Diversity Archives - Dr. Ivan Misner®
Intentional About Diversity

Being Intentional About Diversity

Being Intentional About Diversity was written with my co-author of Networking Like a ProBrian Hilliard.

With everything going on in the world today, we thought it would be a good time to take a step back and talk about diversity, and more specifically, about diversifying your business network. Developing a truly diverse network is not only the right thing to do, it is also the smart thing to do. Because let’s be honest, different people bring different things to the table in terms of who they know and how they might be able to refer or otherwise assist your business.

As we said in our book, Networking Like a Pro, networks are by nature, clumpy. Human beings have a tendency to congregate and surround ourselves with people who are similar to us. . . whether by race, gender, religion, or professional status. Unfortunately, this approach to networking has unintended consequence – namely, that we tend to form clusters. This is why it is so incredibly important to be intentional about the way we develop our personal network. A diverse personal network enables you to increase the possibility of including connectors to your network. These are people who cross over in some way between two or more groups of people. The best way to increase the number of possible connections in your network is to intentionally develop a diverse, heterogeneous network that has connections to other clusters of people.

If you go with the premise that relationships are the currency of today’s modern business person, then it stands to reason that having an ethnically diverse business network – comprised of people who look different than you – actually is the next logical step when it comes to building a thriving referral-based business.

But for a lot of people, especially those in the majority, the question becomes how.

In other words, how as a white businessman (or woman), can I diversify my network and get to know more business people in the African American, Asian or Latino communities?

That’s a great question and one that, at first glance, can seem daunting to say the least.

But as with most seemingly complicated questions, the answer is quite simple: Be more intentional about it.

In other words, as a member of any ethnic group, the tendency is to spend time around more people like yourself. So whatever ethnicity I am, I’m more likely to have friends and business contacts of that ethnicity. And while that’s understandable, we feel that entrepreneurs who diversify their networks – based on ethnicity, gender and a host of other factors – are actually better positioned to be more successful.

As a matter of fact, McKinsey & Company did a report in 2015 (“Diversity Matters”) which determined that companies having a high racial and ethnic diversity are actually 35% more likely to perform above their industry’s national median return.

So the question becomes what can we do to branch out and overcome the gravitational pull we all feel towards spending time around people who look like us? How can we, instead, become more intentional in our actions when it comes to actually meeting and engaging others in different communities?

Another great question…and we have some thoughts.

1. Recognize that diversity is a process, not a program. In other words, diversifying your network has to be something you want to do and commit to doing on a daily basis. It needs to become part of your core beliefs that you’re going to be intentional about meeting and engaging people who don’t look like you. Anything less than that is almost guaranteed to eventually fail.

2. Look at your phone and business contacts on social media. Do they all “look” the same in terms of ethnicity, age, education and gender? If so, then keep reading because you might have some work to do. As we said above, diversity is a process, not just a program. This has to be an ongoing process.

3. Consider volunteering for certain organizations which put you into contact with people who are different than you. This could be as simple as volunteering as a coach for a local sports team, scheduling some time to visit an inner city school during “career day,” or sitting on a local community service board. Just take it upon yourself to broaden the scope of contacts you have with various ethnicities.

4. Make it a point to talk to people who don’t look like you. This is one that I (Brian) personally started doing 2 years ago, and I love it! So as a black man in his 40’s who grew up in the North but lives in the South, I take it upon myself to talk to ANY white person who may or may not have the same education as me, or who may or may not be in the same physical shape as me, or who may or may not be originally from the North like me. And it’s not a question of patronizing people or anything like that…I just make it a point while passing them at the grocery store, walking to my car in the parking lot, picking up some Chinese food to say “Hey, how’s it going?” And depending on the situation, sometimes that leads to more conversation, sometimes it doesn’t. But it gets everyone out of their comfort zone for a bit engaging new folks.

5. Invite different people of different ethnicities to your networking group. If you’re in a local Chamber of Commerce or a BNI Chapter, this is a perfect opportunity for you to engage others and invite them to your group. For example, maybe you’re out networking and you see a person of color and you decide to implement Point #4 from above. Ok, then during that conversation, you let them know about your group and see if they’d like to attend. And that’s it. Super easy to do, and it is very intentional.

