If you always keep to yourself, your community and your network will remain very small, as will your personal and professional growth. It is only when we take a proactive step to connect to communities and individuals will new opportunities come our way.

Last year, I learned of a networking event focused on the work I do. I did not know anyone else who was attending, but I went. I made my way into the city and walked into a large corporate conference room where I sat by myself. I eventually introduced myself to the person in front of me and next to me, and soon enough my network began to grow. At the Happy Hour event at the end of the day Keeley Sorokti, one of the organizers of the event introduced herself, and we talked a bit about our work. It was a day well spent. I learned a lot and I was glad that I went.

Keeley and I kept in touch. We followed each other on LinkedIn and Twitter, and she is kind enough to read my blog from time to time. Not too long ago, I got an email from Keeley encouraging me to apply to attend a networking event called Dinner5. I was intrigued.

Dinner5 is run by Jake McKee, CEO of Community5, a firm that connects businesses to people through community experiences. Jake has run online communities for Apple and Lego, and he is passionate about connecting people around shared interests. He started Dinner5 as a way to connect with senior online community professionals who share his interests and passion, and for community professionals to connect to one another. Here’s what happened.

  1. I filled out a brief online form, expressing my interest.
  2. I got an email from Jake, inviting me to a brief phone conversation with him.
  3. We talked about my background, my work experience and my interests. He told me he would be back in touch soon.
  4. Soon, I got another email from Jake inviting me to an intimate dinner with four other community professionals. Specifics would be arriving soon, and in the meantime, he asked me to send him an email telling him about a professional achievement and a personal achievement from my background.
The door that led to Dinner5

So, Jake got me the address of the dinner (an Air BnB rented loft in the South Loop of Chicago) and what time I should be there. I arrived, and the first person I saw was Keeley…a familiar face! Jake offered us all a drink, and the conversation began.

I met Lisa Tallman, Senior Director of Knowledge Management at YMCA of the USA. I met Keri Kersten, Global Internal Communications and Change Manager at Stepan Company. I met Dianne Kibbey, VP of Community and Social Media at Premier Farnell. Though our industries and communities were all different, our work was all similar, and we had a lot to talk about.

Jake had arranged for an amazing five course catered meal, which we all enjoyed thoroughly. The cost of the event was underwritten by sponsors Southwest Airlines and Vanilla Forums, and Southwest was even generous enough to throw in a free roundtrip flight certificate for each attendee.

We talked and ate (and ate) for a couple of hours, and then it was time to go home. As we were getting ready to leave, I thought about the value of community, and events that got me into that room.

First, I went to a networking event, and I met the people there. We created community.

Next, I stayed connected to the group through personal connections, web forums and social networking. Community was sustained.

Due to my involvement in that community, I was invited to participate in generating more community by attending Dinner5. Community was strengthened.

Everyone who attended the Dinner5 event has already connected on LinkedIn, and we have talked about how we might stay in touch.

Create. Sustain. Strengthen.

Jake is taking the Dinner5 event model to cities throughout America, and I think the model of hosting an intimate networking event with high level conversations and valuable connections is applicable to most any industry.

I am honored I was able to attend the first Dinner5 held in Chicago, and I hope many more people are able to attend so they too can create community, sustain community and strengthen community in interesting, engaging and vital ways. Thanks, Jake!

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