My penultimate week in New York saw my final two BNI meetings of my trip – 5 meetings in 3 weeks is pretty intense, and I was going to be hard pushed to fit all the 1-2-1s I had planned in before I flew home (and thanks to the #blizzardof2015, that’s now basically impossible).

Mighty Fine 29 (Manhattan 29)

On Tuesday, I stayed in bed late. Why? Because Manhattan 29‘s meetings don’t start at 7am, like most of New York’s. They don’t start at 7:30am, like 48 below. They don’t even start at 9am, like chapter 60 last week. They start at 6pm.

BNI 29

An evening BNI meeting was something completely unlike anything I’ve experienced before. Firstly, the subway was delayed – not a great start. I dashed out of Grand Central and down the street to the meeting venue as fast as I could (luckily only a few minutes past 6, in plenty of time for open networking).

The visitor hosts were pretty welcoming, and I was signed in promptly and met my contact Tom Jacoby. Rather than breakfast juice and coffee, there was cola and coffee, and rather than the odd collection of ingredients that constitutes an American breakfast, there was a cold buffet – standard fare for an evening networking event, but less of a full meal than you can expect from breakfast BNIs.

Dinner buffet at BNI 29

If I’m honest, evening BNI isn’t for me. The atmosphere was noticeably different, in that rather than getting up early and networking while they were still fresh (if a little sleepy), they were dropping by on their way home, after a long hard day at work. The atmosphere was jovial and chatty, but there was something missing, for me.

I won’t go on about the agenda – it was the same as all the other chapters I’ve visited. A new feature I saw was something called the 50-50 raffle. Apparently they sell raffle tickets on the door, plus some members get extra tickets added in for various reasons, e.g. having the best 60 seconds. It got a little complex – the winner of the raffle got to draw from a deck of playing cards, and if they got, I think, the seven of diamonds, they won half the raffle money. The other half, or the whole if they lost at the 1-in-52 odds, presumably went to the chapter. Having now been on the leadership side of BNI, and knowing that chapters themselves don’t get a penny from the membership fee, I can see the appeal of this, but as a member paying ~£1000 including breakfast, I baulk at the idea of shelling more money out.

BNI 29's 10 minute presentation

Overall the meeting was great – the people were very friendly, there was a florist who created a bridal bouquet for her 10 minutes, and I scheduled a couple of 1-2-1s after, but I think out of the 5 I visited this group suited my style of networking the least.

The 7:30 Network Group (Manhattan 48)

My final meeting, Manhattan 48, was held the following morning in Midtown not far from the Rockerfeller Centre. In fact I got completely lost on the way there, having written down the wrong steakhouse in my calendar. I still made it in time, and on the way in noticed a sign directing another BNI group to another part of the restaurant. Despite the thousands of venues on Manhattan, groups shared meeting spots.

BNI 48

I spotted the welcome desk, but there was no one at it. Everyone was further into the room, deep in conversation. A couple of people even caught my eye, but no one came over to say hi. Eventually someone got the attention of one of the visitor hosts, and he came over to sign me in. From that moment on, everyone was very friendly and welcoming, but it wasn’t the greatest first impression.

My contact Miguel Tavarez introduced himself to me, and I managed to speak to quite a few people in the room. Here breakfast mostly consisted of fruit and coffee. We all sat round a long boardroom table, and the meeting began – this time at the slightly later time of 7:45, compared to most Manhattan BNI’s 7:15.

BNI Manhattan referral slips

Once again, the agenda is classic BNI, but I noticed a few differences. They mentioned a 1-2-1 Dance Card, which seems to be a record for planning future 1-2-1s to get around the whole chapter. Having heard vague references to it at other meetings, I think this is an awesome idea and I have no idea why the UK doesn’t use this system. Unfortunately they also have the peculiar raffle.

Final Rankings

1. The 9AM Chapter (Manhattan 60) – despite not liking the 9am start, the people were just amazing, so friendly, and everything about the meeting felt exciting and fresh from start to finish.

2. Breakfast of Champions (Manhattan 45) – another amazing group, and with a ton of great connections for my business. The only reason it isn’t number one is just down to chemistry; I felt I clicked very slightly better with 60.

3. Lucky 62  (Manhattan 62) – amazingly organised group, and there are so many things I admire about this chapter. Unfortunately the sheer size of the group was intimidating and a little offputting – but it’s definitely a must-visit.

4. The 7:30 Network Group (Manhattan 48) – a great group, but the slow welcome brought it down a few pegs.

5. Mighty Fine 29 (Manhattan 29) – I enjoyed the meeting and the people were all friendly, but the chemistry wasn’t there for me and I didn’t enjoy the eveningness.

I only got to sample five of the 50+ BNI groups on the island of Manhattan. I’m sure there are plenty better; I’m sure there are plenty worse. I look forward to revisiting some of them when I come back in the future, and in visiting some other chapters too.

I’ve already had some pretty strong leads from a couple of people I met during the visit, and I look forward to announcing that Social Quirk is a truly international social media company! Many thanks to everyone who invited me to visit a chapter, and it was an absolute pleasure to meet you all.

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