A while back, I was having a one-to-one with someone that identified herself as a “PK” (that’s a Preacher’s Kid, in case you were wondering).  We talked about her experience in her BNI chapter and how things were going in general.

Eventually I asked, “How large is your chapter?”  The answer was around the 20 member mark where it had been for some time.

She said something a bit later that I felt was quite profound.  “A church only grows to about 80% of its capacity, did you know that?”  I didn’t.  And while I don’t have any empirical data to back that up, it actually makes sense when you think about it.  People need to think they have a seat at the table.  From a BNI perspective, this is quite literal.

Consider for a moment, an analogy.  Pretend you’re on your way home from work and you’re going to stop by a client’s house along the way to drop off some documents.  It’s a client you know fairly well, but are not overly-familiar with either.

You get to the client’s door, knock, and your client greets you warmly at the door.  He ushers you in, takes your coat, and proceeds to walk you in to the next room where a group of people have gathered – you assume it’s his family – for dinner.  He invites you to join them, and before you can object, he directs you to a chair with a place setting already set up for you.  A knife, fork, plate, water glass and a napkin neatly folded and in place.  Even if you had no intention of staying, it’s a lot more difficult to tell your client no since they went to such lengths to make you feel welcome.  In other words, you have a seat at the table.

Imagine now a different version of that same scenario.  You get to the client’s door, knock, you’re greeted warmly, and you’re ushered in just like before.  You are led into the room where dinner is being held, and like before, you’re invited to join them.  Only this time, there is no place setting for you.  In fact, there’s no seat at the table for you at all.  Your client immediately starts directing people to “shift down” and “make room” everyone moving their chairs left and right.  Food is taken off the table, and an extra chair is brought in from the other room.  Someone disappears from the table to fetch a place setting.  It is clear that by your presence you’ve completely disrupted their gathering.  Quite simply, you have no seat at the table.

Lately I’ve challenged chapters to have at least 10 empty chairs in a room to avoid such a calamity. If a visitor does show up, they feel as though there is room for them—that they have a seat at the table.

I’ve heard things from members such as, “But the room feels so empty if we have all those empty seats.” I agree and there is a simple solution.  Ten empty chairs give each person in the room a good reason to think about whom to invite to BNI to share a seat at the table.

Mark B. Dolfini is a Area Director for BNI Central Indiana and author of The Time-Wealthy Investor: Your Real Estate Roadmap to Owning More, Working Less, and Creating the Life You Want. www.LandlordCoach.co