6. Make this a top down initiative wherever you are in the organization. For those of you who have employees in your business, this point is crucial. If you want to have diversity in your organization and be more successful as a business because of it, then you absolutely must take the lead and make diversity a “thing.” Which means it is something that people value, something that people do, and something that you, as the leader, set as an example on a regular basis for them to emulate.

7. Hard-code diversity into the fabric of your business. Similar to the previous leadership point, if you’re going to be serious about diversity in your business, we recommend you seriously consider making it one of the core values of your company. Put it in your public material, address it when talking to your team/employees, and make it a part of the DNA of the organizational culture so people are crystal clear how you feel about it and how it plays out in your company.

It is important to note that there is a subtle but crucial difference between inclusivity and diversity. You may have an organization where the members feel like it is very inclusive, but when you look at it from the outside, does it truly look diverse? If not, you need to be more intentional about being inclusive to create diversity. Diversity is a fact; inclusiveness is a choice. Intentionally acting in an inclusive manner is what creates diversity.

Don’t beat yourself up if you’re not there yet…maybe you haven’t done these things as well as you could have. But today is the day to start. It’s never too late to do the right thing.

Growing Forward Together

Growing Forward Together World Tour

It was very exciting to present the BNI Growing Forward Together World Tour over the past three days. Furthermore, this event was the first live global event in BNI’s 35-year history. On July 14th, 15th, and 16th we streamed live in over 70 countries on Facebook and YouTube. Thank you to all of the BNI members, directors and visitors who joined in this historic event

The broadcast was open to businesses, entrepreneurs and business executives focused on leapfrogging the “lockdown recession” and doing more and better business in 2020 and beyond. The presentations were watched so far this week by nearly 45,000 viewers worldwide in twelve different languages.

During each broadcast, I shared my vision for the future as well as my insights for business growth and personal success. Furthermore, I talked about refusing to participate in the recession and how BNI and its 270,000 members are taking action leading businesses around the world to foster global business recovery with business growth and professional success. Therefore, now is the time to thrive!

I want to thank the CEO of BNI, Graham Weihmiller, for his inspirational vision for the future and much more. Furthermore, I also want to personally thank the BNI marketing team for the planning, the marketing, and the amazing execution of this global event. For example, watch this fantastic video their team created to promote the event on social media.

 

 

Different people, different places, different countries, different faces, different cultures…

We all speak the language of referrals, growing forward together.

In case you missed the LIVE event, would like to see it again, or want to share it with others, here is the presentation in 12 different languages:

Chinese Subtitled Version        Thai Voiceover Version         Japanese Voiceover Version

Vietnamese Voiceover Version           Portuguese (Brazilian) Subtitled Version

Spanish Voiceover Version  Portuguese (Portugal) Subtitled Version   German Version (Pending)

Italian Voiceover Version       Spanish (Spain) Voiceover Version       Bulgarian Voiceover Version

English version below from Day Two

BNI brings so many people together across so many boundaries for such a productive purpose.  Therefore, we build meaningful relationships and extend our hand to help others grow, and they in turn help and support us in the essence of Givers Gain®. At BNI, we are Growing Forward Together.

Business Networking Diversity

Business Networking Diversity

I believe that it is important to build a diverse network of professional contacts that include people with different interests and backgrounds.  The only thing that they should have in common with you is that they should be really good at what they do.  Create a personal network like that, and you’ll have a network that can help you succeed at anything.

It is human nature to build friendships with people that are like us.  The problem with surrounding ourselves with similar people is that they also tend to have similar contacts and know the same people as us.  When networking, it may be difficult to make connections with new people or companies with whom we desire to do business. In running a large business networking organization for over the past three decades, I often speak to people who tell me they want to network exclusively business professionals who have similar clients.  Although it is good to include these people in your personal network, networking with them exclusively would be a tremendous mistake. When it comes to business networking diversity, you never know who people know.  One of the important keys to being successful at building a powerful personal network is diversity.

