It’s not very often that I visit a BNI chapter outside of my region, but I was recently in the US for the annual BNI convention and thought I’d visit a couple of US chapters to see what they were like.
My first comment is that whilst they run the same agenda, they were totally different experiences.
I bowled up to the venue at 6.40 (with my Executive Director name badge on) and it was absolutely IMPOSSIBLE to find where they were meeting in this hotel. It was only because a staff member of the hotel saw my badge (and lost look) and asked if I needed help, that I found the room.
Not a great start.
By now it was 6.45am and when I found the room, there were a few people scattered and running around. I had no idea where to go. Not being shy I bowled up to one guy and introduced myself as a visiting ED from Australia (I’d registered online so they should have known I was coming). To my bewilderment, he said (and I AM quoting) “we’re not set up yet, why don’t you hang out over there (there being the foyer) until we’re ready for you”, which I complied to out of amazement.
NINE minutes later (exiled to the foyer) after no less than 11 members walked past me into the room (and I smiled at all of them) did one person ask if I needed help. I explained who I was and she brought me in and introduced me to the visitor host coordinator who, incidentally, was the guy who banished me. No ‘sorry’, ‘we’re ready now’ or anything just a ‘please sign in a make it legible for our records’. OK then.
He then asked if I needed anything and I said, how about introducing me to the President. Well blow me over, 6.58 and she wasn’t there yet. She arrived just at that point, I was introduced and she was very welcoming and introduced me to another member whilst she settled in. That part was well done.
The formal part of the meeting started at 7.20 and no one told me what was expected of me and when it got to the weekly presentation, I was told ‘you can do one if you like’. Well I’m not a member of the chapter, but I thought OK, it’s not the first time I’ve been put on the spot, so I delivered a great one. Then it came to another visitor who stood up to speak, but she was told ‘no you don’t get a turn’ (and I’m quoting) “Braith got a go because he’s a VIP”. At that point, I could not have felt less “VIP” if I tried. A simple explanation to us both before would have been excellent.
Throughout the meeting, members threw in a few ‘in-jokes’ some of which sounded to me, very inappropriate, but they all laughed. I could tell one of them was an ‘age joke’ aimed at an older member and he certainly did not laugh when someone dropped that right after his 60 seconds
The ten-minute presenter was interesting. At the end, I had no idea what referrals he wanted, but I saw lots of pics from their recent Mexican vacation. He was such a ‘nice guy’.
Later in the meeting, we got to the “I have” section. Waffle, waffle, waffle – half the members talked long and large about one to ones (which as we know, is not part of the agenda) and of course the referrals and closed business was minimal (why generate referrals or business if you can ramble on about One to Ones, which sounded more like love-ins than anything!). Business was minimal, it was all a bit sad.
The meeting ended, no one said goodbye, so I just left.
This could not have been better.
I was met in the carpark and escorted to the room. At 6.45 25 of the 40 members were there, I was signed in an introduced around. Everyone welcomed me, the visitor hosts explained everything I’d need to do (as if I knew nothing about BNI, which made it really simple for me to know what they expected of me that morning.) By 7 everyone was in and networking with each other. At one point I was standing in a group where one guy was giving feedback on a referral from last week that was amazing. He explained what he’d done to help the referral and he even thought he’d be able to refer the client on to another member in the room for additional resulting work and how the original referrer wanted this handled. Textbook!
The meeting was timed perfectly, they all had a few laughs, but were professional. They ended right on time and I was swamped with ‘thanks for coming’, handshakes and a few hugs.
All that would be nice but the proof is in the numbers. Both were similar sizes. The first group reported $566k worth of business year to date, the second one was about to break $2m.
The honest truth is that the second chapter wasn’t perfect, but no chapter ever is. But what it slipped up on was irrelevant. I had an awesome time and felt really comfortable, welcomed and wanted.
These experienced got me thinking, what would it be like to visit your chapter as a first-time visitor? Have a step back and analyse the experience, you never know, that next visitor walking in the room could be your perfect client. Would they want to work with you based on the chapter visitor experience?