Interviewing experts & influencing influencers
The world is connected. Moreso now than ever before.
The opportunity to meet famous people – influential people – is at your finger points.
As a communicator who has something to share with the world, the choice to take advantage of this (or not) is yours and yours alone.
The beginning of influence
I first experienced this when reading one of Seth Godin’s books. After I finished it, I noticed he included his email address on his blog.
I wondered if he really answered all his email, or if he hired someone to do it for him. I dismissed the idea of contacting him myself.
Why would he bother with little ole me?
And then one day, I did it. I sent him an email, thanking him for his words and asking him a question. It was one of those throwaway emails that you don’t expect an answer to, like a fan letter to a pop star or an application for a job your not really qualified for.
A day or so later, Seth responded with a short, personal reply. I’ve been emailing him for years, and he responds every time. When his book Linchpin came out, he sent me a note, asking if I’d be interested in interviewing him about it.
This is the power of a conversation that turns into a relationship.
Since then, I’ve interviewed people like Chris Brogan, Leo Babauta, Steven Pressfield, Michael Hyatt, and many others. I’ve met rock stars and movie stars.
Here’s the deal: I’m nobody special. You can do this, too, in a relational, non-sleazebag way. I promise.
I admit it that I don’t love posting interviews on my blog. With some exception, they don’t get a ton of traffic, and they tend to be kind of boring in text form.
When I post an audio interview, the response is even worse.
So why do I bother? Well, because I do love doing them. And that would be my encouragement to you: even if you never publish the interview, this is a discipline worth practicing.
- Interviews are a foot in the door. Like flashing a “press badge,” when you tell someone (or their assistant) that you have a blog and want to interview them, you’re much more likely to get some of their time.
- Interviews build relationships. The point of doing an interview really isn’t about the content. It’s about building a relationship with the influencer.
- Interviews legitimize your influence. If you can land an interview with Stephen King or Julia Roberts, you’ve made it. You’re legit. And people recognize that.
Now, please don’t take that and misapply it. You need to pay your dues. You need to do the interviews and share the content. This is how the relationship is built.
The payoff for you is a relationship between you and the interviewee. Not everyone will reciprocate, but if you do this often, I’ve found, you do make some new relationships.
Almost all of my relationships with an influencer began with an interview. And people give special clout to those brave enough to ask.
Nobody does this
Now, the crazy thing is that I just told you this is easier than ever before. But it’s still incredibly scarce.
The reason why is fear.
People are afraid. They’re intimidated to ask. So how do you set yourself apart? Make the ask.
Making the ask is the easy part. It’s the part that most people will do. And you need to get over your hesitation and just do it. Because we’ve got bigger things to do than this. But it all begins with the ask.
I make most of my asks by email. They’re short, informal, and to the point. Here’s my basic outline:
- Brief introduction
- Thank the person for their work and impact
- Explain what I’m asking (usually an interview) and why
- Include links or references to past interviews
- Make a clear ask
- Signature (name, contact info, blog address)
One thing I have to discipline myself not to do is apologize for what I’m asking. I also have to remind myself it’s not my job to say “no” for somebody else.
When you’re just starting out, this may be a huge temptation; don’t give into it. They can turn you down on their own without your help, thank you very much.
Once the ask is made and the interview is done, that’s when the real work starts. This is where you go from interview to influence.
How does it work? Like any other relationship — slowly and honestly over time.
Essentials to influencing influencers
There are two essentials to earning influence with important people: relationship and permission.
Relationship: This goes without saying, but you need to know the person. And they need to know you.
How does this happen? Two ways:
You make the ask (which we already talked about) or…
You keep showing up in their life. Don’t do this annoyingly, just occasionally and persistently.
Over time, they will recognize your face or name. If they don’t, you don’t have relationship. You have an acquaintance, which is nice, but not influence.
Permission: This is hard to measure but vital to building influence.
You can have implicit or explicit permission and depending on the type of relationship, one may be more appropriate than the other.
For example, I don’t have explicit permission from my wife to call or visit her at any hour of the day, but I know she’ll appreciate it if I do. On the other hand, I need explicit permission from my neighbor to do the same.
What’s the difference? Relationship.
Let me just say this: if you’re communicating with an influential person and they’re responding to you politely, you have permission to keep communicating with them. Don’t doubt or second-guess that. At the same time, don’t abuse it, either.
If you consistently and quietly show up in a person’s life, you will win a friend.
The 3rd level of relationship
As the relationship evolves, it’s not a bad idea to get a sense of what kind of permission you have.
Is this someone that you can call or text? Or is email most appropriate? Would it be weird if you invited them to dinner or a party?
Until then, just keep gently testing the waters. If you overstep your bounds, you’ll either know intuitively (by how they react), or they’ll tell you. Be sensitive, but not neurotic.
Over time, some relationships with influencers will go from interviewee to friend to advocate. And that third level of relationship is a beautiful thing.
How do you know when you have it? When you don’t have to ask anymore . When you’re not even around, they’re telling their friends about you. They’re sharing your work with the world.
It’s not exactly the Italian Renaissance, but there are still people like the Medici family out there, looking for great art to support. Maybe that’s you.
Are you ready? Your patron is waiting.
Get started by reaching out to someone to interview and influence today.
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