Have you ever had the opportunity to meet someone of incredible fame, power, and influence and not had any idea what to say to them?
I’ve had this happen several times in my life, and it’s embarrassing and frustrating to remember. One was so bad several years ago that it still bothers me today and it motivates me to do a couple of things.
First, the story from several years ago. My company, Peach New Media, was sponsoring a webcast with the Georgia Tech College of Business where the keynote speaker was Craig Mundie, from Microsoft. Mundie was/is one of the original Microsoft software engineers and even today is the Chief Research and Strategy Officer. Before the event, I had the opportunity to sit with him for 20 minutes one-on-one. I still remember for that entire time together, I had nothing interesting to say. I was completely blank on interesting questions to ask him! Shame on me! Sadly, the time was wasted in my opinion by talking about his travel schedule and, well… that’s about it.
Since then, I have mostly successfully avoided the missed opportunities for good conversation. Things you can do to be prepared:
1) Research and do your homework.
Basic. When you think there is a chance of bumping into a VIP, know who they are, what they look like, what they care about, who they know, what they do, where they are from.
2) Have your go-to fall back questions.
Be ready with the good relationship building questions from Dale Carnegie: Where are you from? Where do you live now? How do you spend your time? Remember that people love talking about themselves.
3) When you need to pitch. Do it without sounding like you are.
It is natural in a conversation that flows that the person will ask what you do. I love these opportunities and embrace the art of “pitching without pitching.” The best way to do this is to find stories and examples. My current non-pitchy pitch is “I’m working on a startup that is helping people and companies with a lot of email get control of it.” I like it because it’s something I can assume almost everyone is dealing with and then it’s up to the other person to ask a follow-up question or just say “that’s nice.”
Relationships are the biggest driver for success and meeting VIPs is like a nitro boost for your trajectory. You will never fail to capitalize on the moment if you’re prepared, do your homework, and pounce on the opportunity when a VIP crosses your path.