Meeting my heroes for the first time and absolutely dumbstruck
May 10, 2011 12:14 PM   Subscribe

How to make the most out of a rare opportunity? Attending a lecture + book-signing soon given by a duo I admire greatly and want to be like. I want to learn as much as I can from them, maybe even assist them in some way, but how? What can I offer them?

So I am making a 5 hour bus trip to see two much older, seasoned women photographers give a talk, people I admire greatly for their accomplishments. I am fully aware that while nothing might come out of this other than a nice memory, it could also be one of those moments that... possibly... change. my. life! Help me put the most into that nano-sized possibility.

Basically, can I turn this run-of-the-mill talk+signing into one of those retrospective "good luck and timing" moments? How can I ensure that they remember me (for future communication) when I think there's nothing I've done that stands out or is useful to them? I doubt I'll ever get another face to face chance like this again, so I want to make the most of it.

I'm just a plebeian 9-5 graphic designer, with no real accomplishments to schmooze about. I've been languishing at my day job, DREAMING of doing what they do. When I found out about them, I read everything I could about them, and they embody everything I want out of life. I feel I must follow in their footsteps, but I have nothing but my artistic talents, passion and dedication to offer them. There is nothing amazing I can show them as proof of how I could benefit them. In other words, they are everything to me, but I think I would look like a big zero to them...

I DO come from the same fine arts (painting) background as one of the women, though, so we did start out roughly from the same place.

I've decided to start a wikipedia page on them (as they do not have one) and thought that that might be a way to get my foot in the door to building some sort of a professional relationship, and not be just another admiring passerby. A friend has suggested that I write or contact them in advance, introducing myself and the idea of starting a wiki page, so that they might warm to it beforehand. I could also blog about this event, giving them further publicity. They also run several charities to help fund their cause. Maybe I could help them promote that by volunteering my graphic design skills?

How can I be of service to them, so that I could get to know them and learn from them, so that someday my life could be like theirs? How much should I tell them about myself?

Any tidbits on how I can put my best foot forward when I introduce myself to them for the first time? Should I dress to standout? Should I bring them a small gift, maybe paint them something very small with my contact info on the back (does that sound crazy; I have no business card)?

Thank you for any and all tips for this novice networker!

ps. They are based in London, while I am in NY.
pps. Sorry for the lengthy and super-intense post! I am so excited to meet them.
posted by Sa Dec to Human Relations (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Doing a wikipedia entry on them sounds like an excellent idea, and it also give you a reason to interview them, in order to produce a more accurate or informative wikipedia entry. Giving them a gift would, I believe, be excessive. Celebrities do sometimes receive gifts from people they don't know, but such gifts seldom turn out to be needed or wanted (Andy Rooney, on the 60 minutes TV show, has presented an interesting discussion about all the gifts people send him).
posted by grizzled at 12:22 PM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've worked in PR, and my mom has worked in PR for close to thirty years. I've been to a lot of these events, and I really don't think there is any way for you to break into their lives in this context. As in none at all. So go prepared with a thoughtful question for the Q+A and a friendly smile, and a short schtick about how great you think they are when they sign your book; you will have, at most, a minute (probably 30 seconds) if there's a meet and greet afterwards. This book signing is not your moment to shine. Don't bring gifts, cards, etc. That's really awkward. Don't dress to stand out, unless that's how you always dress. You'll look cuckoo.

But, I think you should (really!) drop them a line after and identify yourself as the person who asked that insightful question about a painterly sense of light in their work, and see if you can spin this into a correspondence or an interview opportunity, or what have you.

These folks will meet hundreds of people on the tour. These tours are exhausting, and generally not a lot of fun. Few, if any, people will write to them--that's the group you want to be in. Hyping this lecture in your mind as anything more than something fun will 1) lead to disappointment and 2) possibly make you come off as off-kilter. Email! Good luck!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:30 PM on May 10, 2011 [15 favorites]

Based on what you wrote, it doesn't sound like you'll have much (if any) one-on-one contact with them during the event. It's just a talk and signing session? Maybe their level of celebrity isn't high enough for this to apply, but I'd imagine that trying to step into their spotlight would seem creepy and/or stalkerish. I don't think you should intrude on the event itself.

