Why Networking Events are Worthless

Have you ever attended a networking event, excited at the prospect of meeting new and interesting people……and left the event with a headache and a hand full of brochures for exotic Acai Berry drinks and other useless marketing  junk?   Did you feel like you just wasted your time?

You probably did.

Why are most formal networking events a waste of time?  There's a few reasons, but lets start with the biggest reason.

What is a referral?  Simple put, a referral is when you recommend someone or something to others.  Every time you make a referral to someone, you're transferring the trust you've built  with that individual to the person or business you are making the referral to.  In other words, you're putting a little piece of your reputation on the line….not something to be taken lightly.

If someone asked you to recommend a good insurance broker to them, would you recommend the guy you met last week at a networking event with whom you spent a total of 5 minutes talking to…..or would you recommend your buddy from college who you've known most of your life and handles your insurance as well as most of your friends?


In order to make a referral, you need to know that you can trust (and like) that person or service.  How can you build that sort of relationship with a person who is blasting their business cards around the room like they have a shotgun in their hands?

Shallow, mass networking will get you nowhere.   Many of the people who attend these events are there for a one sided proposition…..to promote their product or service.  They will feign interest in hearing about what you do, and even ask for your business cards so they can actively refer you (or so they say).  Rarely will you ever get a referral from these sources.  I've gotten to the point where I won't hand out my business card until I get to know the person, and until I'm pretty sure they aren't going to start spamming me with junk newsletters, emails or try to setup an appointment with me to go over my financial roadmap with them.  All junk.

Can you get value out of networking events?  Yes you can, if you take a different approach.  Next time you attend a networking event, don't go with the mindset of trying to introduce yourself to everyone and getting your business cards into as many hands as possible.  Out of the whole group, look for the 1 or 2 people that you would think you would like on a personal level and make a point of introducing yourself to them.  I said introduce yourself, not your business.  It all starts on a personal level….you have to build a personal relationship before you can build a business relationship.  Ignore the rest of the crowd, if you try and meet everyone, you'll meet no one.

Who do I look for when i'm at an event?

  • People that like to smile
  • People who seem interested in me and don't immediately go into their elevator pitch upon introducing themselves
  • People who don't bring up what they do unless I ask them
  • People who can talk about things other than their business

What do I do when I've found someone I like?

  • I try and get to know them on a personal level
  • I ask about their business
  • I try and do something for them long before I expect them to do something for me.
  • I ask them to lunch, not for a sales pitch, but to have lunch

As you can see, i'm not a big fan of networking events created for the sole purpose of networking.  I do think you can find some great people at events like these, you just need to be  selfish in who you spend your time.  And when you do find the right person, be very generous in bringing value to them and their business in the form of referrals and resources.  That's networking.







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CEO at 3Bug Media
Gary Shouldis is the founder of 3Bug Media, a web marketing company that helps businesses create 360 Marketing Strategies to dominate their market. His blog is read by over 20 thousand small business owners a month and has been featured in the N.Y. Times Small Business, Business Insider and Yahoo Small Business.
8 replies
  1. Sian Phillips
    Sian Phillips says:

    I’m not a networking fan, mostly for the reasons you’ve mentioned above. I much prefer to network online. And anyone that does a sales pitch to me gets relegated to the bottom of the pile. Great post. Thanks for sharing on Bizsugar.com

  2. Patricia
    Patricia says:

    Hi Gary,
    As someone who attends and hosts networking events I see both sides! I Hate leaving with business cards I have NO interest in ever calling and chatting with people about their business I will NEVER use. However depending if you join an organization or attend certain events that have your demographic you will have success! I have just launched a new networking event specifically offering business to business networking and round-table discussions! Specifically for the cons in this post! YR b2b Social Networking offers exactly what your looking for, connections and quality with quantity. Not the SAME 10 people every time you go to one.


  3. Gary Shouldis
    Gary Shouldis says:

    Thanks for commenting Patricia…..yes, networking can work if done right…..the problem is when the event turns into a business card exchange, minus the relationship building. I don’t think you can earn a referral during a single 90 min event…..at least I don’t give them out like that. Can I come to your event?

  4. Sandy Jones-Kaminski
    Sandy Jones-Kaminski says:

    LUV this post Gary…very well said and you look for all the same things I do when I attend or host any type of event.

    I think the person that launched the first speed networking event should be shot — nah, maybe that’s too harsh. Perhaps just force them to HAVE to refer and work with every single person they’ve met in that way. 😉

    I’m all about quality over quantity and in my presentations I explain that, at ANY type of event, I’d rather have met and actually gotten to know 1-2 interesting people that I can actually develop a relationship with, than 30 “hit and runs” types that I wouldn’t want to have to sit next to on a plane.

    Thanks again for sharing your views and I’m definitely going to post and share this with the followers of my Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/networkingknowhow

  5. Gary Shouldis
    Gary Shouldis says:

    HI Sandra,
    Thanks for the comments…..yes, speed networking is alot like speed dating……..lots of desperation with little results. Somebody should create the E-Harmony of networking events!

  6. Matt Keegan
    Matt Keegan says:

    The few times a year that I attend conferences, I usually connect with two or three people and can expect to remain in contact with maybe just one.

    I shy away from people who are blatantly self-promoting, preferring instead to connect with people that desire to build a business relationship.

  7. Gary Shouldis
    Gary Shouldis says:

    I agree Matt, I tend to avoid the hyper-active networkers…those are usually the ones who will hound you for months after the event trying to sell you crap you don’t want.

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