By Gail Farrell
Email’s handy for doing all sorts of things that you just can’t do by phone or that don’t really require an immediate in-person or by-phone response. For example, you can transmit documents to others via attachments and use the calendar function for coordinating meetings and conference calls.
Of course, email has it’s frustrations as well. There are times when working off the email grid is the only way to go. A dialogue of multiple email messages can consume far too much time; a phone call is far more effective for true dialog. And when I need to interview people for a press release or an article, email just doesn’t hack it. Sometimes the interviewees want the questions emailed to them, but their replies all too often require an additional phone conversation. Believe me, it’s impossible to write a 1,500-word article when the answers to your 10 questions are two or three lines long. Of course you can email a follow-up set of questions, but the answers still might not be what you’re looking for.
Interviewing people on the phone or in person, however, is a completely different experience. When they’re speaking, people make much longer, more interesting, and more detailed replies—and it’s the details that really make a piece work. You’re more likely to get good anecdotes or stories that someone might never think to write down. You can ask follow-up questions or clarify something right away. Just listening to someone’s tone of voice clues you in to what he or she finds interesting, boring, exciting or whatever and thus helps guide an interview.
Then there’s that whole personal relationship thing. If you rely on email, do you really get to know the people with whom you’re communicating? When you get off the email grid and actually talk to people, you get a feel for what they’re like. I recently had to interview several people in Powell, Wyoming, and while the conversations were mostly business, I wound up thinking that Powell must be home to the nicest, friendliest people in the U.S. And getting to know people, even in a business context, is a heck of a lot more fun and interesting than sending emails back and forth.