This article was originally published in The Huffington Post.

In today’s society, networking is considered one of the most crucial steps to getting ahead, both professionally and personally. The problem is, for most of us it feels inauthentic and we wind up slapping a nametag on, and milling about a room aimlessly with no plan. If we do meet someone of interest, often times we don’t know what to do afterwards to try and build a relationship.

Sound familiar? If your networking is not-working, here are some helpful tips to consider before, during and after an event to ensure you stand out from the crowd, make a solid impression and begin to build relationships, not a business card collection.

[Related: How to Master the Follow-Up and Keep Your Network Connected]

Do Your Homework and Prepare Before an Event with These 4 Easy Tips:

  1. Give some extra thought to your outfit prior to attending a networking event. Wearing something comfortable will make you more at ease. Wearing something you really like will make you feel more confident. Wearing a bright color will make you stand out and seem approachable.
  2. If you’re the quiet type, wear something that can act as a conversation starter or icebreaker. An interesting piece of jewelry or shoes for women or fun tie or cufflinks for men will do the trick. If someone does comment on the item, don’t just say “Thank You”, share the story behind the item.
  3. Scan the news headlines before going to an event. News is something we all have in common and is easy to discuss.
  4. If it’s an industry event be sure to scan the headlines of an industry trade that day.

[Related: Networking at Work: How to Accelerate Your Professional Growth and Build Your Career]

I’m Here, Now What? 5 Tips to Making the Most of Your Time

  1. Arrive early because people will have had less time to break up in groups, which can be intimidating.
  2. Go up to someone that is alone, they will be thankful for the conversation the same way you’d be if you were in the same position.
  3. If you enter a room and there are groups of people talking, look at their feet. Their feet are usually pointing in the direction of the most senior person or the person controlling the conversation. Also, if someone in the group has their feet facing a different direction they tend to be less engaged with the speaker so it’s best to talk to them first.
  4. If you’re on the quiet side, chances are you are a good listener and people like that. Everyone likes to feel listened to. Be an active listener and ask a question or two.
  5. Need a quick-getaway to break from a conversation going nowhere? You can always excuse yourself to go to the restroom or to the bar. Tell them it was nice meeting them and excuse yourself. When you return, work the other side of the room.

[Related: You Made the Connection. Now What? Tips on Building a Networking Relationship]

It’s Over, Now What? 3 Tips to Shine

  1. A well thought out follow-up email is always welcome, especially if you really make an effort to personalize it. Be sure to reference where you met, as a reminder.
  2. Forward an article or information you think might be of interest to them. Your initial correspondence should express that you enjoyed meeting them and that you listened to them. It’s about them, not you.
  3. If you are in a position to make an introduction or help someone you met, let him or her know and make that introduction. Remember, givers get!

Once you’re able to integrate these basic tools into your approach, you’ll look forward to going out there and meeting people, guaranteed!