A diverse personal network enables you to increase the possibility of including connectors or “linchpins” in your network.  Linchpins are people who in some way cross over between two or more clusters or groups of individuals; this allows them to link groups of people together easily.  The best way to increase the number of possible connections in your network is to develop a diverse network. The strongest networking groups I have seen over the years are generally the groups that are diverse.  I believe that one of the problems in understanding this concept is a somewhat built-in bias that many people have about networking with individuals that are outside their normal frame of reference.  Let me share a story:

An incredible voice, an incredible connection from networking diversity.

Patti, a BNI Director, arrived a little early to a BNI meeting that met in a private meeting room and noticed an older gentleman setting up coffee mugs in preparation for the meeting.  She struck up a conversation with the man while waiting for the BNI members to arrive.  In talking to him, she was really taken by the amazing tenor of his voice.  She mentioned to him that he had an incredible voice and asked what he did before this.  The gentleman informed her that he used to be a commentator for CNN!  He went on to share with Patti that in his later years, he wanted to work in a less hectic job as well as live closer to his daughter.  He decided to take on the job of managing these private meeting rooms because it gave him an opportunity to be close to his family while having a less hectic career later in life.

Later during the meeting, one of the BNI members, Don, mentioned in his featured presentation that his goal is to host a radio talk show someday. He was looking for some contacts that could help him pursue this dream.  After the meeting, Patti asked Don… “Do you see that guy over there (pointing to the ex-CNN commentator)?  Have you seen him before?”  “Yea,” said Don, “he’s the guy who sets up the coffee for our meeting.”  Patti said to Don, “Did you know that he used to be a broadcaster for CNN?”  Don said, “I had no idea!!!”  Patti suggested that Don introduce himself. Don had seen the man on many occasions but had not struck up a conversation with him because he felt that they had little, if anything, in common.  The truth is when it comes to networking – not having a lot in common with someone may mean that they can be a connector for you to a whole world of people that you might not otherwise be able to meet. This resulted in creating an incredible connection for Don in the broadcasting industry. Don now hosts a local radio talk show.

Diversity in your network is the smart thing and the right thing to do.

Poland

Witajcie w Warszawie!

This week most of our BNI directors from around the world are traveling to Warsaw to attend the 2019 BNI Global Convention. Welcome to Poland! To those BNI directors and members attending, I am looking forward to meeting you. Therefore, if you have never been to Warsaw, here are some tips from Ryszard Chmura, the National Director of BNI Polska that will make your trip to Poland more enjoyable!

Welcome to Warsaw! I am honored that Poland, Warsaw, will host BNI Global Convention 2019. This event will be held in Europe for the first time! A lot of BNI Members and Directors from all over the world will visit Poland this month. I can’t wait for this event and I am looking forward to meeting you. If you have never been to Poland, here are my tips, that will help you enjoy your stay here.

Polish language

I speak polish – what’s your superpower? I can’t say Polish is an easy language to learn, but knowing some basic greetings will help you with networking at the conference. But don’t worry, English is the second most common language spoken in Poland. I recommend you to try to learn a few words, which could help you break the ice with the Poles. The most popular greeting “Hello! How are you?” in Polish is “Cześć! Jak się masz?”

Must-see in Poland

Taking part in the 2019 BNI Global Convention is the best opportunity to visit Poland and sightseeing in our beautiful country. Poland’s capital, Warsaw is the heart of the country. The center of Warsaw’s public life is the Old Town. Visit the Old Town to see the most beautiful houses and palaces in the city or check out the museums. My second recommendation is Cracow. Cracow is the most often visited city by tourists in Poland. This city is not only the second-largest city in the country but also one of the oldest ones. Wawel Castle, the Old Town, and the Kazimierz district are on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Polish cuisine and must-eats in Warsaw.

The market square in Warsaw offers a wide range of good restaurants with polish cuisine, where you can try polish traditional foods: pierogi, bigos or żurek. After the conference’s lectures, you can spend time at the market square, not only trying polish food but also polish traditional drinks. Have you ever tried “wiśniówka”?

