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How to Get on the Radar of Successful People

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How to get on the Radar of Successful PeopleI felt golden.

I’d got a fully paid graduate job while doing my thesis at a major marketing company – a job many of my peers would kill for.

Then it happened.

Just a few weeks before I was supposed to start working, suddenly the HR person I’d been in contact with told me that due to the major restructuring going on in the company there was no longer any spot there for me.

Ouch. That came like a punch to the stomach.  I’d spent months on getting that job and I’d fixed it far ahead of time for my thesis.

I figured I was safe, but I was wrong – big time.

This whole thing made me rather upset and disappointed at first…

But instead of crying about it I asked myself:

What can I learn from this experience?

I learned that nothing is ever safe. Nothing is for certain until it has actually gone down.

I then got mad as hell and took massive action for two days straight.

After these two days I’d got myself on speaking terms with four other companies and I ended up getting several new offers.

How did I do this?

I did it by getting on the radar of successful people.

I did it by leveraging the interactions I’d had with guest lecturers at my school and other successful people outside of school.

I did it by turning cold approaches into warm approaches.

The Strategy

Tell me:

How many times have you been in the same room as some very successful person, but not had the guts to go and speak to that person?

Probably a couple of times.

I see a lot of people who would like to speak to successful people, but I see very few people who actually do it.

Over the past couple of months I’ve approached and contacted a lot of “successful” people – I.e. managers, CEOs, or just generally cool and competent people.

By analyzing the things I’ve done I’ve now come up with a strategy for how you can do it too.

Contacting and getting in touch with people is an invaluable skill– so I figured I would share my strategy here and explain the reasoning behind it.

Prerequisites for Getting on the Radar of Successful People

The first thing you need to know is that my strategy is very situational-based.  To use it you’ll first have to place yourself in an environment where you have some sort of access to successful people.

This means that my strategy works better in person than it does over the phone or via email.

For me to get into this kind of environment, I’ve attended many guest lectures in university as well as a variety of other social events – such as trade fairs, parties, or company visits.

Also, know this:

You can’t sit at home and wonder why no one is reaching out to you. You need to be very proactive about this whole process or it’s not going to work.

Successful people don’t exactly go out of their way to do nice things for people for no reason.

This means that you’ll have to give them one by getting them to invest in you.

Some Brief Advice to People in University/College

Since I know that a fair amount of young people read this blog I decided to write this just for you guys.

As a student, you should choose your classes based on what kind of guest speakers who will come and give lectures.

This is often more important than the content of the course itself.

This is coming from me retrospectively.

I didn’t follow this advice, I didn’t think about it at all.

But I was fortunate in that one of my final courses was jam-packed with influential guest speakers.

If I had to do it over I would have changed the two other final courses I had and chosen courses that had more guest lecturers or company visits.

If you know what’s good for you, make it your goal to talk to each guest lecturer and make it a consistent practice.

Getting to know the right people is a lot more important than getting good grades as a student. Rich people don’t send their kids off to Ivy League colleges for the education primarily, but for the network it provides.

Learning how to learn things is really important, but grades are irrelevant.

Diplomas are bogus. What matters at the end of the day is your ability to produce value, not that you have a piece of paper with a title.

However, as a student you are fortunate to be in this setting of having access to successful people. Dare to defy the status quo of cowardice and actually make the most out of this opportunity.

My 4-Step Strategy for Approaching Successful People

This whole strategy is based on talking.

It really helps if the successful person in question has given a speech or if he/she has done something remarkable.

When I say remarkable I mean just that – something worth remarking on.

The main things that you’re going do is to pay close attention¸ ask questions, and always follow-up on the initial approach. Just don’t follow-up like this.

This isn’t rocket science, but it works like clockwork when you do it consistently.

Here’s how it works:

1. Before

Listen intently; show clearly that you’re interested in the person.  Avoid the #1 deadly mistake of sitting with a laptop or a smartphone. Seriously, don’t do it. If you look at your Facebook you will come across as rude, and disinterested.

2. During the Talk

Ask at least one question to show your interest. This has the added effect of making you stand out from the crowd and building the crucial first step of rapport. You must get the speaker’s attention as early as you can.

