I Just Got Back from the Meeting of a Referral Group I'll Never Join. Here's Why.

Seong Bae
Seong Bae
Published on 05/15/2023

Sometimes you can do everything right and it still falls flat. Let’s look at networking, for instance. You can follow all the networking guides, taking cues from the best and it still leaves you needing something more. I recently attended a networking group that did everything right and yet, I don’t want to return. Here’s why:

Common Networking Practices That Hurt Networking

So, what made this event so awful? Was it because I didn’t meet people who could be advantageous to my business? No. There were several who could’ve been very effective in assisting me in meeting my business goals. Were people cliquish and hard to get to know? Uh-uh. They were a very welcoming group.

What made it something I don’t want to do again?

It’s less obvious than you would think and it’s why I highly encourage people to scout out/visit a group before they agree to join and follow all their expectations.

They were too perfect. Yep. I felt like I was trapped in a 1980s marketing book written by the Stepford Wives or some bad AI-generated script for a comedy skit about networking.

They Used Words Like Synergy

If you’re trying to get to know someone, using language that is not meaningful can get you into trouble. In a networking group, you’re trying to convey who you are and what you do. In the early 2000s, the marketing world embraced what I refer to as vapid language, words that sounded important but lacked substance and clarity. They’ve become empty tropes. Words like synergy and phrases like “moving the dial” may have inspired action and connection when they were first used but they have lost their meaning in the two decades since.

I spoke with a member of the networking group who used words like “deep dive” and “touch base.” I couldn’t focus on what she was saying because I felt like I was watching a monologue from the movie Office Space. She might’ve had a great business, but I kept seeing scenes from that movie play in my head, distracting me from any kind of possible connection.

Not sure what I’m talking about? Check this out: Worst Business Jargon of 2022

They Reflected Back to Me

Many communication professionals will tell you reflecting what is being said to you is a way to ensure understanding. Some will even go so far as to say you should mirror body language and speech pace to ensure the other party feels heard.

While those are both solid techniques, they remind me of the strings stage production crews use when a character or object is “flying.” We all know people can’t fly, but we don’t want to see proof of it. The lighting and effects should camouflage those tricks.

The same is true in conversation. One of the women I met introduced herself to me and rattled off at Mach speed what she did. When I responded to her in a “summer porch storytelling” pace, she immediately matched mine. Her drastically halted pace should’ve connected us but instead it looked almost painful for her.

Here is what you need to know about the art of pacing

They Communicated Strict Expectations (But I Felt Guilty)

All referral groups need well-communicated expectations. This group certainly had them. You could only miss two meetings in 12 months. If you missed more, you were persona non grata and you’d be replaced, which may be the reason there was room in the group to begin with. But knowing I was already going to miss next month’s meeting due to a family vacation that had already been scheduled, I couldn’t help but notice the narrowing of some of the members’ eyes when I said this. How I feel is not on them but it’s hard to connect with people when you start off in the role of teammate who’s letting everyone down.

Things happen. People get sick. They have responsibilities. Maybe we need to focus more on referrals brought in than butt in networking chair. While it’s not ideal, some referral groups operate in a hybrid environment because sometimes you can attend the meeting at the planned time but can’t afford the drive time to and from the location. That’s when being a little flexible can help people feel like a stronger part of the group.

They Made a Good Impression and Then…

Despite feeling a little guilty, I did have an interest in the group. There were things I was concerned with, but it seemed like we could’ve helped one another. However, except for a reminder invite for the next meeting sent the morning of, there was no structure to encourage interaction between meetings. I felt lost. I wasn’t sure if they didn’t like me, forgot to add me to a list somewhere, or simply didn’t interact with one another. It left me feeling disconnected and unimportant. A little automated email, social media post, or other check-in could’ve worked wonders.

In the end, I decided not to join this group. If I’m going to give my time, I need a little something from the group. I was just too new to understand if it was them or me.

What experiences have you had that turned a possibility into a hard pass?

*Christina Metcalf is a writer and marketing strategist whose articles have appeared in chamber newsletters, association journals, event marketing websites, and on her mother’s refrigerator. She prefers deep discussions to chit-chat unless that chit-chat involves talking about dogs. *

About the author

Seong Bae

My name is Seong Bae and I am the Founder at ChamberForge. ChamberForge specializes in building referral tracking and management platform.


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