For those of us who get a little nervous when building professional relationships, here are 7 ways to be better at networking.

Networking is defined as interacting with other people to exchange information and develop contacts, especially to further one’s career. By definition, networking is essential to being successful in business.

For some, networking events can be fun, but for others it can be intimidating and seem inauthentic. Either way, it is crucial that we are effective networkers. Here are some tips to increase your effectiveness.

Here are seven ways to be better at networking:

1. Have a plan when you are going to a networking event.

Whether you are going on your own volition, or have been told you need to attend the event, you need to have a plan. Are you going to meet people to do business with, are you recruiting members for an organization you are involved with? What is the purpose of going and what would success look like for you?

I frequently give myself a goal of meeting a certain amount of new people at a networking event. Even if I don’t end up having a business relationship with them, at least I have met someone new in town. And it discourages me from only talking with people I already have relationships with. They are great, but I can do that another time.

2. Practice your elevator speech.

Your elevator speech or how you answer “What do you do?” is a part of your personal brand. You undoubtedly will get asked that question numerous times at a networking event and you need to have a concise answer.

You can tailor your answer for the event or the person, but know how you will answer the question before you go. There is nothing worse than being asked “What do you do?” and not having a concise, catching answer. It can chip away at your credibility.

3. Ask easy questions.

Entrepreneur advises to join conversations with easy questions like, “May I join you?” or “What brings you to this event?” Make sure to listen intently to their answer and respond accordingly. This makes it less awkward to join a conversation and relieves some of the pressure of joining an existing conversation.

4. Don’t forget to follow up.

If you meet someone at a networking event that you think can turn into a professional relationship, make sure you follow up with them that week. During your conversation, find out how they would like you to follow up with them. When you do reach back out, reference something in your conversation and discuss next steps. Maybe you’d like to get together for an information interview?

Try these tactics for writing networking emails that people can’t ignore.

5. Remember, it’s about relationship building.

The purpose of networking may be to advance your career, but it is also about relationship building and getting to know people. For networking to serve its purpose and advance your career, you have to build relationships with the people you network with.

We are inclined to help people we know and have a relationship with, but not necessarily someone we met and talked to once. So as you interact with people, genuinely listen to what they have to say. Find something you have in common with them and try to get to know them better. Those authentic relationships will help you in your career, and can also turn into friendships.

6. Don’t forget your business cards.

If you want people to follow up with you after a conversation, they need to know how to get in touch with you. So make sure you have business cards and bring them with you!

It also doesn’t hurt to have your physical address on them. Many people are still fans of mailing thank you notes; make it easy on them.

7. Relax and be yourself.

Networking can feel forced and may cause stress- especially for introverts. Go into the event relaxed and calm. This will help your overall state of mind, but it will also help you as you mix and mingle. Finally, make sure that you are your authentic self. Let your personality and passions shine through. This will also aid in building those relationships.

When you go to your next networking event, remember these things and see if anything changes. Do you feel more relaxed? Did you make more contacts? Let us know how these tips help you be a better networker!

P.S. Check out our latest #G20Chat Recap on How To Build Your Network for what real people have to say on the topic.