Bewitched & Bemused: It’s Still the Same Old Schmooze

“You’re just like Darrin Stephens,” my younger daughter said the other day.

She spent much of her childhood enthralled with Dick York’s version of the character on Bewitched, so she intended the comparison as a compliment.

But I wasn’t quite sure what she meant.

I hadn’t hosted a booze-fueled dinner party, written a corny advertising campaign slogan or been turned into a donkey by my mother-in-law.

Perfect the art of the schmooze: How to rock relationship marketing in order to grow your business | KOTAW Content MarketingWhen I questioned her, my daughter pointed to the phone.

Hello, Donald; Hiya, Fred

In the past 2 months, I’ve spent more time with a phone pressed to my ear than in the previous 12 combined. And there was more money at stake than at any time in my career.¬†One potential client shared an idea that he said would net KOTAW Content Marketing revenues of $1.8 billion a year.

Hyperbole, certainly. Pure bunk, maybe. But there were a half dozen or so serious discussions, including one with a high-level, decision-making executive at a $1 billion company and another with an investor whose net worth totaled more than $500 million.

And chats with a few entrepreneurs who had Donald Trump visions and Fred Mertz mindsets.

I Dream of Genius

But the big talkers and the little spenders all had one thing in common: the desire to share their dreams with someone who would listen to them.

The age-old need to be believed is as important as ever. And the old-fashioned telephone remains a very powerful validation device.

The recent flurry of exhausting and eclectic phone encounters proved to me that the art of verbal conversation remains relevant. It has been augmented, but not usurped by texting, messaging, emailing and social media posting. Hearing a person’s voice, becoming familiar with its timbre and texture, connects us to others in ways that written communication does not.

Messy, Dull, Better

Even if the person is boring.

Sherry Turkle, a psychologist and researcher at MIT, says that written communication carried out over the Internet is not conversation. It’s more like a performance, where the pressure to be “on” has disrupted the natural ebb and flow of real-life chatting. Turkle, author of Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other and the upcoming Reclaiming Conversation, says the messiness of dialogue is less attractive but more meaningful than our slick exchanges via iPhones and laptops.

“You can’t always tell, in a conversation, when the interesting bit is going to come,” Turkle told Megan Garber in an interview in the January edition of The Atlantic. “It’s like dancing, slow, slow, quick-quick, slow. You know? It seems boring, but all of a sudden there’s something, and whoa.”

Relationship marketing tips inspired by 1960s ad man Darrin Stephens from "Bewitched" | KOTAW Content MarketingThe Power of Whoa

For more than a decade, I conducted nearly all of my business over the Internet. I loved the efficiency of email, the time-friendliness of answering queries at 4 in the afternoon or 3 in the morning — whatever suited my schedule, my restless sleep habits. I welcomed the respite from ringing telephones, tedious meetings and expense-account lunches. What was the point of talking to clients? All I really needed from them was a contract, a check and a timeframe for getting the work done.

I really wanted to disagree with Turkle. Certainly an unfocused telephone conversation was a waste of time, and my waistline definitely didn’t need a diet of three-course meals. Did I really have anything — except a sore neck and extra pounds — to gain by picking up the phone or the check?

More important, did I still know how to carry on a conversation? Would I dazzle or disappoint?

Awkward and Forward

Recent phone and video chats, some stretching beyond the 90-minute mark, contained enough “whoa” moments to support Turkle’s theory. Between silent lapses and a few monologues I largely tuned out, I gleaned insights I never would have learned via instant message or Google Plus chats.

I remembered the value of the awkward pause.

If people get bored or distracted during an online written exchange, they exit the conversation. In verbal communication, however, people feel compelled to fill the pauses with something. And, quite often, the somethings are the jewels of the conversation — the revelation, the inside information, the secret — that solidify your bond with a person.

Boredom can be the best thing to happen to a phone conversation — as long as you’re not the one who’s tiresome.

If You Don’t Schmooze, You Lose

Forging relationships with potential clients isn’t magic — we don’t need Samantha to nose-twitch a prospect into signing a contract — but we must sprinkle our prospect meetings with some enchantment of our own.

And what I think my daughter was trying to tell me is that I sprinkled well. I added an ingredient to the conversations that inspired others to trust and respect me, to linger far past the point of expediency because they were enjoying themselves.

I was schmoozing! I say this with no small amount of self-satisfaction because I never thought it was a term that would apply to me. I was a horrible conversationalist in my teens and I nearly gave up on a journalism career when I realized it would — gasp — require me to pick up a phone and call someone!

I forced myself to get over my shyness because it stood in the way of writing for a living. And now I push myself to talk via phone or video chat because both are necessary to take KOTAW to the heights I envision.

Naked Truth

Some of my peers tell me they hate telephones, abhor video chats and would rather walk naked down the street than appear on Google Hangouts on Air. Some won’t do so much as open a Twitter account.

I understand, I empathize. I really do.

