I've been putting off writing this post for a long time because I haven't quite figured out how to write it and not come off as arrogant. When I'm stumped for a blog post idea, though, this one often swirls around in my head. So I'll do it today and risk coming across as an ass.
I'm not very famous. The vast majority of people have no idea who I am, and the vast majority of those who do know who I am would only recognize me by my nickname in The Game rather than by my face. Still, having a fairly popular blog, having been involved in pickup, and a few other highlights of my life have lifted me from being wholly unknown to being a tiny bit well known. This puts me in an interesting position: my attention is solicited by more people than I can give it to, yet I'm not quite famous enough that the people whose attention I solicit know who I am.
To simplify the task of writing this post, I'm going to refer to people as 'famous people'. By that I mean people who are influential or visible enough that they have more requests for their attention than they can reasonably grant. By this definition, Jay-Z is famous, Randall Munroe (the guy who draws xkcd) is famous, and I'm famous. There are dozens of other definitions of the word 'famous', most of which would exclude me, and some of which would exclude Randall. So I use the word here as a shortcut, not as a definitive title.
With that out of the way: today I'm going to talk about how to most effectively meet famous people. Wanting to meet famous people is sort of like masturbating: almost everyone does it, but no one really likes to talk about it. We could have a conversation about whether it's "okay" to try to meet famous people, but since that would be a waste of time, I'm going to skip over it by saying that I've had the pleasure of making friends with a lot of famous people, it has been worthwhile, and thus there's some value in helping other people do it.
The goal, by the way, is to actually have some meaningful relationship with the person you want to meet. It's not to stand next to them long enough to have your picture taken. A benchmark might be whether or not that person has something meaningful to say about you a month after you last saw them. The guy in the picture has been long forgotten by then.
The logistics for meeting famous people have never been better. It's easy to find an email address for almost anyone, and anyone who doesn't have a public email address has a twitter account. All that remains is the method to employ, which I'll share as a series of rules.
Rule #1: Don't Ask for Anything.
I put this rule first to emphasize how important it is. Understand that the benefit of forming a relationship with a famous person is NOT that they're going to be your big break, or that they're going to use their influence to help you. Hoping for this is both extremely rude and totally ineffective. Think about it: this person barely has time to read your email, and you're going to use that small sliver of time to try to get something from them?
A better reason to get to know famous people is that they tend to be interesting people. Accomplishment isn't the only road to fame, but it's definitely a well traveled one. Your reward for making friends with a famous person isn't that you get to piggyback off their accomplishment, but rather that you benefit from interactions with the person behind the accomplishment. The famous people I know are all smart people who you can count on to serve as the other side of a worthwhile conversation. These interactions enrich you and inspire you to accomplish things independently.
A rich friend of mine once told me that I was one of only two people he knew who have never tried to get money from him. My guess is that most of my famous friends would also say that I'm one of few people who haven't tried to leverage their fame.
Rule #2: Give Something.
In a world where everyone is trying to take from others, the best way to stand out is to be a giver. It shows a sensitivity to the receiver's situation, and allows them to drop their guard. This dropping of the guard must be recognized and appreciated, though: you can't just give something and then ask for something in return. That's scammy. A good rule of thumb is that if you have an idea of what you want from someone in your head when you meet them, you're doing things wrong. Be looking for things you can do for others.
Nine months ago I got an email from a guy named Carlos Marti. He offered to translate Life Nomadic into Spanish. I read the email with great interest, but didn't reply immediately. A week later he emailed again saying that he had already translated the first chapter. He also made it clear in his emails that the benefit he was hoping to receive was to use the work to build his reputation as a translator. That was a good way to express that he wasn't going to turn around after finishing it and say, "Hey, I translated your book for you. Now pay me $5000."
(By the way, he finished the translation and I dropped the ball on it because I've been so busy. BUT... when I get back to SF I'm going to have a Spanish-speaking friend read it over and then I'll publish it.)
