Part 1) I have the opportunity to meet high-profile industry experts and influential thought-leaders at a conference. How should I approach them and what should I say?
Part 2) Is it OK to send an email to follow up? These people are highly sought-after and busy. I don’t want to be a nuisance.
Imagine about what a conference must be like for a high-profile industry rock star. They finish their keynote and as the auditorium empties out, a handful people wait in line to greet them with a “deer in the headlights” look, fumble for words, then quickly retreat. Meanwhile, a few schmoozy hangers-on take up more than their share of air time and the speaker has to strategize how to diplomatically extract themselves from an uncomfortable situation. I bet most of your role models simply crave a stimulating conversation with someone who is acting normal! They come to conferences to network, meet interesting people and make friends too.
Always go up and thank a speaker whose presentation you enjoyed, whether immediately after or later during the conference.
- Prepare ahead of time with one or two good questions to ask them. If you ask great questions, they will remember you.
- Thank them for their presentation, and be specific about what you found valuable.
- Shake hands and exchange business cards.
The “don’ts” are fairly commonsense:
- Don’t ask them to critique your resume or ask for free consulting
- Don’t ask highly personal questions
- Don’t monopolize their time
- Don’t give ten suggestions on how they should improve their presentation.
As for following up, you should do this consistently. You would be shocked at how very few people follow up with an expert after meeting them. Those that do follow through make themselves memorable. Most people get so caught up as they struggle with “am I being a nuisance” that they never follow through.
Send a brief email within 3 days, reminding them how you met, and thanking them for their input. Send a social network invitation, and perhaps add a thought, article or book or resource they might appreciate. Most busy people read their email, though not all have time to respond. Don’t take it personally if you don’t hear back.
It is OK to email again in a month or two, especially if you have another good question, enjoyed an article by them, have a resource to share or are looking forward to seeing them at another event. If you follow those steps, it is likely they will remember you and look forward to meeting again.