You must bridge the gap of audience/speaker, master/student or player/spectator.

A good sign that you’ve succeeded in doing this is if the speaker holds eye contact with you disproportionately more compared to the other people in the crowd.

You might feel compelled to chicken out at this point and not ask questions due to the discomfort of speaking up in front of people.

Your brain might tell you to shut up; it might tell you that your question is stupid and that others will think you’re wasting their time. (But are you trying to look good or are you trying to accomplish the goal?)

In most cases the question is not stupid at all.

You just think so because you’re afraid, and when you’re afraid your brain comes up with excuses in order to feel safe and comfortable – to maintain homeostasis.

 3. Afterwards

At this point there is either a break or the speech is over. It’s now time to approach the successful person and ask questions. Remember to introduce yourself. A lot of people don’t do this, and it’s stupid.

The first question should be a situational-based question to get the other person’s interest and build rapport.  For example, it could be about some remarkable thing that the person said in his/her speech.

The point is that you need to spark a conversation about something that they will enjoy talking about, and people enjoy talking about the things that they feel they are the authority on.

So, first things first –get the other person to feel good before doing anything else.

The second question you ask can be a canned question.

I often ask successful people something along the lines of:

  • What are the 3 books that have made the biggest impact on you?”

Or:

  • How do you structure your daily routine to keep up this busy lifestyle of yours?”

Usually I ask something related to self-development, because that’s one of my major interests. This way I can use canned questions without coming across as inauthentic.

The third question you’re going to ask should be a self-centered question to benefit yourself.

For example, I would find out if this person can put me in contact with someone I’d like to reach –  in this case for my thesis job. I might also ask for the other person’s opinion about some goal I have and see if this person can help me somehow.

Successful people will usually be very helpful to you at this point. They will acknowledge your initiative, because it takes balls to walk up to someone and ask for help.

And it takes skills to ask someone for help without coming across as a beggar. Asking for help is a sign of strength – but only when done correctly.

And you’re going to do it correctly if you follow this strategy. You’ll come across as humble and friendly.

4. Finish

To round things up, ask for their card or contact info. Be sure to follow up by sending a good “thank you” email showing your appreciation for them taking time out of their busy schedule to help you.

Break the 4-Step Strategy at Your Own Peril

You can skip the first part of asking questions and listening intently at your own peril.

It could still work.

But the reason why I recommend doing this is because it will increase the likelihood that you get a response on the follow-up email.

Everything hinges on that email – and why the fuck should they answer it if they didn’t like you?

I’ve seen many people approach “shamefully” by speaking out-of-order and cutting directly to the chase of asking for way too large favors – but it rarely works well.

They usually get a cold answer like:

  Uh yeah.. Get in contact with our HR department and they’ll help you.

Actually they won’t.

I on the other hand usually get the massive advantage of the social proof that comes with a warm approach from having this successful person recommend me to their HR department.

Or – optimally – I might get put in contact with someone else through this person. That’s infinitely more powerful than doing it on your own.

Bottom line: – you can cold approach, but it rarely works as well.

The Reason Why Most People Don’t Do this

So, why doesn’t everybody do this?

That’s a fair question to ask.

First off, most people are afraid of step #2 – asking the first question needed to establish rapport.

Secondly, most people don’t feel entitled to speak to a successful person. They don’t feel that they’re worthy of taking up this person’s time.

They’re stuck in fear, thinking to themselves:

 – But I have nothing cool to say!

After reading this post I hope you do.

If you’ve listened intently you should be able to ask interesting and relevant questions that relate well to what the successful person has said or done.

Conclusion: Final Advice on Execution

To finish off I’m going to give you some helpful tips to avoid making common mistakes.

  • Dare to approach. You won’t get bitten.  Successful people are usually friendly and helpful.
  • Don’t put yourself down. Successful people want you be successful as well.
  • Don’t let your brain bullshit you into not asking questions by thinking that the questions are stupid. Ask your questions anyway. If you are interested it will show through despite your nervousness.