When I travel and post where I'm going, I get a lot of offers to meet up. Most are easy to decline because the person says nothing about themselves, so I'm basically offered the chance to hang out with a complete stranger. One such offer a couple weeks ago was from Carlos, who would also be in Valencia as we passed through. My friends and I all met up with him, all liked him, and have now invited him join us on our next cruise. Offering to translate my book was a great way to open a dialogue, and now we both have a new friend.
Rule #3: Hold Your Own.
I've met with a lot of readers through various avenues: talks, introductions, random run-ins, etc. The attitudes which people take could be roughly divided into three categories: seventy percent convey almost no value at all, twenty percent try to act way cooler than they are, and ten percent are respectful yet aware of their own value.
People in the first category act as if being less famous makes them entirely worthless. They tend to say nothing about themselves and ask the same questions everyone else asks. It's flattering to meet people like this, because anyone who puts their work out publicly is happy to see concrete evidence that it's appreciated by others, but these people tend to blend together. That's probably not what they're ACTUALLY like, it's just how they present themselves.
The people who act cooler than they are, unfortunately, tend to be from the pickup scene. They brag a lot, mostly talking about their conquests, and never ask any questions. They act as if they've never read your work. The dissonance comes from the fact that they've just waited twenty minutes after a speech to come talk with you.
The last category are the people who you actually become friends with. They show respect for your work by mentioning specific ways it's influenced them, but they don't dwell on it. They offer suggestions. They share their own stories and work that are related to the conversation, whereas people from the first group would avoid it altogether, and the people from the second group steamroll through stories that only serve to glorify them. People from this third group acknowledge the value you have, but also recognize that they have value, too.
When I first moved to San Francisco, I had the good fortune of meeting a lot of people more famous than myself. If I knew of the meeting in advance, I would read the last few articles of their blog. Bloggers often write about what's on their mind, so it's a good bet that subjects from recent blog posts will come up in conversation. Reading them allowed me to show that I respected their work. On the other hand, I'd always make sure to convey what I was about. If they were interested in any of the things I'm good at, I wouldn't shy away from talking about them.
Remember that the goal of meeting someone famous is to have a meaningful relationship of some sort with them. You can only do that if there's a foundation of mutual respect.
Rule #4: Have Visible Work
The first thing I do when someone emails me is to check for a link to their web page in their email signature. Having a visible body of work is a good way to allow people to find out what you're about at their own pace. Instead of writing an email with everything I think the recipient might be interested in, he can just click the link in my email, skim for a title of a post that interests him, and read it on his own time. This also makes introductions a lot easier for the introducer: he can just say, "Hey, you should meet this guy, Tynan. Check out his blog." rather than trying to write a little mini-biography.
Rule #5: Introductions are Gold.
There was one blogger I really respected. I sent him a short email telling him what I'm about and asking if he'd be interested in meeting up to chat some time (not the best tactic, really). No reply. Several months later, by chance, a mutual friend introduced us briefly. A couple weeks after the introduction we bumped into each other, had a meal together, and became friends.
When you have a lot of people contacting you, you need to have filters. These filters are never perfect, but they're necessary, because if you met with everyone who wanted to, you would run out of time. One powerful filter, as internet companies like Facebook have discovered, is our friends. If a friend suggests that you meet someone, you're much more likely to do it than if you were just contacted out of the blue.
Besides looking for opportunities to receive introductions, you should also try to give them when it's appropriate. If you know two famous people who don't know each other, it's a great idea to introduce them if you think they'll have common interests. What's a better way to give something to both of them?
One of the best connected guys in San Francisco isn't particularly well known to the public, but he seems to be friends with everyone. It's probably not a coincidence that when I met him, his first question was "Who do you want to be introduced to?"
Photo is a bunch of us, including Carlos from Rule 2, messing around in Valencia
Lots of tasksmash codes to atone for a late post this week: