Earlier this month I gave a talk to the Annual ‘MEGA’ Convention of the Professional Speaking Association (PSA). I have been privileged to be first a Member and then a Fellow of the PSA since 2003 and I often refer to my fellow members as ‘my tribe’ because of the incredibly strong bonds I have formed with many of them. In fact, I count a number of people I’ve met through PSA among my closest friends.
I recognise that for visitors and newer members of the association, the strong relationships enjoyed by many of the more established members can be somewhat daunting. More than once over the years accusations of cliques have been thrown around. Having been a member of and spoken for many other associations and membership organisations over the years, I know that we are not alone.
My talk this month focused very much on the power of the community within the PSA. I rebuked members for failing to be completely honest when talking with each other, for failing to allow other members to help them if they were in trouble because of an overwhelming desire to look good. I shared stories of members who had hit upon hard times and not shared with fellow members, ensuring that the hole they were in grew deeper and that nobody knew that they needed lifting out.
I also shared how I had reached out to a fellow member when my business was struggling and how he immediately sought to refer business to me to help, even though we hadn’t known each other for very long.
I shared these stories because I have experienced the power of that community time and time again. People within the PSA have constantly shown themselves willing to go out of their way to help their colleagues who need it. They recommend and refer each other, share advice and experiences, offer their knowledge and encourage, cajole and hold each other accountable.
This happens across the UK and Ireland, it happens across the US in our sister organisation NSA (National Speakers Association) and across the member countries of the Global Speakers Federation. And it happens across borders too, throughout the international speaker community.
The definition of a clique in the Oxford English Dictionary is “A small close-knit group of people who do not readily allow others to join them.”
Throughout all of this sharing, support and mentoring, I am not aware of anyone being excluded. Yes we gossip and bitch, perhaps too much at times, but we don’t exclude. There are strong bonds between small groups within the association but they do not exclude.
When I joined the PSA I remember looking at the groups of experienced speakers at the back of the room, the people we ‘newbies’ looked up to, and wanting to be one of them. The last time I went to a regional meeting, in London a couple of months ago, I was told off publicly for sitting at the back of the room with a couple of other experienced speakers. So I guess I got there! But I wasn’t in that ‘clique’ when I joined.
In all the years I have been a member new people have continually come in and joined our friendship circles. Sure, in any large group, there are always people you get on with better than you do with others but I cannot remember anyone being turned away from the community. They made themselves available, joined our conversations and engaged with us as peers. And we welcomed them in.
On the Sunday of the convention, after the event had finished, 22 of us went to a local pub for Sunday lunch before going our separate ways. I found myself sat next to someone who had not even heard of the PSA a week before and had enjoyed her first experience of the community that weekend. She wasn’t turned away but made to feel completely welcome by everyone she met, including coming on our informal lunch. She joined in and was embraced.
If you are part of an association, a membership group or any other community and you feel excluded, left on the sidelines, look to ask yourself what you can do to change the situation rather than blame cliques. I don’t deny that they exist but I think we are often too eager to point the finger and blame cliques rather than seeking to engage with a community.
Remember that there was a time when nobody in that ‘clique’ knew each other, they were all outside the group at one point or another. They have come together because of a similar outlook or interests. If you share those, then you may well find yourself welcomed within their circles too.
Stop watching and participate. Sometimes, if you want to step into the community, you have to step out of the audience first.
About the author – Andy Lopata
Andy is a business networking strategist, who works with companies on how to use networking tools to develop their businesses. Networking is not just about sales. Whether for lead generation, breaking down silos internally, recruitment and retention of top staff or developing future leaders, networks and collaboration have a key role to play.
Andy has been quoted in the international press, including The Sunday Times, The Financial Times and The Guardian in the UK. I have also co-authored two books on networking, and my third book, ‘Recommended: How to Sell Through Networking and Referrals’ was published by Financial Times Prentice Hall in July 2011.
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