Sometimes you have a rare opportunity to meet someone who is an opinion leader in your line of work. This person may be a high-profile leader in your industry who inspires you. When you meet at a big conference or other event, you want to stand out and be remembered. How can you make the most of your time together?
Recently, I had this opportunity. At a big conference, I was able to meet face-to-face with someone I had followed for a while and admired greatly. Here’s how to network with opinion leaders and what I did to make the most of this situation.
1. Shake hands. Make sure you maintain eye contact as you shake hands. If hugging is appropriate and seems like it will be well-received, you might do that instead.
2. Introduce yourself. Say your name and why you are such a big fan. You want the person to realize you are very inspired by him or her. Express your gratitude if that feels right. Be genuine and authentic with your introduction and happiness to meet in person.
3. Avoid gushing. The last thing you want to do is gush or seem “goo-goo, ga-ga,” if you know what I mean. Think about what you will say so you feel comfortable saying it. Even if there are only a few minutes to rehearse, do it.
4. Close with follow-up. You’ll naturally say something like, “It was great to meet you,” but this is the perfect time to add, “I’d love to be in touch.” This way, you are planting a seed for future interaction.
5. Get a photo. If at all possible, ask if you can take a photo together with your smart phone. This is not only good social proof, but also will help the person remember you when you contact her again later.
6. Send a card. Take the next step offline and send a personal note right away. Include the photo if you got one. In the note, suggest a phone call to explore possibilities.
For me, it took about a month, but the woman did get in touch and we scheduled a call. The advantage of my method for how to network with opinion leaders is in what you aren’t doing. You are not trying to accomplish everything in the initial meeting. First you have the heart-felt introduction; then, you reconnect to get to the next level. Taking this two-step approach can actually be more memorable because you won’t seem overly anxious or pushy.
Do you tend to hide when opinion leaders or people of influence are around? Do you race to meet them? Remember that networking with these top tier people is just another type of networking, and you never know what can happen. Positive opportunities come to those who are willing to take a risk to stand out.