Avoid falling in the trap of putting the successful person on a pedestal.

Speak as if you were speaking to a peer.

This last one could be hard to do at first because it’s human nature to cower to authoritative people. What you need to do instead is to acknowledge them as equals and have a normal conversation.

If you follow this advice I’m sure you’ll do well.

Try it out for yourself and stick to the strategy.

Or maybe you have a strategy of your own?

Do you have any tips of your own for contacting, approaching, and getting on the radar of successful people?

 

[Note: I wrote an article on a similar topic for my buddy Chris over at Good Looking Loser. In that article I expand on the strategy I explained in this article. If you liked this one, you’ll love the one over at GLL!]


P.S.

We live in a world where nearly anyone can be contacted.

With some elegance and effort you can learn from the best people in your areas of interest.

This is a luxury people would easily have killed for in past times. You should make the most of it.

seth godin Derek Sivers

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Comments

  1. Ludvig,
    This is pretty intricate. I get the feeling a lot of the things you do are.
    How did you come up with this?

    Personally I my strategy (just in general) is also to “warm people up”. But I do it mostly when it comes to women or friends friends and such. Not so much with successful people, and not even nearly as fast as you seem to do it.

    For me, this warm-up process can take weeks. But once I’ve put in the time people tend to like me a lot. Especially teachers did when I attended college.

    Great post.

    • Hey JB,

      Like I said, I came up with it retroactively from noticing what I’d been doing for some time. But also from experimenting with different approaches to see what gave the best result, this is the best so far.

      I’m sure your strategy works fine.

      THanks.

  2. While I’m no longer a student, I do concur with your advice to students.

    Just like you and JB I also had a bit of strategy back when I was in college that also landed me my graduate work as well as my first job later. What I did was to call up all the CEOs of the companies I wanted to work for. I compiled a list, made a pitch, and sat down and went through it. I got failed to get through to some of them, got rejected by a few more, and got a YES! from one guy who had a lot of respect for my initiative.

    The shit works man ;)

    I got my current job in a similar way, but it was so much easier since I’d already gained some expertise and contacts within my professional area. It’s much more challenging to do as a student or young kid.

    By the way, the things you’re basing your strategy on here isn’t just bullshit, it’s all more or less founded in sales, psychology, and business books.

  3. Lol, that cover letter link you posted is hilarious!

  4. I think it’s important to remember that important people are just people. There is no difference between successful people and the rest of us. The same flesh and blood, hopes and fears – the only difference being their job title and the fact they work very hard.

    You made some great points here and the ‘warm approach’ principle works so well in every area of life, whether it’s aligning ourselves with successful people, meeting women or even forming a new social circle.

    • You’re absoluly right Jamie, they are.

      But while it’s one thing to know that in theory, it’s another thing to actually be speaking to these kind of people without doing it in a supplicating manner (coming from a sense of worship almost) and putting them on a pedestal.

      Thanks for the comment!

  5. Dan Erickson says:

    As a single dad and college instructor in a small town I can’t get out to meet people who could help me in the publishing industry in person. Right now I’m okay with being self-published, too. But in the future I would like to see something about the email approach to this.

    • I see.

      I’ve actually got at least one post coming up on later, but I’m not sure when. It’ll probably be published on LifeHack.

      Well, from what I gather you’re quite the prolific writer Dan. I’m sure content won’t be your weak point later on when/if you decide to approach the publishing industry.

  6. Great post Ludvig.

    It was only recently before I started to realise the power of networking. Not just with big successful people, but just about anyone in general. Back then in my school days, it was common for us to think we can do it all alone. And by that I mean just studying to get good grades and having the path somehow set up for you.

    I remember there was a speaker who came to my school and he was talking about how he “got on the radar of successful people.” It was an F1 event and while all the crazy fans were trying desperately to get their cheeks and foreheads signed by this particular F1 driver, he just waited for an opportunity to talk to him where the fans were out of sight!

    He gained so much more. Learning about his life as an F1 driver, PLUS getting his signature. Powerful.

    Jeremy

    • Haha I can envision that F1 event. It looks insane to the person being “worshipped”.

