In my career, I’m fortunate to have a ton of opportunities to meet interesting and influential people. Every once in a while, this includes a celebrity! When I knew I would be meeting Betty White, I was so excited because I’ve always been a huge “Golden Girls” fan. I actually got the chance to chat with her and even appear in a segment with her quickly. It was lovely and she was fantastic.
However, I don’t always keep it so cool when I meet famous people. I’ve been a fan of Oprah my entire life but when I saw Gayle King in an elevator, I completely froze! I didn’t want to blurt out, “I love Oprah too!” so I said nothing.
It can just be so awkward! When you meet a celebrity, you know so much about their career and their personal lives but you are a complete stranger to them. No one wants to be asked about their divorce or have someone they don’t give them career advice, and I imagine celebrities feel the same way.
So what do you say? I made a list of specific questions to ask Oprah in the past, but now I realize I needed a more general list in case I ever run into Stedman or Gayle! To avoid being rude, embarrassing myself, or saying nothing, I came up with this list of things to say when meeting a celebrity:
1. “I really like your work with ________!” So many celebrities have passion projects they care about outside of what they’re famous for. Joseph Gordon Levitt runs a collaborative multi-media production company called HitRecordJoe and Demi Lovato is an activist against bullying, but that’s not what they make headlines for most often. I’m sure they’d love a little recognition for projects that are close to their hearts.
2. “What do you think happened to that character?” Odds are, the actor who played your favorite TV character loves the character just as much as you do and they’ve spent just as much time speculating as to where that character ended up. This would have been a great question for James Gandolfini — would love to know what he thought happened to Tony Soprano.
3. “You inspired me to ____________.” Most celebrities are artists and are creating work that they hope will influence people. Celebrities get told all the time how much people love their work, and while I’m sure that never gets old, it can be a lot more rewarding to find out you were a positive influence on someone. It must still be cool to realize that people emulate you and focus on what you’re doing right.
4. “Have you ever been star-struck?” Even celebrities have celebrities they want to meet. If you’re really nervous and need a way to break the ice, try ironically calling yourself out on being star-struck! Odds are, the celebrity has a story about how they were nervous meeting someone they look up to. This one might seem a little out there, but it totally worked for my intern when she met Dave Matthews!
5. “Cool necklace! Where did you get it?” This is great for meeting a celebrity you don’t know much about. Pick the most eccentric item he or she is wearing or carrying and ask about it. You never know what kind of story is behind it or what a great conversation you might start.
Whatever you decide to say, remember to breathe. Try not to freak out. And prepare to tell this story forever 🙂
Update: This is just one of many situations when you can feel awkward. I written tons of articles about this. Here’s what to do when you struggle with the right thing to say, have to make small talk over the holidays or when you have an awkward situation at work. I also talk about some of my clever ways to get out of awkward conversations in my book Listful Thinking!