Nick Vinchenzo didn’t invite me to his 3rd grade birthday party.
I was sad.
His old invitations excited me. Speckled in glitter, with Daniel Morrse adorably misspelled across the cover, they hinted at a birthday adventure: Pokémon movie this year? Bowling? Sherlock Holmes themed scavenger hunt?
Cards like these would surface from my dad’s dusty pile of bills from AT&T, Health Insurance, and stiff envelopes addressed Mr. Morse. His mail was so … boring.
But Nick’s card was different. It made me feel … special.
Unfortunately, most first-time messages can feel like bills – bulky explanations. Stale pitches. They ask to get, instead of give.
So, let me deliver a harsh truth: if you message people you don’t know, you are spam.
You intrude into the their mental space. You show up at their doorstep unannounced. You have no idea if you’ll even appeal to them. These messages can birth a rich connection, but at a first glance, they’re spam.
Spam is more than a message. It’s the intention behind it. Spam asks to get.
Invites are different. They are a total gift. They create undeniable value for the recipient. They brighten people’s days.
Let me share how invites have transformed my work and personal life.
(Disclaimer: this post will not help you get invited to 3rd grade birthday parties.)
Invites at work:
When I began working at a Computer Science University I was tasked with recruiting teachers and students to our programs.
My communication, at first, was spammy. I sent long emails detailing the program and asked them to forward along the application. My intention for both of us to benefit was trumped by being a cold lead. It was spammy.
Then, I started inviting people to things.
I convened a meeting for the top EdTech Marketers in the Valley. We hosted a ”Diversity in Tech” happy hour for organization leads.
Dead leads finally responded: “Thanks for the invite” “I’d love to come” “Can’t make it but keep me in the loop for future events.”
Invites create value for you. They 1) communicate you as a leader if you host the event, 2) demonstrate that you are well networked and in-the-know in the space 3) communicate hospitality and acknowledge the worth of the invitee.
Invitees benefit too: they 1) can efficiently meet you and others in a short time 2) they have an opt out, so there is only gain and compliment that can come from the invite 3) they are affirmed as a valuable person in the community 4) fun!
It’s tricky though. An invite can easily be seen as spam if you don’t get the language right.
3 invite timeplates I use: happy hour, on a podcast, to a dinner party
Here are some ways to craft a tactful invite:
- Don’t be a spam bot – best way to do this is to look through your newsletters and try not to sound like that. Keep in mind that newsletters evolve over the years – now sounding playful (which once was unique) has become cliché. I like to say x y z. Use this language and not this type of language
- Naming reason for convening – “ I wanted to invite everyone to my place to get to know each other …” Convene instead of consume
- Be clear about who is invited – “each of you have some interest in bettering our community and I thought it would be good for us to get to know one another” | alone vs network effect. Random identity
- Demonstrate ease of participation - “All I ask is that you come with an attitude to get to know one another ” plea vs opt in
- Make the invite as personalized as possible – in person is best!
- Give them an opt out – use language like “if of interest” “would love if you can make it” “please come” “can you come”
- Follow up and say no worries if not, just wanted to make sure this got through!
At Make School we have a concept ABI – always be inviting. Before asking someone for something, create an event or opportunity that gives them far more value than you get.
Invites in personal life
I hopped on the online dating apps and didn’t get much action (perhaps they found out about my embarrassing non-invitation to Nick V’s party, Eeek!).
Dates became more responsive once I started inviting them to things I was already doing. “Want to come to a meditation event series I’m leading?” “A concert?” “An art exhibit that just opened?” Another benefit – even if the date didn’t happen, I still had some exciting plans on the calendar.
A one on one first date is intense. There’s a deep give, get, share that is unfocused and can be intimidating to some people. You litterally stare into the eyes of another individuals. Events and groups can disarm the tension and distribute it across multiple people and interactions and take pressure off of looking deeply into each others faces (unless that's your thing!). The music, art can help you ease into getting to know each other, act as a good medium.
The flip side of inviting people to events holds it's own tension. You may feel more responsible for the person having a good time. You may worry about an impression they'll leave on others.
This gets to a core social phenomenon: People are shy to invite people to their events. If the invitee says no it’s a rejection. Rejections suck. The inviter feels the tension of being a host.
But I’ve reframed the way I see invites in my head. They themselves are an inherent form of impact – they acknowledge someones value. They say, we want you, you belong. A simple invite can go a long way.
So if you are lonely. Or feel like people aren’t responding to you. Invite them to something. You don’t have to be the host. You don’t have to put a lot of work into it. All you have to do is ask. And you too can help people get that magical feeling when they get a birthday card in the mail.
I’m sure you’ll find it goes a long way.
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