Keith Ferrazzi, author of "Never Eat Alone," says he's never been to a "networking event" in his life — because everyday events are better opportunities.
Keith Ferrazzi knows how to network.
In fact, he wrote the book on it: "Never Eat Alone."
In it, he writes, "I have a confession to make: I've never been to a so-called 'networking event' in my life."
That's because Ferrazzi sees every event as a potential place to forge relationships. For instance, he writes of flying first class, "I can't tell you how many valuable clients and contacts I've met during a conversation struck up during an in-flight meal. (By the way, this is the only acceptable time to bother your seatmate.)"
In "Never Eat Alone," he explains that networking events tend to be better in theory than in practice. In actuality, he says, most of them are "for the desperate and uninformed."
"The average attendees are often unemployed and too quick to pass on their résumés to anyone with a free hand—usually the hand of someone else who is unemployed looking to pass on his résumé. Imagine a congregation of people with nothing in common except joblessness. That's not exactly a recipe for facilitating close bonds."
At a networking event, he writes, "People assume you're in the same boat they are — desperate. Credibility is hard to gain. If you're jobless, doesn't it make more sense to hang with the job givers than fellow job seekers?"
Contrast that with, for example, something that on the surface has little to do with networking: the first-class section of an airplane, where "there's an interesting camaraderie among those front seats that you won't find back in coach." That's because those who have shelled out for first class, in Ferrazzi's words, "assume you, too, are important, and they often seek to quench their curiosity about who you are and why you're as dumb as they are to pay such an inflated price."
Organic connections — like those created on a plane — are preferable to empty relationships made in the name of networking, but genuine connections forged through activities you care about are best, he writes. For instance, Ferrazzi takes an annual service trip to Guatemala with his family, during which he bonds with other people who care about the cause. A friend of his who runs a bank likes to meet new contacts between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. at the YMCA, because he knows they are just as invested in their pre-office workouts as he is.
Instead of blindly accepting invites to networking events and showing up with pockets full of business cards, make a list of activities you most enjoy, and "use them to engage new and old contacts," Ferrazzi writes. "If you love baseball, for example, take potential and current clients to a ball game, or invite them to join you in a fantasy league. It doesn't matter what you do, only that it's something you love doing."