      Often it pays to be patient, but not always. And there’s a fine line between speaking out-of-order and just being honest and direct. It’s a learning process.

  7. This is awesome man. Connecting with people like this is a solid balance between getting what you want and adding value.

    I’d definitely say the hardest part for anyone is the actual approach. They think it’s going to be some catastrophic event in which they are ridiculed mercilessly. But in reality, successful people are just people. It’s no big deal.

    Awesome process you have here.

  8. Wan Muhammad Zulfikri says:

    Spot on, Ludvig.

    Everyone can be known by successful people if they stop following their initial mind and emotional response that causes anxiety, fear and whatnot, and just approach them.

    It’s just that people tend to see successful people as a godly figure. If that’s the case, then everyone’s a god. God mingles with god. Nothing to worry about.

    I agree that we shouldn’t let out brain bullshit into not doing something good. Yeah, of course we are a species that is superior than other animal because of our brain and stuff but that doesn’t mean that our brain is perfect and incapable of bullshit.

    If our brains are great then we should have been living in Earth heaven right now. That’s why being aware of our weakness and how our brains can be irrational sometimes can help us to make better decisions.

    • “God mingles with God”

      Haha, made my day!

      Yeah, what you’re saying about heuristics is true. It’s good to be aware of this stuff so we realize that it’s not “we” who have the problem, it’s simply inherent in our brains and it’s something to practice overcoming.

  9. I’m usually as honest as possible.

    And the question I usually ask them is, if you could go back to when you were my age and you could talk to yourself for 5 minutes, what advice would you give yourself?

    • I ask that question from time to time as well, but I’ve found that I don’t get very rewarding answers so I don’t ask it very often. Gotta make the most out of the limited time we have to chat so I prefer asking more specific questions.

  10. Great thoughts, Ludvig!

    Being prepared before hand with a superb elevator pitch and some good questions allows us to win the attention of successful people. Fantastic thoughts here.

  11. Sweet strategy.

    I’ll use this when I go to university.

  12. Dude, why couldn’t you have written this like 6 months ago?! I had Mohammed Yunis (nobel prize winning businessman) speaking at my university. To be fair I did attempt the first step of trying to ask a question during his lecture, but there were so many people I never got selected. I like this model though, I think I’ll be referring to it in future. I can imagine the second step being the one I’d be most intimidated by but I’ll have to swallow it if there’s a good opportunity to make contact.

    • Wow. That’s really something.

      What do you study by the way?

      I wonder if I myself would have the balls to use this at such an event. I guess we’ll see. I actually used this yesterday and got myself another interview for my thesis. That’s something like an 85 % success ratio.

  13. Jackson Anderson says:

    Hey Ludvig!

    Awesome post man, really some good advice for when speaking to those you feel are above your level.

    At the end of day we’re all humans and while others may have already accomplished what we want, they’re still just living and breathing people like ourselves, treat them with respect and you never know how far a relationship can go!

    Cheers man!

  14. Ludvig,
    First i would like to congratulate you on a fantastic post! I have learned quite a bit and figured out that i need to change a few things in my approach. Usually i will listen to their speech and come up with some questions and once he or she is finished i will tend to walk right up and extend my hand. Tell them how their speech was interesting (depending if it is if not just tell them it was great) ask the questions and just let them talk.

    While doing that i just stand there and listen to what they have to say! Its true when you ask people questions about what they are interested in they will go on for a while. The while they are doing that i just move forward and get their information. Once i do that i will shoot them a “Thank You!” note and go from there!
    Looks like I’m going to come to this site more and learn some new ways of communicating with people!

    Thanks ludvig

    • Awesome Jose. Looks like you got this pretty much figured out.

      You make a good point about the speech being great/interesting.

      I can trick my brain into thinking it’s interesting despite it being boring. I do this by getting maximum buy-in from my brain during the class – very reminiscent of the post I did over at Bold and Determined. I do it by forcing myself to invest in the conversation ASAP.

  15. Ludvig, this is a remarkable post. Keep up the good work.

    • Thanks Victor!