However, if there's a recess period or a chance for you to exchange greetings with the women—maybe at the autograph-signing table—you could certainly try inviting them to join you at a local restaurant afterwards, if they haven't got anything else planned. Everybody's got to eat, and I'm sure some Londoners would be happy to receive some real American hospitality. I've seen this done at similar functions and it seemed like a great way to talk shop with the pros in an informal, much quieter setting.

However, if you are traveling from five hours away, this might not be feasible. You'll need transportation and some familiarity with the area. I also recommend doing this with a group of colleagues, not solo (to reduce the intimidation factor for the visitors). If these are limiting factors, I defer to Admiral Haddock's unfortunate advice.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 12:33 PM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: MY FIL is a renowned scholar in his field, and he has a number of "fans" that he's met at various lectures and book signings. The people he thinks of most fondly are those who've sought out something relevant to his work--sometimes old photos or postcards and once a children's book on his subject (printed in the 1870s). These people usually don't expect too much from him, but respect his work so much that they want to share something with him. He's usually very touched by these gestures-- I don't know that he's been in constant correspondence with them, but he's in his 80s.

Rather than engulfing them with how much you want to be like them, I'd say build the Wiki page, and maybe find some small (emphasis on small, packable, not valuable) token to give to them. Your first contact with them can be sort of low-key, and then, you can probably find a way to build a real friendship/relationship. Honoring them and their work is lovely, but I wouldn't go to the event brimming with enthusiastic hopefulness.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:34 PM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Following up on Admiral Haddock's advice: I've sent emails to a number of niche-famous artists and musicians (I am neither) and I always get prompt, friendly, and personal replies. You don't need to load it up with glowing praise or anything. They're just people.
posted by theodolite at 12:38 PM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

You have to remember, these two women are working. They have to get through their talk, sign all the books people want signed, and if this is a US book tour they probably will have to skedaddle almost immediately to get on to their next stop. Or if this event is the last stop of the day, they probably want nothing more than to get to the hotel and unwind. In short, this event is probably the absolute worst time for you to make any sort of meaningful connection with them.

Sorry to be such a downer.

If they have downtime in NY, maybe you can arrange a coffee or something in advance, it's certainly worth a shot. Just be honest and genuine - you have to relate to them as professional artist who is a fan to professional artist, not drooling borderline stalkerish fan to artist ;)

Good luck!
posted by COD at 12:45 PM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm so glad I asked the hivemind. Thank you for keepin' it real. They're not as famous as they should be (hence the lack of wikipedia entry), but the event won't be a small one. I probably won't have much time at all to really introduce myself. I guess that's why I was wondering how I could make a big impact on them in 30 seconds!

I think at this point inviting them to coffee would seem like a huge presumption on my part! I'm not a university professor or anything. But yes, a followup email is probably best. I'll always be able to say that I attended one of their talks at x venue as a point of introduction. And I'll keep the wikipedia entry idea (and forget the pink feather boa). :)
posted by Sa Dec at 1:06 PM on May 10, 2011

You do need something professional to approach them about, in some manner that distinguishes you from the room of people that will just be a sea of faces. This can work, though!

Yesterday, I emailed an industry guru who I admire and respect -- this is a guy who has invented and patented about 1/4 of the tech I use in my work every day - he's a giant in the industry. I read his books and magazine articles, and use his techniques, and would say he holds a kind of mentor status in the printing industry in general. I told him I wanted to write a profile of him for my blog, but that I didn't want to get anything wrong, and would he like a chance to review what I wrote, and give me an update about what his current projects were? By the time we'd exchanged a few emails, we were on a friendly basis, and he was offering me products to review. Some people are way more approachable than you might think, in a professional capacity, if it's beneficial to them to be so. Someone shoving product in their face at a meet & greet is definitely not the way, though.
posted by Devils Rancher at 1:18 PM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Well, on the other hand, they are out there networking. Been in PR, I've organized events like this with some big names, and it's not an automatic turn off or unwelcomed to have someone genuinely interested in your work tell you so, and request permission to email.

