Have you ever met anyone famous? Were you tongue-tied?
I'm not talking Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie famous, because the truth is most of us would be struck dumb if we found ourselves in an elevator with either one of them or their 15 kids, but someone sort of famous.
I once ran into Jim Nabors outside the Grand Ole Opry Hotel in Nashville. I was with my kids and he was just standing at the curb, looking like a man wondering where the heck he had parked the car. He saw me and smiled. I smiled back, but not wanting to look like a total goof, I just sort of looked away. But he kept smiling at me, and finally I said, "How are you?" We exchanged some small talk, and I introduced him to my kids, who had no idea who Gomer Pyle was.
He wasn't famous enough to get me tongue-tied, but I did sort of have to rack my brain to think of something more than, "So, do you talk to Andy or Barney much these days?"
Sometimes in our careers we find ourselves standing next to the CEO at a cocktail party. It's a sort of Gomer Pyle moment, because we don't want to look like goofs but we want to be pleasant. What the heck to say to the person who can fire you with a look and who makes more money in a week than you will in 10 years?
The key is not to panic. Don't start babbling about how you love your job or you wish to heaven they'd hurry up and open the bar. This is the time to come across as a sane person and and not someone who skipped her meds this morning.
To interact with a VIP, try asking some questions such as:
* What are some ways you've found to handle a busy schedule?
* Is there someone you credit with helping you be successful?
* What's been the most rewarding thing about your job?
* What was your first job? What was the best/worst thing about it?
* Is there anything in your career that you would do differently?
When Jim Nabors and I parted company, he asked where I was headed.
"To Birmingham, to see family," I told him.
"Well, have a safe trip and tell Birmingham that Gomer says 'hey.'"
It left a smile on my face all day, and I can tell you when I recall that meeting, I think about what a great impression he made on me. That's a lesson we can all take from Gomer.
What other ways can you successfully interact with a business bigwig?