Poland is known as the most hospitable country in Europe and I hope you will enjoy your stay here! Wishing everyone a fantastic 2019 BNI Global Convention.

Ryszard Chmura, National Director – BNI Poland

cultural differences

3 Tips About International Cultural Differences

We now live in a fully global society where it is imperative to have an awareness of cultural differences as they relate to networking.  We often notice differences within our own country. However, what about businesses that are networking with businesses in other parts of the world? We should be aware and prepared for some of these particular cultural differences that can affect the way we network with other cultures.  They are sometimes as simple as the way we hand out a business card, to as complex as the study of personal space, and the use of gesters.

Networking in today’s market takes finesse and knowledge of the culture in which you are networking.  Furthermore, if you attending a global convention or event, you will need to know the customs of networking for the various cultures attending, not just those of the host country. Here are three areas where cultural differences mandate a closer look at networking etiquette:

Business Card Etiquette

Exchanging business cards is an essential part of most cultures.  The business card is much more in the Asian culture than it is to us here in America.  It is truly an extension of the individual and is treated with respect.  Things like, tucking it into a pocket after receiving it, writing on it, bending or folding it in any way, or even looking at it again after you have first accepted it and looked at it are not considered polite and can insult your fellow Asian networker.

Consideration of “Personal Space”

When networking, it’s very important to respect the cultural boundaries relating to personal space. Some cultural dynamics are fine with close personal interaction, while others demand a bigger bubble.  This is not a point to underestimate.

In Saudi Arabia, you might find yourself recoiling while your business associate may get the impression that you are stand-offish.  In the Netherlands, this might be reversed due to the fact that their personal space equates to our social space.  Do your homework and be sensitive to cultural differences in this area.

Use of Slang and Gestures

When using slang in a business environment, you might want to keep in mind that what means one thing to us might have no meaning or have a very different meaning in another culture. I recommend that you consult with someone in that country who is familiar with that culture before interacting with the business people.

It was invaluable to me to be able to have my Israeli Director in BNI, Sam Schwartz, coach me regarding the Orthodox Jewish custom of not shaking hands with someone from the opposite gender.

 Networking basics are universal; with some care for taking into account cultural nuances. It is important to find things that bring us together.  Things that are similar for us all.  For example, we all speak the language of referrals and we all want to do business based on trust.  This transcends many cultural differences. 

Tim Roberts

Are you limiting your opportunities? – by Tim Roberts

Submitted by Tim Roberts
National Director – BNI United States
Tim Roberts
When I ask professionals why they network the most common answer is to expand their opportunities. These opportunities can be in the form of contacts, referrals, business opportunities, even job opportunities. This is what networking is all about. However, one of the most common mistakes I see when networking is many limit their opportunities by limiting their networks.
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If you are truly looking to maximize your opportunities it is important that you look at the makeup of your network. Does your network lack diversity? Are you limiting your exposure and relationships and thus limiting the potential contacts, referrals, or connections you could be making? The quickest way to make your network more effective for you is to expand it. It is a numbers game. The more people you have the right reciprocal relationships with the more chances of success for you.
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 Together we can

I have been working with professionals for over 16 years in building and achieving results from their networks and while it always amazes me how many want to keep their networks small I get it. The key to success in any network is the relationships you have with those within the network. It is not about how many business cards you have been able to collect, it is about how many people you have true business relationship with. How many people can you call today and ask for a favor and not only will they answer your call, but are likely to help you?
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With importance of relationships it is natural to self-limit the size of our network out of fear of not being able to maintain or invest in too many people. With the right systems and structure, we can build relationships with more people then we initially believe is possible.
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Dr. Ivan Misner and I look forward to welcoming everyone attending the 2019 U.S. National Conference later this week in Dallas Texas! #BNIUS19
develop a diverse network

Develop a Diverse Network

Diversity in your personal network enables you to increase the possibility of including connectors or “linchpins” in your network. Linchpins are people who in some way crossover between two or more clusters or groups of individuals; this allows them to link groups of people together easily. The best way to increase the number of possible connections in your network is to develop a diverse network – not a homogeneous one.