Sa Dec: "Hello, X and Y, my name is Sa Dec, and I am so happy to have the opportunity to meet you! I've come over from NY especially for this event-- I know this isn't the place, but I wanted to let you know that I'm working on a Wikipedia entry about you two. I can't believe it doesn't already exist!"

X/Y: It's nice to meet you Sa Dec! Yeah, it's crazy tonight! New York, wow. Yeah, we're invisible on Wikipedia! We keep meaning to see to that!

Sa Dec: Well, I would love to share my draft with you so that it accurately represents you and your work. Would it be ok with you if I emailed you in the next week or so? I can give you more information at that time."

X/Y: Cool, do you have a card/give PR KID your name, we'll look for it.

Sa Dec: Great. Thanks, have a great night.

And your relationship begins!
posted by thinkpiece at 2:00 PM on May 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

thinkpiece has it, I think - take a business card, hand it them at the gig and ask if you could take theirs, with a quick explanation of the Wikipedia site, which gives you a practical reason for exchanging the cards, rather than just fandom.

But - if you happen to have an email address for them already, you could drop them a very short, non-stalkerish note before the gig, just a couple of lines, saying "Really looking forward to seeing you at [event], I've started a Wikipedia entry about you guys, so if I get the chance to say Hi, I will do, it would be great to meet you in person."

It'll just mean they have an extra drop of recognition if/when you shake their hands. Follow up with another short email a la "Loved the talk, great to say 'Hi', hope the rest of the tour goes well, here's a link to the Wikipedia page in case you want to add anything yourselves." - literally just a couple of lines.

I agree that lots of well-respected people are delighted to encourage others that come after them and love their work, as long as they don't feel awkward about being overly-idolised, and as long as it doesn't come over as obliging them to respond in a particular way. If they can give you more back, they will, and you never know, they may do.

It's just that you want to come across as someone who loves their work but has a keen professional interest and a busy life of their own, rather than someone whose pupils dilate on sight of their idol, whose home is covered wall to wall in their photos at the expense of all else. Whether it is or not ;)

Can you tell I've been that person? The fan I mean, not the idol...*cringe*!
posted by penguin pie at 4:01 PM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

thinkpiece's suggestion is great.

Also: do they use social media? I've managed to turn a few moderately well-known writers and artists—people who inspire me and who I aspire to be like—into online acquaintances by approaching them on Twitter after attending their events. After a couple of months of Twitter chatting, some of these relationships have transitioned to Facebook, and I'm now in a position where I can interact with them in a very loose way: we occasionally comment on each other's posts and I follow their interests and recommendations.

I always keep a friendly distance, and am under no delusions that I'm actually 'friends' with these people—but these casual interations are nonetheless a source of daily pleasure and inspiration for me. It's totally worth pursuing.
posted by hot soup girl at 4:15 PM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Hello, once again thanks for the extremely helpful advice! I thought I might update you all to say I did end up having a friendly and personal conversation with them, as much as book-signing time would allow, and managed to swap business cards with them! They were very intrigued by the wikipedia idea and were happy to correspond with me to help me fill it out. And they even invited me to get to know them better whenever they visit NYC for a talk. I will definitely follow up and see where this leads. Thank you!
posted by Sa Dec at 10:55 PM on May 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Fantastic! Thanks for letting us know.
posted by thinkpiece at 4:05 AM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hooray! That sounds great. Now that's done with, can you tell us who they are, so we can all appreciate them? Might there be, for example, a Wikipedia page you could link to?! Or Memail me if you're worried they might find this and discover all your planning! I'd love to know.
posted by penguin pie at 11:29 AM on May 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

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