(From Forbes) -- How many times do you say to yourself that you need to meet more people? That your circle of influence needs to be strengthened?  That your skills and talents have yet to be discovered? Your career requires you to network and in today’s marketplace you must be more active than ever. But networking requires planning. An approach that is strategic and measurable; that you can learn from each time you introduce yourself to a new crowd or reacquaint yourself with an old one. If you are strategic and view networking through an opportunity lens, it can serve as a powerful professional development boot camp experience.

Networking demands that you test your ideas, hone your ability to communicate and improve your executive presence. Networking is a full-time job and the more time you dedicate to it – the more you will learn what works for you and against you.  The more you procrastinate, the more you will find yourself disconnected from the opportunities that may potentially advance your career or allow you to meet the right people.  Procrastination will take you back a few steps and you will lose the competitive edge that comes with meeting new people, gathering knowledge, and observing others that have mastered networking.

Networking is not easy.   For some, it’s like having to take a required class in college that you had no interest in, but had to complete in order to graduate. Remember, in business and in life – success is earned from learning how to do things that you don’t like doing.

Networking requires 100% commitment.   You don’t need to be naturally outspoken to be successful in networking environments.  However, you do need to be prepared to deliver value when called upon. In other words, when it’s your turn to say something – make it count.

Networking is a responsibility and it requires active behavior.  You must be extremely engaged about what others are saying.  It’s not about you, but about how well you integrate your voice and perspectives into conversations. What matters most to those who are listening? Your audience will serve to help you connect the dots of opportunity and potentially act as an enabler for you.

The best networking takes place when you don’t know the title or influence of those you are networking with.  Most people don’t like networking because they don’t feel safe in environments where you are forced to meet new people – especially those who may serve in roles of greater influence and power.

But when you are focused on communicating with a person and not a title – it always amazes me how confident people grow.  At one conference, I remember participating in a discussion that included several highly influential senior executives.  In the group, there was a younger person who wasn’t aware of the titles that the people in the conversation held.

This person was funny, shared great stories and was highly articulate. When she asked for our business cards, she realized that one of the people in the group was a CEO of a Fortune 100 company. She quickly responded in shock and began to apologize for her opinionated and outspoken behavior.  Though she felt obligated to apologize, there was no need to do so.

When we are just ourselves, we are most natural in how we express our points of view. We are most effective at communicating and establishing a positive first impression.  Hierarchy or rank shouldn’t define your approach and style; it should only make you more aware of the types of topics or issues that should be discussed.

Networking is both an art and a science.  But in the end – networking should be fun, exciting and a rewarding approach to advancement. The more you network – with a positive outlook – the more you will learn.  And if you’re always learning, you are growing and thus developing yourself – especially your interpersonal communication skills.  Once you have become a pro at networking, you can begin to share your experiences, tips and tricks with others.

Here are 7 reasons networking can become a powerful professional development boot camp.

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