Quick question. What would you do if you suddenly bumped into one of your heroes?
Let’s imagine you are waiting in line at a store, when all of a sudden one of your biggest heroes just walks up out of the blue and gets in line right behind you.
This is someone you truly admire. Maybe they are a CEO, or an artist or a writer, or the founder of a successful business.
What’s more, they are in the same or a similar line of work. This is someone who, if you had a real, genuine, human relationship with the person, it could be of real benefit for your business or your career.
But first, you have to say something. This is your big chance.
Quick! What do you do? Do you try to think of something witty to say? Do you make a joke about the weather?
Please please please don’t make a joke about the weather.
This isn’t just a fantasy; this could really happen to you. In fact, you may have experienced a situation similar to this one. Or perhaps you’ve had a chance to be in the presence of, or maybe even to speak with, very powerful or famous individuals, such as a movie star, a CEO, a Senator, or even a President.
If so, you may have experienced what it’s like to get very nervous while in the presence of others who are truly successful. Maybe you got jittery. Maybe you started to mix up your words. You may have even experienced the “tunnel vision” which soldiers describe experiencing in battle.
If you have experienced a few of these symptoms, then you know they are a major barrier to any career or business.
Or if you have your own business, then clients, customers and good employees are not going to be drawn to a founder who stammers out words and starts sweating profusely each time they speak with high-value potential clients or strategic partners.
In this post, I am going to show you how you can overcome the feeling of stress you may feel when you meet VIPs and high achievers so that you can actually make a more human and more personal connection with almost any VIP.
I’m also going to show you 7 creative, low-anxiety ways you can meet VIPs, whether it’s someone in your local community or industry, a celebrity, an executive, or a CEO of a large company.
Of course, how you approach any individual VIP will depend largely on the circumstances, but these creative tips should give you some general ideas for how to reach out to important people who can help your career or business move forward.
How to Suppress Your Stress When You Meet a VIP
Let’s get one thing straight: the stress you feel in an encounter with a VIP is very different from the psychological stress produced because of fear.
There is nothing to be afraid of when you meet a celebrity, CEO, super-successful business founder, or even the President of the United States. That person is probably not going to punch you in the face. They’re probably not going to stick you with a shiv.
But there’s a very valid reason why you feel anxiety and stress. The reason is you are intimidated by that person’s fame, power, influence or success.
For this reason, the key to suppressing this stress is to trick the mind into treating your encounter as if it is just an ordinary personal interaction with a person who doesn’t have great fame, power, or influence.
Easier said than done, right? Here are 3 principles which should help you to manage stress around any VIP:
Principle #1: Act As If You Own the Joint
VIPs and celebrities are used to having people around them that act nervous, uncomfortable, or fidgety due to the VIPs’ status and/or fame. If you can suppress that instinct and just act like nothing is out of the ordinary, it will be noticed.
It actually can be a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you act like it is totally normal for you to be in the VIP’s presence, you are more likely to fit in, which means they will treat you in a more normal and human way, rather than like an outsider.
I first experienced this as an early employee for DreamWorks SKG back in the late 1990s. I got a summer job during college (through a connection, of course) as a Production Assistant on a TV show which was one of DreamWorks’ first projects.
We filmed on the NBC Studios Burbank lot, on Sound Studio 1, where the old Johnny Carson tonight show had filmed for 20+ years. The Jay Leno Tonight Show was directly next door, meaning every day 2-3 world-famous celebrities and musicians would walk on up.
If there’s any industry where acting like you belong is more important than the reality of whether you actually do belong, it’s the entertainment business. I learned quickly to walk with confidence, speak with authority, and never look like you do not belong, even if you don’t.
Principle #2: Give Value First
VIPs, celebrities, rock star CEOs, high-level politicians, and even popular bloggers all have something in common: a huge number of the people they meet want to get something out of them.
Imagine if your life was like that – you’d be constantly on edge and alert to the first sign of a gold-digger. As a result, VIPs tend to surround themselves with people who specifically do not ask for anything in return.
You can actually stand out even further by offering something of value to a VIP, especially if it’s something simple like a restaurant recommendation, a workout tip, vacation advice, or a suggestion of something to watch on Netflix.
The suggestion will be appreciated, and it will show you are human, considerate, and not totally self-motivated.
Principle #3: Do Your Research in Advance
If you know in advance that you are going to have the opportunity to speak with a VIP, you should take the opportunity to do research. LinkedIn’s blog has great advice for how to research VIPs using LinkedIn:
Before reaching out to anyone, but particularly to a VIP, thoroughly review the person’s LinkedIn profile. Take note of anything you have in common with this person, any recent changes in his or her employment or any recent status updates that might give you something to mention in your outreach. Doing your homework will increase your confidence and will ensure that you don’t make any big mistakes (such as asking the person what it’s like to work at a company he just left).
By doing research in advance, you will increase the chances that you will have a meaningful and more natural conversation about a subject you both care about, because you will be able to pick out interests in common or shared connections.
The more natural the conversation, the less likely you will experience great stress.
7 Creative Tips for Meeting VIPs
Even if you are able to suppress your arousal while in the presence of a VIP, a secondary barrier which frequently keeps non-VIPs (like you and me) from connecting with VIPs is the difficulty of meeting.
Of course, the higher the status of the VIP and the more busy that person is, the more difficult it will be to grab a slice of their time.
But even if you personally have little to no fame or stature, you can still find opportunities to meet almost any VIP.
I say this because I have lived it: in my lifetime, I’ve managed to meet two Presidents and numerous high-level CEOs and celebrities, even though I didn’t go to an Ivy League school, am not famous, and don’t come from a well-connected family.
I have witnessed people who were cool as a cucumber around Presidents, acting as if there was nothing unusual about chatting up the leader of the free world. I have also seen people melt like a stick of butter.
