I had been shopping for new business networks, I hadn’t made much headway. My sister randomly sent me an email with an e-flyer from the League of Young Professionals (LYP). The topic wasn’t great, but you know, it’s an opportunity to meet new people and hopefully make some business leads.

I made the advanced payment, emailed and planned my week around the event. As of Thursday – the day of the event- I had not heard from them on email. I called their number just before I headed over, to confirm the event was still on. When no one called, I started to get very agitated. Up until that point, I hadn’t doubted the legitimacy of the organisation because I had heard of it before.  I think I had also received some correspondence from them years earlier. When I had visited the website and saw a former high school mate, a decent person. I believed they were legit.

I made my way to the meeting, just as I walked toward the venue, I called again, the phone was busy. I started to seethe. I was offended that no one had answered my call or email. I arrived at the venue entrance. The security guard was courteous and asked me what meeting I was attending and I told her. She directed me to the third floor. I arrived; no official from the organisation was there. It was 5.35pm. The meeting should have begun 5 minutes earlier.

“Sorry there are people using the room who have overstayed, they have been in since 8 am.” One of the hotel staff informed me and a gentleman standing opposite me. I asked her if she knew any of the officials, she didn’t know any but said she could ask around. My blood was boiling.

“Are you a member of the association?” The man standing opposite me inquired very kindly.

I sighed, so I could release some of the pressure I was feeling and narrated the cause of my frustration.

“Let me call the organiser and find out for you.” He offered and began to dial his phone.

“Thank you.” I said slightly deflated.

“The organiser is parking downstairs he is on his way up,” he offered when he completed the call. “I am Kenneth.”

I reached out and shook his hand, “Rose” and offered him my business card.

“Brand Storyteller,” he remarked. I smiled feebly and nodded and a conversation ensued.

The conversation was disrupted by a gentleman who just looked like entitled middle level management. There was an air of self importance about him in his pressed grey suit that raised my irritation levels again. He called out Kenneth’s name and as he was about to pull him aside, Kenneth quickly introduced me and mentioned that I needed to talk to him.

“Hi, I am Rose…” I proceeded to narrate my frustration and disappointment with their organisation.

“That is unfortunate,” he paused for a moment and continued, “but what’s most important is that we get the room so that we can start the meeting”.

I looked at Kenneth and shook my head in disgust. The man whose name I forgot as soon as I heard it during the session, walked away. Then one of his young underling’s burst in with her red dress and stiff weave ushered us to a waiting room, where other event attendees sat in silence. Kenneth and I were the only one’s talking in the room; the rest looked like children in detention. They occasionally lifted their heads once in a while glaring at us curiously.

“Wasn’t this meant to be a networking session?” I thought to myself.  “Why aren’t people networking?” I shrugged it off. We were eventually called down about 15 minutes later for the session. I later discovered that Kenneth was the guest speaker.  The long and short of the evening, it was a disappointment. Kenneth shared some interesting insights about his business, but most of his discussion on entrepreneurship was not new to me. That’s when I realised most of the people in the room where employed. It wasn’t a good fit for me. I left immediately after Kenneth’s presentation. I had no interest in the tea afterwards.

I chose to stay silent not just to prevent myself from an outburst of rage from how I was handled, but also to observe. And observe I did. Attending that LYP session made me realise just where we get it wrong with our brands aside from horrible customer service.  Here are just a few:

  1. Visual Branding

At the hotel lobby there were about three banners and in the meeting rooms on third floor there were banners outside doors of other organisations in the premises. Even those I had never heard of, I was know made aware of by that simple action. LYP didn’t have a single banner anywhere. It’s like they didn’t exist in the building at all. And no one would know they were there aside from the attendees. There wasn’t a single banner in the main meeting room where we were. The presentation slides weren’t even branded. This was such a horrible oversight.

  1. Networking

Even if the event is centered around a speaker, it is essential to get people engaged. The best way to do that is around food. The tea that was being served at the end of the session should start the session. Food eases conversation. It also gets people in the right mood in readiness for the meeting.

  1. Ease Into it

The meeting began abruptly, the lady in the red dress with mic in hand welcomed people and started to talk about entrepreneurship. She jumped right in to the topic. There was no introduction of the organisation in a simple pitch. There wasn’t a breakdown of expectations of the meeting. I just sat there listening to people fielding questions and offering responses. I just wanted to hear Kenneth’s presentation and leave. It is always essential to provide an agenda for your discussion to whet people’s appetites enough to want to stay till the end.

Comfort is key

The room was ugly, let’s be honest Nairobi Safari Club needs an overhaul. The draping on the tables looked like circa 1990. The set up was more of a lecture theatre. I felt like a student in a classroom. I feel a circular set up would have invited more conversation from participants. I also detest podiums, they create a barrier in the room, a great format is TEDTalks. The speaker is uninhibited and open to the audience.  It creates a sense of warmth. It makes such a huge difference.

  1. Recognise your guests

Not everyone in the room was an LYP member. There was no special welcome for newbies. There was nothing special to have newbies, like myself, want to join the network. It could be a game or a book mark, something functional that I can carry and recall the organisation by. This was also a lost opportunity.

Call to Action

One thing that I learned from the LEAP Network sessions is the need to have a call to action. Give your attendees a take home, something that they can do, read or even a reason to join the network. It needs to be something substantial to ensure they remember you and return or even better return and introduce a friend to the network.

I most probably won’t attend another LYP event. And I most likely will advise people against it. But I did learn something from my bad experience. I learned some mistakes I should never make in my events.