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What To Do When You Meet Important People

When it comes to networking, I’m a big believer. The simple truth is that people enjoy working with other people they know and like. But meeting important or influential people in your field is difficult, and when the opportunity comes, it’s tough knowing how to act. I used to worry about finding the balance between being perceived as a stalker or being perceived as uninterested. At parties, conference, or other events, I really struggled with how to conduct myself with a VIP that I really wanted to meet. If you ever find yourself in that situation, here’s a few tips that can make a real difference: 

1) Don’t talk too much.  Novices often make the mistake of feeling like they have to impress and end up dominating the conversation. The classic rule is that a good listener impresses people more than a big talker. I’ve actually had people who worked months to schedule a meeting with me, and then talked nonstop during the meeting. After 45 minutes I had to end the meeting, and wondered why they even came. They could have talked to themselves at home. A good rule is: Stop talking before the VIP stops listening.

2) Don’t be a suck up.  VIP’s don’t need to be reminded about how much you love their music, read their books, or admire their company. Be nice, but don’t overdo the praise. That only makes them uncomfortable. A better approach is to mention a particular song, book, movie, or project that meant something particularly important to you. A woman at a book signing told me in tears how a story in my book “Jolt!” had helped her understand her own father, and she was able to help him after he was laid off from his job. I would have talked with her for hours.

3) Be interested in them, not what they can do for you.  On one of my first jobs in TV, I desperately wanted to meet the director of the show, but noticed he spent all day answering people’s questions about camera positions, lighting, make-up, scripting, and more. So I took a different approach. At the coffee machine one day, I asked him about his daughter who was in medical school. His eyes lit up, and we chatted for almost an hour. He was so grateful to talk about something other than business, we hit it off instantly and become immediate friends.

4) Don’t overstay your welcome.  Pay attention, and you’ll see when the conversation begins winding down. Excuse yourself immediately before things get awkward, and leave them wanting more.

5) Finally, in that first encounter, don’t ask for personal phone numbers or email addresses.  If it’s appropriate, hand them your business card, but don’t necessarily demand theirs. If possible, offer them a gift. I’ll usually ask for an address where I can send them a complimentary copy of my new book. I’ve never been turned down yet, and in most cases, they give me their cell phone and personal information as well.

Let me know if you’ve discovered other techniques that worked well for you.

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16 Comments

  1. You could have wrote this 3 or 4 years ago and it would have helped me when I first met you. I came to some conference you were the keynote speaker at in Denver a few years back really the only reason I went. I had this great little speech I wanted to give you when I got the chance to meet for the first time. Well that first time happen in the elevator just minutes after I had gotten out of the hotel hot-tube with my wife and we were headed back up to the room. It looked like you had just arrived or maybe coming back from a dinner or something and it was around 10pm. I froze didn’t even introduce myself, been kicking myself for years thinking WOW what great opportunity i missed I mean it would have been hard to forget a 6’4″ 1/2 naked guy who introduced himself in the elevator. O well now I know and when we meet again maybe I will do better. Keep up the good words…

  2. This is great!! I have come a long way with how to act around people (but always need advice) but this is a great list that helps to remove awkward emotions and builds professional confidence.

  3. Oh, how I wish I had this advice 5 years ago. I got to meet, “My hero”, the guy at the TOP of my field. Aaaand I blew it. It was ugly. Fell flat on my face, almost forgetting to even introduce him to my staff team, who waited eagerly behind me as I dominated his time.
    *facepalm
    It’s still embarrassing to think about.
    I won’t do that again.

  4. Great points Phil! I have learned not to wait important people’s time. For me this means to be prepared as much for the meeting as I can. If it’s coffee or dinner to have though about and prepared questions for the person.

  5. I have a question, there has been times at work ive been introduced to really important people that are across the room, I’m usually sitting down at my desk, should I get up and walk over and shake their hand?

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