Here’s the good news. The greater openness and transparency of the web and social media has meant there are more opportunities than ever to meet a celebrity, powerful politician, movie star, or anyone else. There are also time-tested techniques for meeting important people that may seem old-fashioned, but which work nevertheless.
Here are a 7 creative tips for getting to meet almost any VIP:
1. Record a Video of You Reviewing Their Product or Book
This is so easy, it’s almost criminal.
Flip open your laptop. Unless your laptop was made during the Reagan administration, it will probably have a video camera embedded right above the screen.
Now, record a short (2 minute) video dedicated to a topic your VIP cares about. For example, you could record a video review of their new book, or a video testimonial for a product they sell.
Don’t worry too much about lighting or background or all those other things, or else you will never get it done.
Here’s what it might look like:
Now, share it with the person via an email, a tweet, or other short message.
Yes, it’s that easy. Here’s what happens when you do something like this:
Most humans spend some amount of time surfing the web, even if they are the richest man in the world, and therefore they are bound to come across it one way or another.
2. Ask for an Interview
Here’s a simple trick – ask for an interview. You can interview VIPs for an article in a newsletter, for a guest blog post, or for a post on your own blog. This can work in almost any industry.
If you do want to try this strategy, then the larger the publication or website, the better. If you want to interview a really high-level VIP, try to publish the article in the largest publication possible.
I have used this strategy to interview dozens and dozens of incredible authors and entrepreneurs I admire, by simply finding a relevant and timely topic to write about and approaching them to be included in the article. It works like a charm.
Let me put it another way. If I asked Guy Kawasaki, Gary Vaynerchuk or Dan Pink to meet me down at a Starbucks for 45 minutes so I could pick their brain about how they can help me and my business, there’s no doubt they would say “What, are you nuts? No way! And get the hell off my lawn!”
Here’s me interviewing Guy Kawasaki:
But, I was able to get all three of those very successful men to give me 45 minutes of their time so that I could ask them questions for 45 minutes, because I was recording it via Skype and because I was going to post it on my podcast later for others to listen to. That’s the only difference.
Tweet this: If you want to meet a VIP, ask for an interview for an article in a newsletter, a blog post, or a podcast. More: (Click to Tweet)
Pro tip: if you really want them to get to know you, use the video function in Skype, even if you plan to only use the audio. Doing a video interview over Skype is the next best thing to being together in person, so it’s a great way to get to know each other. This will diminish the sound quality though.
3. Buy Some of Their Time
Does the person you want to meet do any consulting or coaching? Perhaps you can buy some of their time. Services like Clarity.Fm actually allow you to buy time by the minute to speak with VIPs over the phone. For example, you can pay to talk to AppSumo founder Noah Kagan ($16.67/minute), venture capitalist and author Brad Feld ($8.33/minute) or Udemy.com co-founder Gagan Biyani (a more reasonable $1.67/minute).
Dallas Mavericks owner and Shark Tank star Mark Cuban is even on there, although at $166.67 per minute, or $10,000 per hour, you better be a fast talker. It would be cheaper to buy courtside seats at a Mavericks game.
4. Meet at a Conference
Nearly every well-known VIP will speak publicly from time to time, often at different conferences and group meetings throughout the year. Unless the particular VIP you want to meet is a recluse, then traveling to one of these speaking engagements is a great way to meet them.
A VIP who has just concluded a speech may be most likely to engage with audience members, as their adrenaline will be flowing and they’ll be craving feedback. That’s your opportunity.
Tweet this: If you want to meet a VIP, travel to a conference they are speaking at. (Click to Tweet)
5. Reach Out Using a Heartfelt Letter
Christine Comaford was a young CEO of her own startup in the early 1990s when she sent a heartfelt letter to Steve Jobs requesting a five minute in-person meeting. She didn’t get a response, so she followed up. Not just once, but over and over again.
Ultimately, she made 12 phone calls to Jobs’ assistant and sent 7 letters via FedEx before she finally got her opportunity. Finally, Comaford was granted a 5 minute one-on-one meeting with Jobs, which turned into 45 minutes. Jobs was swayed by the heartfelt letter, though the persistence didn’t hurt.
6. Look for Mutual Friends
You’d be surprised how few degrees of separation you may have between you and a big-name VIP.
For example, according to my LinkedIn profile, Shaquille O’Neal is a 3rd degree connection. Great – maybe I’ll invite him to my next Halloween party.
LinkedIn allows you to ask your connections to introduce you to their connections, and so on, so you could connect with a high-level VIP that way, in theory at least.
One word of warning: you definitely don’t want to abuse this strategy by asking too much of your connections.
7. Honor them with an Award
Another great way to meet and get to know VIPs is by honoring them with an award or other recognition for their service or an achievement.
Joe Sweeney used this approach when he was living in Wisconsin in the early 1990s. A young Brett Favre was then the new quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, and Sweeney’s organization, the Wisconsin Sports Authority, decided to give Favre its Wisconsin Sportsman of the Year award.
As he wrote in his memoir, Networking Is a Contact Sport (referral link), Sweeney convinced Favre to attend the banquet and used it as an opportunity to get to know Favre better. They hit it off.
A few months later, Sweeney and Favre decided to join forces and form a new sports marketing company. They were co-owners.
Imagine that – one minute you are convincing an organization you belong to to bestow an award on someone you want to meet, and the next you are going into business with that person. Not a bad result.
Now Go Meet Your Heroes
You can do this. There is nothing stopping you. I just gave you the playbook, but now you need to implement it.
Leave a comment below describing what one step you are going to take in the next 24 hours toward meeting a hero or VIP you respect. For bonus points, share your own suggestions for meeting VIPs.