When I dialed the number at the top of my list into my phone, I held my breath. As I opened my mouth to introduce myself, my heart raced. However, five minutes passed, then 10, then 15, and I realized all of my awkward pauses, breathing, and “ums” and “OKs” were fine. It wasn’t about me, it was about interviewing the person on the other side of the phone for the best possible story.

My first interview was not an “ideal” phone call. For some reason, I thought it would be good to record the call outdoors, while the wind blew heavily into my microphone. The wind was so strong I could hear the trees shaking, and my papers flew all over the place. After my call disconnected once, I moved locations three times to get better signal.

When I listened to my recorded conversation that night, I felt proud that as each minute of the interview passed, my voice sounded more confident. For 15 minutes, I asked thoughtful questions that gave me essential information for my piece.

During my second, third and fourth interviews, I took deep breaths to calm myself down. Not knowing who was on the other side of the phone and how they would react to my questions continued to fill me with trepidation. But with each 15- to 30-minute phone call, my breathing grew more relaxed. I started gesturing with my hands and treating each interview like a conversation because I was so captivated by my sources’ stories.

The anticipation of a new experience can cause a person to avoid it, but my interview experience has taught me that the most individual growth can come from confronting initial fears. Only by challenging myself did I learn how much I enjoy talking to other people to learn who they are.

Now that I have interviewed 14 sources and dealt with a myriad of personality types, I don’t hesitate before dialing each number. Each phone conversation has an air of exciting uncertainty. Maybe that’s why one of my favorite cherub experiences was when I sat down on a bench in Millennium Park, watching people walk up to The Bean as I scribbled notes with my phone close to my ear, conducting another interview.