We’re here for the Chamber
bowling night!

I was reading posts over on “Debby Peters, Networking Guru“. She had a really good one on understanding what unwritten rules visitors to your group or event might run afoul of, and how your group would deal with these violations. Check out her post for more details, but this has put me in mind as to our behaviors toward the visitors that we have personally invited. How can we make their time easier and more comfortable?

How can we help them want to come back?

When it comes to inviting a guest to attend an event with us, be sure to help them prepare as much as possible. You might want to tell them about the following:

  • Date and time. I know this might seem to be an obvious one, but go beyond the obvious. Do a lot of people tend to show up early in order to network before the official event? Do they stay late? If your guest only allots the time necessary for the advertised schedule, they may be missing out on some of the best networking.
  • Location. Another obvious one, but you should also include any quirks you are aware of with respect to the location. Is there parking available at the venue or will they have to park down the street? Will there be a charge for parking? How long will it take them to get there? Is there any construction along their route which might delay them?
  • Dress code. There’s little that will make someone feel like more of an outsider than if their level of sartorial splendor doesn’t match that of the rest of the group. Why there was that time I showed up in that pink bunny costume… but that’s a story for another day.
  • Agenda. Knowing when things are going to be happening can go a long way toward helping a visitor feel more comfortable. This is especially true for those groups and events which follow a very specific schedule. This is also helpful if your guest can’t be there for the whole event. Letting them know what they will be missing will let them decide whether they can afford to be absent.
  • Special preparations. I attended a networking meeting as a guest one time where one participant was chosen at random to present a challenge to the group for a round of peer advising. Now, I wasn’t selected for that honor, but the fact that I was ready with an issue made me feel a lot less likely to be embarrassed for lack of preparedness. In another situation, our local Chamber has a lunch-time networking program in which they have a version of “pass the mic” where each person gets to make a self-introduction. The trick is that you can only say your name, your company and ten additional words about what you do. Having to come up with those ten words off the top of the head probably added some stress to more than a few peoples’ lives.
  • Materials. I don’t usually carry a lot of business cards with me (since I only give them out to people who ask — rarely more than four or five at a given event). Unfortunately, one event I attended expected you to pass a stack of cards around the table, so each person could take one. Fortunately for me, one of the organizers had a sheet of blank cards I could fill out to augment my meager store.
  • Forbidden behaviors. I know there are some groups out there which don’t allow you to pass your card during their meetings. Others don’t permit a guest to sign in without an accompanying member. Whatever your groups proscribed activities are, be sure to inform your guest. No one enjoys the results of stepping on another person’s taboos.
The main thing to remember is that you want your guest to feel as comfortable as possible — or at least as comfortable as they can be while walking into a room full of strangers. Giving them the lay of the land before they walk in the door can go a long way toward easing their apprehensions. Just a little bit of effort on your part can be the difference between a one-timer and a life-timer.
Photo credit: Paul Dixon