In my life, I’ve had the pleasure to meet some incredible and well-known figures. I’ve met prominent sports athletes such as Lynn Swann, influential politicians and business leaders, and perhaps the biggest of them all, Vice President Mike Pence.
This week, through the Global Summit pre-event dinners, I have had the pleasure of meeting former U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.
As the week goes on, there may also be opportunities to meet high-profile individuals such as Sean Spicer, the former White House press secretary, and George Will, the Pultizer Prize-winning columnist for the Washington Post.
All that is to say, the first encounter with someone who carries with them stature and prestige can be very intimidating.
Going into an encounter with someone who has such an impressive resume as these individuals have had, you may initially think you’ll be smooth and relaxed, but most of the time, the first encounter can come off as awkward or nervous, and for good reason.
However, if there’s anything I’ve learned in meeting people like the aforementioned, it’s that you can’t treat them as larger than life.
Is that to say don’t respect their authority or stature? No, not at all; treat them with the utmost respect and integrity.
But the way to curb that in-the-moment anxiety and stress is to remember: they’re people like you and me.
They have the same worries, desires, wants, thoughts and needs as we do.
They laugh at the same jokes, cry over the same roadblocks, are asking questions and learning about the world at the same rate you are.
Just because they carry a fancy title or much influence, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t carry a conversation as you would with anyone you’ve met.
I’ll never forget meeting Secretary Hagel. As he approached the group I was in, there was great initial tension as everyone wondered who would introduce themselves first, who would be the one to welcome him, who would break the ice; as it turns out, it was me.
The secretary walked up to me, and after I had said “Good evening, Mr. Secretary, welcome to Gannon,” his response with a self-effacing smile was “Hi, I’m Chuck!”
Immediately we all laughed and felt at ease, knowing that despite his reputation as an elder statesman, he was one of us, so to speak.
At the end of the day, if you find yourself at elegant dinners with “larger than life” people, remember you have the charisma, charm, and personality to make it a memorable and successful night.