It has been the business buzzword since forever, something everybody attempts to do, but unfortunately never a part of any educational curriculum. Ivan Misner, networking guru and founder-chairman of US-based business networking organization BNI (as Business Network International is known), tells us why networking should be taught at universities and clears some common misperceptions about it. Misner was in Mumbai last month to address a national conference on referral marketing for SMEs and micro-SMEs. Edited excerpts from a phone interview:

Would you say networking is essential in a modern economy?

Be a good listener: Ivan Misner.

Can networking really be taught? How do you teach this concept?

Networking is more about farming than hunting. It’s about cultivating relationships; people often confuse direct selling with networking. They go to networking events and pounce on people. We teach something called the VCP process: visibility, credibility and profitability. First they know you, then they know what you are capable of, and then they give you work. And if you want to be a successful networker, you must follow these steps.

Give us three quick, easy tips on networking.

First would be, diversify your networks. Most businessmen are cave dwellers. They live in a cave (their home), they drive in their car to work, which are also caves. They need to go out, diversify and network. Join the local chamber of commerce, or the Koala Club, and social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Second, follow the 12/12/12 rule, which is about how you appear in your network.

How do you appear from 12ft away (do you come across as positive or negative), 12 inches away (up close), and what are the first 12 words you say, which also means what is your USP. A really great USP is that of the Referral Institute (Misner’s training institute): “We help people work less, make more money." It instantly gets people asking: How do you do that? That’s a great USP then. Third, know the difference between farming and hunting.

What does an organization such as BNI do, and how is it different from other networks, including social networks?

At BNI, we cultivate relationships, and that’s the driving force behind our business. We literally meet every single week, which means all of the 5,900 groups all over the world. Members learn about other members. Each week, one member stands up and talks about themselves, and this is what results in referrals. As far as social media is concerned, we believe it’s not an either/or situation. We recommend participating in Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Face-to-face interaction has to be done in addition to that.

Are people born networkers?

Yes and no. Often, extroverts are confused to be networkers. Both introverts and extroverts can be good networkers, both have different skill sets. Extroverts are great at starting a conversation but horrible at listening; they can’t shut up. A good networker, on the other hand, has to be a good listener as well, literally use their two ears and one mouth, and listen more than they talk. This is where the introverts seem to score because they’re such great listeners. But introverts aren’t good at meeting people. Networking is an acquired skill both sets of people need to hone.

What are the common mistakes people make during networking?

The single biggest mistake is confusing direct selling with networking. Also, people don’t spend enough time networking. In another survey we did, we found that those people who did find success spent about six and a half hours a week on it; whereas the ones who didn’t find it useful spent about 2 hours. If people aren’t finding success networking, they are probably not devoting enough time to it.