But here’s something I know: If you limit the way you communicate, you put a cap on building relationships and growing your business. A few limitations may not make much of a difference. But which one is the killer connection that you missed?

I’m not ready to find out. Are you?

Are you a Darrin Stephens on the telephone? A George Jetson on video chat? Is there a form of modern — or old-fashioned — communication you refuse to use? Does it affect your personal brand? If so, why? I want to know!


  1. My dearest Kat

    Thank you so much for pinging me about your new article!!! As usual, your writing stole my breath away, my lovely lady. You are PURR…FECT in every way! Muaaaaah

    Confession: I am scared of talking over the phone. I literally start sweating and stammering. Those awkward pauses over the phone? I DREAD THEM. I much prefer face-to-face conversations wherein I can gauge the other person’s body language and expressions. LOL

    BUT I am working towards building the skill because, regardless of social media and other increasingly complicated gizmos, the art of conversation is BEST honed through telephonic conversations and face-to-face interactions. The NPO that I am going to be helping wants me to call *gasp* some people for quick surveys and interviews that could then be translated into a story. I am scared, but I will do it.

    And I will think of you every time my confidence falters…because your smile, humility, dignity, strength and courage inspires me in a way nothing else could or ever can.

    Love you, darling

    • FYI, this was my favorite part because your daughter is BANG-ON: “And what I think my daughter was trying to tell me is that I sprinkled well. I added an ingredient to the conversations that inspired others to trust and respect me, to linger far past the point of expediency because they were enjoying themselves.”

      Oh yes, your ability to inspire trust and instill confidence is quite unparalleled, my lady. When am I moving in with you?! :-( HEHE

      Lots and lots and lots of love to #IvyandCo

      • Katherine Kotaw says:

        Awwww, thank you, sweet Kit! Your kindness and generosity inspire anyone who knows you to be a better person.

        #IvyandCo consider ourselves blessed to have you in our lives. And we — and our home — are always here for you.

    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      Confession: I am STILL scared to talk on the telephone. Just like actors who never conquer stage fright, my heart races when the phone rings and my hands shake when I’m the one doing the dialing. But somewhere between the last ring and the first “hello” I force myself to get over the the terror, and feigned confidence becomes true confidence after a sentence or two.

      Accept the fear; just don’t let it defeat you. You are a gifted conversationalist because you do the absolute perfect thing: you make the conversation about the other person. So don’t worry if you sweat and stammer. Once you do that perfect thing — make the other person feel comfortable — no one will care if you stumbled over a word or two.

      Thank you, as always, for brightening my day — and life.

      Much love,


      • Ahh! Thank you for admitting that. I’m a telephone-phobe myself. Hate it when it rings or when I know I have to make or take a call. However, it’s almost never as bad as I think, and sometimes I hang up thinking, “I really enjoyed that!”

        What always happens is that I get more insight into the person. We may have passed a dozen emails back and forth, but one phone call tells me more about who they are. Great reminder about the power of the awkward pause, too. Love it, Katherine!

        • Katherine Kotaw says:

          I always admit my fears, Alisa! Sometimes, when people think you’re good at something, they think you’re fearless. Often it just means you conquer your fears when you must. And, when it comes to using the telephone, it’s just vital to squelch the panic because the value of hearing someone’s voice is just too great.

          Which makes me think that you and I should hear each other’s voice someday soon. I doubt we’ll experience any awkward pauses but, even it it happens, it would be a joy to talk to you.

          Many thanks for your kind comments here (and everywhere.)

  2. Brian J Wood says:

    I agree with your observation about one-on-one online written exchanges. More to the point you are making, lots of times I feel like the life of a “ho-hum, boring” blog post, Facebook post or a Pinterest pin is measured in minutes. The ability to carry on a social media conversation just goes poof. That has always frustrated me. The group online written exchanges that take place over a longer period of time are way more interesting. For example, I have always been a fan of long rants. One of my Facebook friends will do a “Listen to what happened to me today – it was so messed up” type of post and get tons of comments about it. A lot of times I read the comments other people make and recognize there are lots of opinions out there that I hadn’t thought about. The conversation and interaction is a pleasure to see. I think the real value of social media posts is the true interactive buzz they sometimes create in other words. Are the participants building relationships and growing their businesses? Sure they are

    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      Social media is a wonderful forum. What are the odds that I would have met you on the street or at a conference, much less conversed with you?

      What I’ve learned is that social media, like all new forms of media, adds to our ability to communicate but does not make existing forms outdated. In some ways, social media has given new life to the art of letter writing. Ten years ago, I coached people on the art of writing an email — these were executives who never thought they’d have to do more than dictate a letter to a secretary. How many executives today could function without writing skills? Social media demands them.

      Thank you for writing, Brian, and proving the power of communication exchanges.

  3. Les Dossey says:

    Brilliant insights Katherine. I just added your rss feed to my hootsuite syndicator so I can get all of your updates. : )

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