      If it’s great it’s because I used the exact same strategy/formula that I learned by doing the final rewrite for the guest post. It crystallized a few very important things for me.

  16. I regret not leveraging my time as a student better. Some of my friends who took the time to network with professors, guest lecturers, going to extra seminars and things like that have used those connections to jumpstart their career, whereas I’m still at ground zero. I think my number one career flaw is probably my indecision, I can’t decide what to do, so I’ve narrowed it down and started eliminating alternatives on my list. I think I’ll have to use your strategy to get to know some of my target careers better, and even open up some career opportunities. I’m lucky enough to have been born in this day and age, it’s really not a time to just settle is it!

  17. Daniel @ TKOM says:

    Great article Ludvig.

    This is so interesting because I did these exact steps in grad school many times unconsciously but I would sometimes forget the most important part of talking to the speaker afterwards.

    Come to think of it, a lot of the times, the speaker would hang out for a couple of minutes waiting for me to speak to them since we bounced off ideas back and forth during Q&A sessions but I admit I was a little scared to make a formal introduction. Haha.

    I can tell people in class would be hesitant to speak up as well. But in an educational setting where you are literally competing with other students, you need to stand out. Of course there are other ways to network but in a situational-based environment, I can’t think of any other way than what you’ve outlined.

    • You make some good points.

      If there’s one thing I’ve learnt about networking and school for the past 6 months then it’s that follow-up (of all sorts) is SO important.

      I imagine the situation is more competitive (as you say) in the U.S than in Sweden. Swedish people tend to have a very weak mentality and are scared of asserting themselves while Americans are more outspoken.

  18. great tips man

  19. I have red your book. Start selling it its pure gold, seriously. 5 min rule , awesome. Im gonna read 4 more times at least, in next seven days. Hah power of repetition and decision making.

    • I’m glad you like it. I think it’s pretty good myself ;)

      No, I can’t sell it. I’m not famous enough to make money selling stuff yet. Maybe in a few years though.

      Good thing you’re getting into the mindset of repetitions. It’s the only way to go. The only way to create motivation, a vision, a skill, or to change anything is by doing daily repetitions until it gets more comfortable.

  20. Michal Stawicki says:

    I have the strategy for an online contact which works pretty well. In just 2 sentences: Be yourself. Provide the value.
    If you are pretending someone else you have to became this ‘someone else’ in order to keep the relationship going or it will end anyway. As you said Ludvig, they have to like you.
    And providing value online is really, really simple. Give your feedback. Everyone with an ounce of a brain is hungry for the feedback.
    It takes time, but again, if it’s your authentic self, it’s not so hard. Acting this way I’ve alredy exchanged emails with Pat Flynn and Danny Iny. I’m not their friend of course, but I definitely am ‘on the radar’.
    I secured 2 guest posts on blogs 20 and 1000 bigger than mine.
    It works.

  21. Great, practical techniques.

    The approach is the most important part, with a caveat: treat kings like commoners, and commoners like kings. Usually when I’m with a successful guest speaker, I’ll make an offhand comment about the environment/circumstances like I would to an old friend. You can’t fake this; it’s simply a matter of being authentic and kind.

    When talking to a person (successful or not), I tend to get them to talk about themselves. Older, successful people typically enjoy taking a story-telling approach to give information. Also, if you ask for a business card, make sure it’s as a logical extension of something in your conversation, like an upcoming plan or a follow-up.

    Lastly, find private time, if you can. There will be a number of people butting into your conversation trying to make themselves look good. You have to let these people give their piece and wait your turn. If that means you’re the last one hanging around in the room to get a word in, then so be it. You never know when you just might hear “well I actually have to head over to [x], you should come along.”

  22. This is a really nice article. I don’t have any problem with contacting successful people. For the past year I was able to contact a lot of well-known authorities, and got contacted by some. CEOs, to magazine editors-in-chief, to publicists, to the actual celebrities themselves. But I still learned a lot of cool tricks in this post. Kudos man, you write great stuff!

  23. Great article. I did a very similar approach on last friday, I had it more easily because I was directly introduced to a entrepreneur by a common friend.

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