Networking meetings and events are an effective way to meet potential employers and clients. Here’s what you need to know before attending your first one.

If you’re looking to make a change in your career, whether to join a new company or start your own business, you’ll need to flex your people skills. The most powerful changes come from interacting and mingling with others; you can only do so much from your desk at home. Look up networking meetings in your area to find opportunities to meet with other business-minded folks. In order to get the most out of networking, here’s what to know before attending a networking event. 

Have a Purpose

Before attending a networking event, you should have a clear purpose. Why are you attending this networking event? If you’ve recently left your job and are looking for something new, keep your skills at the forefront of your mind. Practice an elevator pitch for yourself so that when you meet potential new employers, you can efficiently tell them why you’re a great fit for their company. 

If you’re starting your own business and don’t have many clients yet, tailor your elevator pitch to fit. Why is your business the best at what it does? What can you offer new clients? Go in with strong motivation and purpose. 

Dress for Success

Go a step above business casual for the meeting. While some businesses may be casual and easygoing with their dress code, it’s still worth taking time to make a professional first impression. Treat it like a job interview—because it may well lead to one! Conservative choices like plain blazers and dark neutrals will keep the focus on you and not your ensemble.

That said, when possible, slip a little of your own personality into your outfit. If you’ve started a florists’ shop, try a shirt with a subtle floral pattern. If you make handmade jewelry, wear one of your favorite pieces. Those subtle choices can spark insightful conversations.

Remember Your Etiquette

Any networking event can turn into a job interview down the line. Develop a reputation early on as a polite, savvy professional. 

Get there 10 or 15 minutes early. Plenty of people mingle and chat before the meeting begins, so you’ll have more opportunities to connect with others if you arrive beforehand. Once the event begins, put your phone on silent and give the speaker your undivided attention. 

When you do make that connection with a potential employer or client, be ready with a crisp business card and the correct business card etiquette. Keep plenty of them in a cardholder so that they don’t bend or scuff in your pocket. Be proud to hand your card out—but be selective about who gets one. Exchange cards with folks you’ve genuinely connected to, not just everybody in the room. That way, the exchange will feel more personal. 

It’s natural to feel a little nervous before your first networking event, but once you get into the habit of attending, making connections will become second nature. Equip yourself with an elevator pitch, a stack of professional business cards, and the right attitude. These things to know before attending a networking event will inspire you to go forth with confidence.