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Networking Groups: Bring a Fishbowl to your Next Meeting

The best way to energize your networking group is to bring an empty fishbowl to your next meeting.

The fishbowl solves the most vexing problem faced by all networking group leaders. You know how it goes. The group leader stands up and makes a passionate speech. Suggests. Cajoles. Pleads. Exhorts. I’ve even seen some get down on their knees and beg. And everyone around the table nods and agrees that it’s a great idea. And the next meeting rolls around, and NO ONE has done it. Not a single person.

Even worse, at this point, people, especially the people who reliably attend every single meeting, start to complain that they’re not getting any referrals.

Most group leaders with any experience in networking know what needs to be done. They know that the real work of networking takes place outside the group meetings.  They know that there’s no way to for 25 people to develop real trust in 60 minutes two times a month. They know that the group members have to get together for coffee, to get to know each other individually in order to become comfortable introducing each other to their best contacts.

I’ll admit that I thought our group leader had lost his mind when he showed up with a fishbowl that first time. It’s possible that I even snickered and asked if it was our new group mascot. Of course there was no fish. Or any water. Just an empty fishbowl.

Thirteen years later I’m still in contact with many of the people who were sitting around the table that day. I hire them. They hire me. And we pass tens of thousands of dollars in referrals back and forth every year. They’re the first people I call when I have a question or an opportunity. That fishbowl laid the groundwork for solid and long-term business relationships.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Bring an empty fishbowl to the meeting
  2. At the end of the meeting, the fishbowl goes around the table twice.
  3. The first time, everyone puts in their business card.
  4. The second time, everyone takes out a business card

That’s it! Now everyone has two 1-to-1’s, one with the person who picked their card, and one with the person whose card they picked.

Many people set up a time to meet for coffee before they leave the meeting. Some will even sit down for their 1-to-1 right after the meeting.

Here’s why it works:

Setting up a 1-to-1, while it’s the most important part of networking, grinds to a halt because people aren’t sure who to approach. And since they aren’t sure who to approach, the task instantly falls to the bottom of their to-do list,

Of course, it doesn’t matter who they pick, as long as they pick someone. So when they pick their 1-to-1 out of a fishbowl, the other person is sitting right there, and it’s easy to pull out calendars and set up a coffee. And once it’s in their calendar, there’s a much better chance that they will have the 1-to-1.

Oh, just one more thing. After a few months people will start to resist this process, saying that they’ve already had 1-to-1’s with everyone. Don’t let this derail the process! Have them do a second round of 1-to-1’s. Then a third. The more they get to know each other, the more opportunities they’ll find to help each other. It’s very productive to sit down for a 1-to-1 with everyone in your networking group every 4 to 6 months

So bring a fishbowl to your next networking meeting, set up your 1-to-1’s, and post in the comments how it goes!

4 comments on “Networking Groups: Bring a Fishbowl to your Next Meeting

  1. Great idea, Andy! My employment networking group is small (credit the low unemployment rate in MA) but I still find that what you say is true, despite my encouragement.

    This tactic would be effective to prod people to be accountable in any job-search activity.


    1. Great to hear from you, Fred! I appreciate the feedback.
      Hey, any job seekers out there, I highly recommend Fred’s WIND networking group I’ve spoken there many times and he does great work getting people back to work!

  2. this is such a great idea!!! I have not been good about attending my sales leads meetings over the past few months and this has just motivated me to get back in there and “swim around” again!! Have a great day and thanks for these tips they are so helpful!

    1. Becky,
      Thanks for reading (and writing!).
      Glad to hear your diving back in. Set up some 1-to-1’s and let me know how it goes!
      P.S. Stay tuned! In a future article I’m going to share the 5 best questions to ask during a 1-to-1…

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