Last Updated May 25, 2011 3:23 PM EDT
So are they a waste of your time? No, if you're strategic in your approach, you can actually gain new contacts, and even clients, from networking.
Five tips for people who hate networking:
1. Make people come to you. There's automatically a power imbalance when you approach someone and say, "I really wanted to meet you." So why not turn the tables? Take a leadership role in your organization (Chamber of Commerce, trade association, women's business network). That way, you wield the power because you dole out invitations to speakers - and everyone always wants to meet the person in charge.
2. Set a numerical goal. Vow that you'll talk to at least three people you don't know. That concrete goal will remind you of the point of attending--to meet some new contacts--and it will help push you out of your comfort zone, so you don't spend most of the night chatting with old friends.
3. Get their card. I know that some people measure their networking success by the number of business cards they give out. But the fact is, no one is going to keep your card safely tucked away until the need arises. You're lucky if it actually makes it past the trash that evening. You simply can't rely on other people to remember you, or even email you their contact info, regardless of whether they promise to do so. You need to collect their card - because only you can be counted on to retain their contact information.
4. Follow up. This is where many people blow it. Despite a great initial conversation, they never took any steps to keep in touch, and so a year later, the person no longer remembered them. Make it a point during your conversation to identify commonalities that will allow you to keep a relationship alive, even a casual one. Maybe it's a shared opera passion, and you heard of a show that is coming to town. Or perhaps a business challenge and you promise to send them a white paper you read about how to solve it. However you do it, make sure to stay in touch.
5. Be realistic. Almost no one leaves a networking event with a new contract in hand. That shouldn't be your goal, anyway, because a relationship developed that quickly is probably shallow and easy to break. Your aim should be to meet interesting people whom you can get to know and then - eventually - turn into good, long-term clients.
And that starts with making the effort to introduce yourself - and stay in touch.
What are your best networking tips? Have you managed to win new clients or contracts from people you met at events?
Dorie Clark is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the National Park Service. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.