The truth is when it comes to networking – not having a lot in common with someone may mean that they can be a connector for you to a whole world of people that you might not otherwise be able to meet.

Networks are by nature “clumpy”

(that’s the technical term). It is human nature to congregate with people that are very much like us. People tend to cluster together based on education, age, ethnicity, professional status, etc. When we surround ourselves with people who have similar contacts it may be difficult to make connections with new people or companies with whom we desire to do business.

If you wish to build a powerful personal network – branch out. Build a diverse network of professional contacts that include people that don’t look like you. Finds others who do not sound like you, speak like you, or have your background, education, or history. The only thing that they should have in common with you and the other people in your network – is that they should be really good at what they do. Create a personal network like that, and you’ll have a network that can help you succeed at anything.

Welcome to Thailand

Welcome to Thailand

This week most of our BNI directors from around the world are traveling to Bangkok to attend the BNI Global Convention. Welcome to Thailand. To those BNI directors and members attending, I am looking forward to meeting you. Therefore, if you have never been to Thailand, here are some tips from Kollakit Thalerngnawachart, the National Director of BNI Thailand that will make your trip to Bangkok more enjoyable!

Thailand is honored and proud to welcome all of our BNI Directors and members to the BNI Global Convention in Bangkok. Thailand has everything to offer for a pleasant trip to this land of smiles.

The “Wai”

or pressing your palms together at chest or nose level and bowing your head slightly, is a gesture that you will encounter almost immediately upon arrival in Thailand. It is as common as a handshake. Thai people greet each other with the “Wai”. This salutation is not only used to say “Hello” but can also be used to say “Thank You” or “Apologize” someone.

Temple Manners

Your travels to Thailand would not be complete without visiting a few temples. Most temples require that guests dress conservatively by covering the shoulders and knees and removing shoes before entering sacred places.

Thai Language

The spoken and written Thai language is largely incomprehensible to the casual visitor. However, English is widely understood, particularly in Bangkok where it is almost the major commercial language. Furthermore, English and some other European languages are spoken in most hotels, shops, and restaurants in the major tourist destinations.

Centara at Central World.

Our Convention venue is of world-class standard. It is right in the heart of Bangkok, with first class facilities. Therefore, the area has everything to offer from local restaurants to world-class shopping experience where you will sure to enjoy.

MORE TIPS:  It is also important to know the role that cultural differences play into global networking 

In conclusion, welcome to Thailand, the land of Smiles and to the 2018 BNI Global Convention!

Kollakit Thalerngnawachart | National Director, BNI Thailand

Murali Srinivasan

The Language of Referrals – by Murali Srinivasan

International Networking Week: “Diversity in Networking” stories from various international BNI leaders

Submitted by Murali Srinivasan

National Director – BNI India

It is so appropriate that the topic for this year’s International Networking Week is – Diversity.

Coming from India which is a country so diverse with so many different cultures, customs, habits and definitely different kinds of people, I have watched BNI and networking play a significant role in bringing them together to speak one language – the language of Referrals!!

It has been fascinating seeing business owners come together to understand each other’s business and work together to help each other grow.

At many meetings and networking events I have attended, I have seen the magic work. I start talking to another person first in their language to ask them what they do and try to understand their business. Once I show interest in their work the initial hesitation disappears and soon we find that we are setting up a meeting or connecting them to someone across the country.

Asheesh Chaddha

With the Indian economy doing well it is quite common to see startups who have relocated to a totally new city not knowing the local language or people, with the hope of making it big in business. Joining a local BNI Chapter is probably the best decision they make. They are surrounded by friendly people who are eager to help them succeed. I remember a Member in a Chapter in Mysore, Asheesh Chaddha, who is the business of Car Detailing. He relocated to Mysore to start his business. After joining a BNI Chapter, there now has his stores in over 20 locations across the state. He was a good networker who was good at listening to what others have to say and trying to help them whenever he could. His fellow Members were very supportive to help him grow and he went on the become President of the Chapter!!

