As I mentioned previously, I’m going to be exploring some of the Manhattan BNI chapters during my stay here.
The first group I visited was mega-chapter “Lucky 62”. On Wed 7th January, I got out of bed at 5:45am (a whole half hour later than my normal BNI mornings) and got the subway uptown to Union Square for their 6:45 start.
The front desk team all had different things they required of me – my name, my business card, and the $25 breakfast charge. Nervously I entered the main room (large, with a U shape table). Noting no place cards, unlike my chapter, I dumped my stuff on a chair and was welcomed by… okay, I’ll be honest, there were almost 90 people in the room and it was early in the morning. The amount of names I can remember is minimal.
But anyway, I found out who Conrad (the person I’d been in contact with) was and introduced myself to him. He showed me where to get coffee and people were already getting breakfast – although the USA lacks the full English, they had bacon and egg, bagels and cream cheese and a lot of tasty fruit. At each table place there was a handy printout with the agenda, leadership team, all the members and their contact details, plus space for notes.
The one area I felt the group slightly lacked was in visitor welcome. While I could have been more forward in approaching people, only one or two people came to speak to me – there was no drawing visitors into conversations with a group of established members, nor was I introduced to anyone who may be a useful connection to me. I guess with 90 people in the room it’s tricky to keep track of everyone!
The Meeting Begins
The formal meeting began at 7:15. President (US equivalent of Chapter Director) Amy Noelle started the meeting with a lively and enthusiastic intro to BNI. I don’t know whether she’d just had her morning coffee or whether she’s always this energetic, but it started the meeting off in a really positive way. The massive leadership team was introduced, as befits such a big chapter. Soon it was time to pass the business box round – oh wait, no need, all the contact details are on the form.
Next, naturally, was the 60-second round… only it wasn’t. What are you expecting? With 88 people in the room, we’d only have had two minutes left over to squeeze contributions, education and presentations in! Instead members and visitors had 30-seconds, subs only 15. By the looks of it, subs from the same company as one of the members only got a wave.
Unfortunately one of their members clashed with my category, so I was asked to read an “overlap commercial”, basically stating that I wasn’t there to solicit business but looked forward to meeting everyone. Of course I slipped in that I was visiting from England, which got a little “ooh?” of interest, but I didn’t need my full allotted time.
There were pros and cons to the 30-second restriction, from an observer’s point of view. On the one hand, the commercials were super snappy and to the point, and really held my attention through the entire meeting. Members didn’t waffle, and it was clear they’d all been prepared in advance rather than thought up on the spot. On the downside, Americans talk really damn fast, and the time limit didn’t help them pace. For several people I missed their name and company at both the start and end of the commercial, which doesn’t help when working out who you want to meet. For businesses with more complex offerings, it was hard to work out what they actually did (though that’s a struggle even with 60 secs).
The meeting was sped up even more by a round-the-room procession of commercials, rather than the randomised order favoured by my chapter. However the meeting was slowed (but brought to life) by the commitment that every member in the room made to belting out each strapline at the end of the commercials.
I recognised an atmosphere within the group that was consistent with BNI Guildford Business, though. The humour, in-jokes (but not too many) and general joviality of the group told me that these people were also friends. It’s this quality that’s so hard to reproduce, and it’s this quality that makes a chapter successful, in my opinion.
Moving on to the 10-minute speaker… no, wait, the two five-minute speakers, as it would take well over a year to get round all the members if there was only one a week. Both speakers were well prepared and interesting, and the second even managed to navigate your typical AV-going-wrong moment. I was excited to speak to the first presenter, Gary Riger, after the meeting to arrange a 1-2-1.
Another key difference was the lack of questions after presentations, which made sense to me as most speaker questions are either witty remarks or only applicable to the asker. In between the presentations, more BNI admin and announcements were done. You could tell they’d got their meeting timings down to a fine art.
Next came the Contribution Round, know on this side of the pond as “I Have”. Another key example of their time-saving skills, members with a Thank You For The Business to report were asked to stand and speak, then sit. The same process was done a second time for referrals and testimonials. The chapter had recently gone paperless, with all passing of referrals, logging of closed business and notifications of 1-2-1s done via BNI Connect. This also sped up proceedings hugely.
Cons of this approach meant that non-contributing members wouldn’t suffer the embarrassment of muttering “nothing this week” when called on to contribute. But this was counteracted by publicly publishing each member’s “average” – the average number of contributions they made (referrals, testimonials, 1-2-1s and visitors, not TYFTB) was in the handout, with members expected to stay above 1.5 per meeting.
The meeting finished in classic BNI style: renewals, events, door prize, quote. It was 8:43; they’d finished two minutes early!!!
Following up after the meeting was difficult – as mentioned, 88 faces are hard to keep track of. I’d noted down some names, but glancing around the room at the sea of suits, it was difficult to remember who was who now they’d stood up and moved around. I resolved to email the people I’d noted down after the meeting. Luckily I recognised the first five-minute speaker, and we arrange a 1-2-1 for later that day. I had a few more conversations with various members and visitors before the membership committee meeting began, which I had been invited to sit in on.
Membership Committee Meeting
Their MC met weekly after every meeting. During it I learned a lot about the chapter and their rigorous methods to ensure Lucky 62 kept improving. They reject six out of ten applicants and on average don’t renew four members a year. They also keep strictly to the rules and guidelines laid out by BNI in terms of contribution and attendance.
However, the mentoring system within the group seemed incredible. When members joined they were assigned a personal mentor and helped to find a strapline. In the MC meetings, they discussed everything from small niggles with a person’s manner, to commendations on the particular phrasing a member used. The comments would be fed back to the member in question. They also involved their members far more in the member application process – an email is sent out to ask all members for comments about prospective new members before they are approved.
Another part of the meeting was spent brainstorming ways to improve the meeting and help members get more out of it. Apparently 2015 is “power sphere year”, and they figured a way to fit monthly reports from each power team into their tightly-packed meeting. They also asked me for any feedback on their meeting – honestly I couldn’t think of much negative.
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Lucky 62 – but I don’t think lucky is an accurate name for their group. Their success is coming from damn hard work, from everyone in the chapter. I hope to get to meet a few more of their members for 1-2-1s before I return home, and I plan on taking some of their methods back to my chapter in the UK.