Where Actual Networking Happens

Tea and Topo Chico waiting on a meeting at Cafe Brasil in Houston, Texas.

Tea and Topo Chico waiting on a meeting at Cafe Brasil in Houston, Texas.

Traditional networking events are great for getting comfortable talking business with strangers and gaining a bit of a toehold in the corporate community.

After that point, they're a waste of time.

By "traditional networking event," I mean the gatherings where you mingle with a random or loosely grouped (usually by age or industry) tangle of people. Or the events for which there are speakers or structured programs that seat you at ten-top tables with an assortment of folks who likewise overpaid for bad meals in hopes of good company. (If you're still in the toehold-gaining category—and we’ve all been there—read my post on navigating these ordeals.)

Why are these events a waste after a certain point? Because the real movers and shakers in business—the people with the highly powered positions and the broad-and-deep connections—aren't there. They don't need to be. And they're who you really want to meet.

I attend typical networking functions only when I'm compelled to go for nonnetworking reasons. (Recent example: I went to an after-work mixer because it highlighted a charity for which I am a board officer.) And I attend occasional invitation-only functions or galas to which an important client or valued contact has invited me--those are sometimes more worthwhile. Otherwise, I pass.

Oh, I'm still networking as diligently as ever. I just network differently these days.

Mainly, I put together my own networking events and make my own networking moments--and I find that's what the real movers and shakers in business are doing, too.

For example, last week one of the most connected people I know hosted a breakfast with a few other well-connected people. I've done similar things: inviting people to lunch, coffee, and drinks who I think should meet--and encouraging them to bring someone they think I should know. I've home-cooked for small-group brunches and dinners. Some people take a foursome to golf. I've maneuvered to get people out of the usual meal-and-chat mode, too (see here).

Also, events that aren't officially networking events are networking events for me. I see weddings, running events (groups, races, teams), volunteering, cocktail parties, and suchlike as ideal chances to build my network. People aren't on their guard in these contexts, and I get a chance to connect with folks who wouldn't bother attending a designated networking event. And I have contacts who network heavily at religious institutions and via kids' sporting teams.

This is where the power networking really happens.

Do tell: How do you network?