Meetings are better than cards
When I first started building my professional network I used something called the "shotgun" approach.
The rules were simple. Put fifteen business cards in a shirt or suit pocket and stay at the event until all fifteen cards were gone. The additional challenge was to try and collect as close to fifteen cards from other people attending the event as possible. The event was deemed a "success" by getting rid of all of my cards and collecting those of others. Any count over 10 was a good use of time. Any count under five and the event was a complete waste of time, or so I was taught.
It was easy for me to approach people and trade cards. I happily came back to my office each afternoon with a stack of business card and carefully entered them into my database. At the end of my first month I marveled at the collection of business cards and the "success" I had with networking. But there was one problem. Sure, I had a great stack of cards and hundreds of individuals in my database, but I had no sales. I had no meetings. I had no prospects. I had no relationships.
That's when I realized that shotgun networking simply wasn't going to work for me.
The next event I attended I made it a point to meet one person that I could set a meeting with before I left the event. I was apprehensive and a little nervous because up to that point my entire strategy had focused on getting in and out of conversations as quickly as possible. Now I had to sustain conversations and ask for a meeting before entertaining a new contact. To my surprise, it was easier than I thought. The first person I talked to agreed to have coffee with me the next day. Turns out people really do want to connect and get to know others. Who knew?
Since that time I've had hundreds of meetings scheduled during networking events, some of which have ended in business and others that haven't.
I challenge any business card collectors or "shotgun" networkers out there to give this approach a try. Try to meet someone and set a follow-up meeting during the event. In the end it's a lot more fun to actually connect with people than stare a desk full of business cards.