How to Get the Cool Kids to Come to Your Party

Almost famous

You know, I wasn’t always this largely unknown, B-list, minor celebrity.

Oh no, no, no.

It’s taken lots of work to scale this particular mountain…

Since I launched the Great Work MBA virtual conference last month, I’ve had quite a few people (well over 4) ask me how I got the likes of Brené Brown (TED talk superstar), Beth Comstock (CMO of GE), Brenda Chapman (Oscar-winning director of Pixar’s Brave) and 22 other amazing speakers to be part of this virtual conference.

What’s the secret behind my ability to get these well-known and busy people involved in this and things like the End Malaria project?

Well (and cue music signifying us going back in time…)

It was GTD that did it

It was 2004, and my first book Get Unstuck & Get Going was almost done. Admittedly, it was an idea that I’d had ten years earlier and filed away carefully in my “one day maybe” file. It was only when someone asked, “Do you mind if I do this, seeing as you’re clearly not planning on putting the idea into action?” that I’d finally got things going.

I’d done a number of things right…

  • I hired a coach whose job was to stop me finding excuses for not writing the book
  • I got a cool designer-y friend to make it look funky
  • I created and tested iterations, so it went from being grey and called The Booster Shot to being funky orange and called Get Unstuck
  • I even hired someone to project manage the complicated process of getting it printed (you whippersnappers with your Lulu.com and your Amazon have it so easy….)

But I hadn’t done any thinking at all about how to market it.

So I asked myself this: “What wouldn’t I do, to have this be a success?” That handily ruled out things like robbing banks and wearing a sandwich board on the street, but it did leave this solid book marketing tactic: Ask someone famous to write a testimonial.

When I flicked through whatever my equivalent of a rolodex was in 2004, it became immediately apparent that I knew not a single famous person. At all. No successful book authors. No rising-star-bloggers. No Hollywood heavyweights.

Nada.

So … what to do?

How do you sort your books on your bookshelf?

At the time, I was experimenting with alphabetical. So top left-hand corner was a book that I’d not really read, but a friend had recommended: David Allen’s (I can say excellent, now that I’ve actually read it) Getting Things Done, one of the classics of productivity.

As good a place as any to start, I thought, so I went onto my pre-Google search engine, found Davidco.com, found a phone number and gave it a call.

And on the first ring, actually even faster than that, the phone was answered and someone said, “Hello, David Allen here.”

Cue panic.

I didn’t have a script prepared, I didn’t have a request clearly formulated. Heck, I wasn’t even sure who David Allen really was.

Where was the voice mail? Or at the very least, the long line of personal assistants I was expecting to encounter?

Nope, right through to David Allen himself.

So I asked him if I might send him the book, with the possibility of his writing a testimonial.

He graciously agreed.

I sent the book.

He wrote the testimonial.

And good things happened from there.

I’d uncovered the first secret

The very first strategy to getting the cool kids or the influencers or whatever label you want to give them is you have to be willing to ask.

Be brave.

Be bold.

Be smart. (Who exactly are you inviting, and why?)

Don’t do the “who am I to ask THEM?” thing.

Be willing to make the request.

But you need to do more than that

You’ve got to be smart and generous and different.

1. You’ve got to find a way to make it good for them, not just good for you.

When I was inviting people to the Great Work MBA or End Malaria or the 200+ Great Work Interviews I thought hard about each invitation, found a way to make it useful for them, and personalized it.

With many of the people, I’ve tried to build and maintain a relationship (not a Big and Heavy relationship but a “weak ties” relationship). Scott Stratten and I first had a coffee together more than six years ago. When Sally Hogshead came to Toronto to speak at the HRPA conference, I emailed her and met her for a drink. When I’ve seen a new book out from Roger Martin over the last five years or the news he’s moving on from his position of Dean of Rottman business school, I send him a quick congrats. I invited Tim “Dr. Happy” Sharp to come as my guest to a program I was running in Australia in 2007.

And they’re all speakers at the Great Work MBA virtual conference. (And you can read all about them here.)

2. You’ve got to stand out from the crowd.

Look how Erin Giles invited me to be part of her (awesome and important) indiegogo campaign, End Sex Trafficking Day.

My personal video invitation.

(And yes, I’m supporting this, and I’d love you to support it too. Even $1 will make a difference.)

Even people like me – not very high at all on the totem pole – receive more invitations than I can say Yes to. In fact, I say No to most of the requests I get.

AND … I do say YES to some that feel personal, clever and meaningful for me. Like Erin’s.

3. You’ve got to be persistent.

To cut to the chase, I’m clear that it’s not a “no” to my request until…

  • It’s actually a definitive, black and white, unambiguous No
  • It feels like I’m stalking them.

I’ve made 6 or 7 requests – by phone, by email, by web form – until I’ve finally abandoned the chase.

Don’t think that asking once is enough.

Don’t think that silence is a “no”.

Are you picking up the subliminal messages here?

Hidden behind this conversation about how to get funky/cool/influential people to be part of your game, there’s something else going on.

They messages are subtle I know, but I’m really hoping you’ll join me and some of these fabulous speakers at the Great Work MBA.

great-work-mba

In case you haven’t yet clicked on any of the links above (and how could you possibly resist?) here are the essential details:

  • November 10-15 at a screen near you: it’s virtual and it’s free
  • 25 extraordinary speakers, ranging from TED superstars to New York Times best-selling authors, from Oscar winners to innovators in the non-profit field
  • Each day has its own focus. Day 1′s theme is Grounding Yourself. Day 3′s is Connect to Purpose (and you can see the other themes by scrolling down this page)
  • Each talk is 27 minutes, and available for 24 hours
  • There’s a bunch of things to help you engage with the learning and move from insight to action, from a team of Super Coaches to a daily debrief to three live calls
  • And did I mention it’s virtual and it’s free?

You can sign up for the Great Work MBA here.

And support the End Sex Trafficking Indiegogo campaign here.

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