The secret is all this to be able to network effectively with different kinds of people. We usually tend to talk to people who are like ourselves and we feel comfortable with. It is important that we learn how to get out of our comfort zone and network with other too. The results can be very effective

Wishing everyone a fantastic International Networking Week 2018!!

Murali Srinivasan National Director – BNI India

The Angle Of Industry – by YP Lai

International Networking Week: “Diversity in Networking” stories from various international BNI leaders

Submitted by YP Lai

National Director, BNI Thailand, BNI Vietnam & BNI Philippines

 

I have always looked forward to the International Networking Week. It is an opportunity to bring people from different organizations, different sectors and different interests together. Some of the friendships and businesses that has developed from the International Networking Week activities has been simply amazing. Great things happen when positive minded people network together!

 

This year, the theme for the 2018 International Networking Week is “Diversity”. Diversity could be seen from many different angles, ethnicity, professions, geographical locations, age groups, and so on. I want to explore Diversity from the angle of industry – the industry in which your profession belongs to. For example, a caterer would belong to the events industry, an architect to the building industry and a graphic designer would belong to the public relation and marketing industry.

 

Studies have shown that most business professionals have a tendency to network with people within their industry and in specific geographical regions. When I reflected on my previous career, it was so true! As the General Manager of a property development company, my network consists of architects, engineers, builders, contractors, surveyors and building material suppliers. I had very few contacts outside the construction industry, and outside of my hometown in Penang.

 

When I joined BNI, and that was a good 16+ years ago, it was a real eye opener. I was then exposed to people from many different industries. There were people from the Financial Services, Business Support, IT and Technology, Health and Wellness, Food and Beverage, Event Managers, Legal and Professional Services, Manufacturing and Industries, Beauty and many others. Suddenly everyone had the opportunity to bring their business into sectors that they had previously not thought of.

 

One of the best success stories is Wayne the Optometrist.

 

The typical modus operandi of an Optometrist is to open an outlet in a shopping mall, and then attract walk-in customers.  They would use pull up banners advertising special promotions, give out flyers in the mall and use social media marketing to attract more customers. Every day the Optometrist will pray for more walk-ins. Wayne was no different until he joined a BNI Group. He then worked closely with William the cleaner. Now, William is not the typical residential or office cleaner. Instead, he specializes in cleaning factories and has good relationships with many of the factory managers in the industrial zone.

 

William helped Wayne to connect with the Human Resource manager of the factories, and arranged for free eye tests for the factory operators. Wayne and his team will then set up station at the factory canteen for a week, screening through thousands of factory operators, and immediately giving out prescriptions for spectacles for those needing corrective eyewear. And as you can guess, Wayne created special heavily discounted eyewear packages for the factory operators, and almost everyone who needed spectacles chose from those packages. Two weeks later, Wayne was back at the factory dispensing the spectacles. It was “Diversity”, the ability to tap into other industries that had allowed Wayne to work outside the traditional “wait and pray for customers” model to actively pursue new customers right at the factories themselves.

 

Wayne’s success stories had inspired many of his BNI group members to go outside their traditional marketing channel and get customers from other non-typical industries. Like the tailor who worked with the member representing college student recruitment, and secured a contract to provide inexpensive suits for students for their internship programme.

 

So, this year, at the International Networking Week event, we will be bringing business professionals from different industries, and from different regions. At the same time, having a balanced representation of various age groups, gender, and interests. By bringing such diversity to the International Networking Week, we believe that every participant will be enriched by the new relationships formed.

 

Wishing everyone a successful International Networking Week!

 

YP Lai

National Director, BNI Thailand, BNI Vietnam & BNI Philippines

International Networking Week 2017

Marc-William Attié

Diversity Should Be Part Of Our Core Values. – by Marc-William Attié

International Networking Week: “Diversity in Networking” stories from various international BNI leaders

Submitted by Marc-William Attié
Directeur National, France et Belgique francophone

When I first attended a BNI meeting in the UK in 2003 my first impression was WOW and the second one was: this is incredible to see so different people working together. My previous experiences in my professional life were that people talk and develop relationships with people who are like themselves.

