If you need more business, you need to expand your network. If you need a bigger network, you need to go to networking events. Business executives, lawyers, and sales professionals have been told this since Moses created the first after work event to discuss some fancy new information he was given. However, is there something magical about an open bar, chilled shrimp (soooo good), and a business card raffle that leads to new, meaningful relationships? The research says NO.
Look, I love a good hobnobbing. About 10 years ago, I took a date to a networking event one night after she was wondering what I did at these events for two hours. She thought it sounded like they would be really fun, and she wanted in on the action. After seeing me shake hands, smile, and tell the same three-minute story for the twentieth time, she asked, “Is this what you do the whole time?” I confirmed that it was. She followed with, “Wow. This isn’t that fun at all.” Yup.
I have taught people Networking 101 for years (name tags on the RIGHT, people!), and I think it is important to get out there and hear new approaches and see new perspectives. But, if we are honest, this is not what we do at most events. We seek comfort and familiarity.
In an environment of strangers where the goal is to “meet people”, networking doesn’t live up to its promise. The problem is that the objective of meeting people AS the activity is out of context and without true purpose. We meet diverse people while engaged in meaningful work, activities and support for organizations where we share a passion with others. That is when relationships form with new people, and doors get opened to new opportunities.
Professors Paul Ingram and Michael Morris from Columbia Business School studied networking events to see what people ACTUALLY do. They found that even with executives specifically stating they were attending an event with the sole purpose of meeting new people, they spent over half the time with the people in the room they already knew.
“True potent networks are not forged through casual interactions but through relatively high-stakes activities that connect you with diverse others.” In other words, schmoozing at a mixer is far less likely to lead you to a powerful network than jumping into projects, teams, or activities that draw a diverse set of people together. —Professor Richard L. Thomas
The recommendations by the authors were to find meaningful activities in which to participate that would lead to meeting diverse collections of people. Joining a kickball league, serving on a local board, or volunteering for a charitable organization is much more likely to lead to meaningful relationships that lead to meaningful business.
In other words, find a team, not a pool.
If cocktail parties work for you, keep going. If you are at a conference, go to the reception instead of staying in your hotel room. However, carefully consider the expenditure of time, money, and calories of attending events just because you need to “get out there more.”
Skipping networking events does not give you a license to go hide in your office. It does give you permission to find a team to join and spend the same amount of time making a difference.