5 Ways to Meet Your Unexpected Opportunity of a Lifetime

Several years ago, I found myself in an elevator with George Clooney. Yes, the handsome actor who first captured our hearts in the TV show ER and later in countless movies. And I  was completely tongue-tied and unable to rise to the occasion.. 

Over the course of my career, I’ve met lots of celebrities and have never been awestruck.  But this meeting was so unexpected that I had a rare moment of speechlessness. 

I did manage to mutter something about how nice it was that he took the time to sign autographs for the staff in the office where I was meeting with a friend and colleague. And he  talked about how his arm gets tired when he has to sign them for stadium-sized crowds. Then the doors opened and he was gone. Was that a missed opportunity?

When we think about how we communicate when the unexpected happens, we tend to focus on what to do in a crisis. But how do we prepare to meet the moment where a chance encounter might propel our career in a new direction or connect us to something that we have been chasing after and now can catch. 

Here are a few things to consider:

  1. Be aware of people who matter inside and outside your organization. 

Many people in large organizations don’t know the name of the CEO or senior leadership, let alone what they look like. Take the time to familiarize your organization’s senior executives and their backgrounds. It helps you understand the company better and if you do find yourself standing next to a senior executive in an elevator or a buffet line at a firm event, it will give you ideas for something to talk about. The same holds true for people outside your company–industry leaders or executives at other companies. With so much information available now through LinkedIn and company websites, you stand a better chance of making a real connection if you can match names to faces and know a little something about their career. 

  1. Stay calm.

It can be both exhilarating and terrifying to meet someone famous, much admired, or  powerful and influential.  Take a deep breath and smile. It will relax you and the other person. 

  1. Be in the moment

Being in the moment means being fully present and engaged in what is happening right now, without being distracted by irrelevant thoughts or concerns about the past or future.  Be aware of your surroundings and the people around you.  

  1. Be yourself.

Say hello and introduce yourself.  Be authentic. Acknowledge how nice it is to meet the person. If it’s a celebrity or industry leader, you could talk about how you admire something they did or said. Or you could comment on the event, place or situation. One time I was introduced to a CEO at a networking event, and made a quip about how uncomfortable networking events sometimes can be. That started a whole conversation because that CEO hated networking events. 

  1. Ask questions, but don’t grill.  

At a conference or other professional event, you might ask a fellow bystander if there is something they heard or experienced that they thought was particularly valuable. The point is to show a genuine interest in the person, not for what they can do for you, but for who they are as a person. Celebrities and powerful people are constantly sought out precisely because they are famous, glamorous and influential. Seeking an authentic human connection can go a long way toward turning a chance encounter into a memorable and valuable connection.

Being ready to rise to the occasion involves being prepared, being genuine, and stepping into the moment, no matter how scary or intimidating it seems. 

What ideas do you have about preparing to meet a positive moment?