Since these days until today, the importance and power of diversity have clearly shown its efficiency. Different backgrounds, different level of revenues, different type of education, different professions, different cultures, all of that is not only a possibility but a must have.

When a chiropractor refer a Web designer, or a landscaper refers a lawyer, or a charter accountant refer an architect (and I could continue like that forever) that shows the efficiency of diversity.

In the early days of BNI in France, I remember a massage therapist who has been able to refer a lawyer specialized in banking laws to the legal manager of one of the main French bank. That would never have been possible if we did not encourage diversities and chapters. The regular one-to-ones will help to build bridges and create a strong relationship with people that could have been considered to be too different to work together.

The chapters which show the highest return are often those which have a very high level of efficiency.

Our average chapters in France and Belgium have 26% women and 74% men. When we reach over 40% women the return usually increases.

Diversity is not only a “want to be” but a “should be”. Our Director team is so diverse. The only things we really share are our values. And that’s the most important.

Let’s use the INW to open even more, let’s invite people in our chapters that are not necessary entrepreneurs but that we can help and we will see that they will help the chapters to go further. It will help create new relationship and open new networks.

Let’s dare to work the diversity as a tool. In fact my belief is that diversity should be part of our core value.

Marc-William ATTIE | Director National

BNI France and BNI Belgium francophone

Telephone: +33 1 84 17 14 50

International Networking Week 2017

Charlie Lawson

Networking in the Gutter – by Charlie Lawson

International Networking Week: “Diversity in Networking” stories from various international BNI leaders

Submitted by Charlie Lawson
National Director BNI UK & Ireland

I once attended a networking event with about 200 business owners. Alongside the open networking sessions, there were some speaker sessions.

Unfortunately one of the speakers wasn’t a great speaker. I found myself rather slumped in my chair, wondering if I could escape for a coffee. But just then, the session ended. The facilitator for the day came on to the stage and promised to find some business opportunities for someone in the room.

This woke me up a bit, but he really caught my attention when he said he wanted to find business opportunities for the person with the ‘strangest’ (his word) profession. He clarified: he wanted to see if he could help the attendee with the most obscure business, that ordinarily, it might seem impossible to find business for.

Various hands went up – and as a few professions got offered and rebutted – one gentleman, a guy called Matthew, stood up and announced that he manufactured and sold small plastic parts for commercial sewage systems. That was all he did.

Talk about obscure: he had one product. That product was only used in one application – sewage systems – and let’s face it, how much do most of us know about sewage systems?!?

I, along with most of the rest of the audience, sat back to watch what I was sure would be an absolute car crash: the facilitator trying his best to help Matthew get some business opportunities, but then having to accept that his business was just too obscure.

How wrong I was.

Having asked Matthew to tell us briefly about a few of his recent clients (mainly local councils), and whom he wanted to speak to (mainly more local councils and public service bodies), there were about 50 different people who all had contacts that they would be able to connect Matthew with.

Clearly – they were all only potential business opportunities – firstly, Matthew had to prove himself worthy of being introduced, and secondly, like any referral, he would then need to sell himself and his product to the client: but wow – what a response from the room.

What does this story tell you?

For me, it’s about the diversity of networking. Firstly, you don’t have to be in a ‘mainstream’ profession to benefit from networking. As Matthew’s case indicates – it can be a case of the more diverse, the better.

Secondly, I learned how diverse our networks are if we take the time to find out. I didn’t know Matthew before attending this networking event, but I made sure I had a chat with him after. He’d come along because he’d had his arm twisted by a friend. He was quite sure that he wouldn’t meet anyone who’d be helpful for him and his business. Indeed, he’d thought just the same as I had when he was called out for the business generation exercise. The facilitator would surely fall flat on his face!

However, of all the people in the room who had offered up would-be business opportunities, the most interesting and potentially most lucrative came from his friend that had persuaded him to come in the first place! He’d just never asked.

International Networking Week 2017

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