Making a Good First Group Impression is Hard to Do

Does anyone else avoid going to networking meetings as much as I do?

I own a business that requires me to network. This should really not pose any problems, as I am a very social person and I truly enjoy meeting new people. I am that person that ends up chatting and laughing with someone for an hour everywhere we go (much to my quiet husband’s dismay). All kinds of people from all walks of life fascinate me and I love talking to them. So why do I detest going to networking events so much? It’s a mystery, but one that I struggle with regularly. Last year, I had an event at night that I signed up for ahead of time, got a babysitter, got directions, drove there, and then had to literally force myself to go inside. I always meet someone cool once I do but I actually sat in my car for several minutes and thought about not going in!

A few months ago, I visited a networking group that is pretty popular in my region. Personally, I do not formally join networking groups, mostly because I choose to protect the anonymity of my clients and I find that sometimes (not always), people just want to name names. I am however, frequently invited as a guest, which I appreciate very much. Until it comes time to go that is, and then I hesitate… Why? Well, because:

1) To be honest, they always start SO EARLY in the morning (why?).

2) It’s awkward to walk into a room full of people who not only do you not know, but you also don’t know what they want from you.

3) They are always SO EARLY (why?)!

But alas, my business requires me to get out there and stay out there, and so I do. I always also really like or admire the person who invites me, and they always assure me that it’s a “great group”, and I’m sure it is, so I go.

In this case, I got there on time (did I mention it was clear across town and very very early in the morning?) and everything was going OK. I met a few friendly people, no one asked me if I wanted to hear about a direct marketing opportunity that had changed their life, so far so good. This particular week, the director of the entire program was visiting that chapter’s meeting and they got up to speak to the group. Mind you, I was not the only visitor there, so imagine my surprise when the director started to lecture the members on all the ways they had failed to maximize their membership and all of the resulting opportunities they had missed over the past year as a result (including making money off of the guests, which was actually brought up in front of the guests!). Not a very motivating way to start your day and certainly, not a great first impression for someone who could have possibly become a potential member one day.

I have seen this occur in a few peer groups where visitors were permitted to come as well. The group can get so comfortable together that they forget to try to make a good first impression to the outsider. It is nothing awful or obvious, but they may make an unprofessional comment, or speak unfavorably about a colleague who is not there.  I visited one group last year where a person had made a joke before the meeting began, and another person took their official floor time in the meeting to scold them for the joke, in front of everybody! I don’t know about you, but neither one of those things made me want to join. Later I thought to myself that I was not being fair and that I should give the group as a whole another chance (but then I remembered what time they started their meetings and changed my mind).

The fact is, first impressions are hard to overcome. If you look at the research, the 7-11 Rule says we make 11 impressions within the first 7 seconds of being exposed to something. Add to that the fact that people inherently don’t like to try things that are new or out of their comfort zone, and it is extremely hard to get a visitor back for a second meeting unless you knock it out of the park the first time. Can you always control this? Or course not. But my advice would be to at least mention this to the group before the visitors come in. If the life blood of your networking group is meeting new people, you might be glad you did so. 

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