Most people know how valuable having a strong professional network can be, but still despise "networking." I think much of the reason why people hate it so much is because of their pre-conceived notions of what networking entails.

Networking doesn't have to be dry and forced if you don't want it to be. In fact, it can be even more valuable if you don't treat it that way. Below are six ways to make networking suck less.

Be passionate and make it fun. Instead of trying to "network," try to have fun, get to know people and build mutually-beneficial relationships over time. Remember, meeting people is fun! Learn to appreciate the experience of getting to know someone and building a relationship. Talk about stuff you like to talk about and ask questions that you legitimately want to hear the answer to.

Related: 5 Rookie Networking Fails and How to Avoid Them

Don't go to events. I actually hate the term "networking" because most people associate it with big conferences and events with lots of people selling things and giving out business cards. Don't go to those kinds of events.

Don't get me wrong, you can meet some awesome people at big events. Conferences and events are a great way to start meeting people in a given industry and forming a network. However, after building up an initial base, I've found that the best networking doesn't happen at events.

Ask for introductions or reach out directly. Instead of going to events and hoping that you will serendipitously run into someone that you'd love to meet, be more intentional. Think strategically about the people you want to have in your network and make a list. Find them on LinkedIn, and if you have any common connections, ask the shared connection for an introduction. If you don't have any common connections, try reaching out directly.

If you are someone they would benefit from knowing, they will gladly accept the introduction or respond to your outreach. To "warm up" your cold call, try interacting with them online by responding to their tweets or commenting on their blog. Make sure you have a strong online presence so that when they receive your or your shared contacts email they can easily see that you are someone they would benefit from knowing.

Related: 10 Must Attend Tech Conferences in 2014

Host your own events. Invite a group of people and ask each of them to invite a couple more people. Good people usually know other good people, so if you invite good people, you will likely meet even more good people. The event could be a breakfast, happy hour, dinner, basketball game or pretty much anything you enjoy doing. Building relationships with your existing contacts is sometimes more valuable than meeting new people. In addition, by filtering this way, you're more likely to meet great people.  

Blog and tweet to reach a wider audience. Amazingly, blogging can actually help you accomplish several core networking strategies. Blogging is a great way to engage your existing contacts, as well as reach a new audience.

Writing content that's valuable to your audience and displays your expertise is an effective way to reach a wider audience. It's also more "scalable" in that it enables you to reach more people in the same amount of time than having individual meetings or attending individual events.  

Connect with connectors. Connectors are people who know a lot of people and make a regular practice of introducing their contacts to each other. They spend a lot of time networking and meeting new people. Knowing connectors gives you more eyes on the world and saves you time. If and when they find someone that you would benefit from knowing, they will introduce you.

Key takeaways:

  • Networking doesn't have to suck unless you make it suck. Remind yourself to have fun meeting people, chatting about shared interests, and building relationships over time.

  • Instead of going to business-card-swapping events hoping for serendipity, network more intentionally by meeting people through introductions, smaller private events and cold outreach.

  • Blogging, social media and connecting with connectors are great ways to network in a more time effective way.

Related: Using a Purposeful Meal as a Networking Opportunity