I could fill volumes about chance meetings that have changed people's lives, led to jobs, business opportunities, partnerships, new ideas, etc. — all because people sought other people with similar interests.

Every time I'm in a line, on a plane, at a sporting event, wherever, I introduce myself. I've met some of my best customers on a plane, resulting in millions of dollars in business. You have to always have your antennae up.

I think this is one of the biggest mistakes people make. They don't introduce themselves when they have an opportunity.

You have heard me expound on the notion that our lives basically change in two ways — through the books we read and the people we meet. I hammer that message home every time I speak to a group. I also tell the audience that the people to your left, right, front and back, might be more important in building an effective network than any speaker you will hear over a lifetime.

When I speak, I share a time-tested exercise to help develop communication skills — the two-minute drill. I did this drill for the first time in my hometown of Minneapolis in the early '90s, with 1,000 people in the audience. Within two weeks, I received over 35 letters and cards telling me that thanks to the drill they were either doing business with the person they met or had a high probability of doing business with them.

Here's how the drill works: I ask the audience to look around and ask someone they don't know to be their partner. When the whistle blows, they have two minutes to tell that person everything about themselves that they regard as worth telling. A total of two minutes for background, achievement, hopes, dreams, goals, hobbies, marriage, children, frustrations over the hometown team's latest trade — everything they can think of.

When the two minutes are up, the whistle blows again, and it's the other person's turn. It's amazing what you can learn about another person in just two minutes.

In football, if you mess up the two-minute drill, there is a very good chance you will lose the game. In networking, if you mess up the two-minute drill, there is a very good chance you will miss a major opportunity.

I learned this firsthand on a flight. I was on my way to do a speech, and I wasn't as prepared as I wanted to be, so I planned on using the time on the plane to make revisions instead of networking. So, when the woman next to me tried to strike up a conversation, I smiled and told her I was working on deadline. Finally, about 10 minutes before we were to land, I finished my work. I put away my briefcase, and offered my hand to introduce myself and really looked at my seatmate for the first time.

She looked familiar. She looked very familiar. She looked a lot like Diane Sawyer of ABC News. In fact ... she was Diane Sawyer.

I missed my "Primetime" with Diane Sawyer. It may be a while before I get another chance. Maybe never.

Mackay's Moral: When you expand your network, you expand your opportunities.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail harvey@mackay.com.