Adrenaline rush, sweaty palms, a slight feeling of nausea: no, you’re not about to meet a blind date for dinner; you’re on your way to a networking event. Even if you frequently attend industry happy hours or conferences, it is natural to still feel anxious or nervous before the big event.

As an Executive Senior Partner specializing in military transition, I am consistently reminded just how important attending networking events is for expanding industry contacts. Networking with confidence is key to making a positive first impression and getting the most out of an event.

Follow these networking event tips to knock your next event out of the park:

#1: Be authentic. If you are attending an industry conference or networking event for the first time and do not know anyone, remember that you are not the only one in this situation. Walk up to a small group, introduce yourself and tell people it is your first time attending the event. People connect with authenticity.

#2: Practice your story. Master a one or two-line statement in advance that summarizes who you are, your past experience, and what you currently do or would like to do. With your story prepared in advance, you can confidently respond to common networking questions, such as “What do you do?” or “What brings you to this event?”.

#3: Do your research. When attending an industry-specific event, make sure you are up to date on the latest industry news, statistics or breaking stories. This information can make for a great conversation icebreaker and also demonstrates to new contacts that you are on top of your game. Many conferences publish attendance lists in advance. Do your research and identify five target companies or individuals with whom you would most like to connect; make it your mission to do so before leaving the event.

#4: Make a positive first impression. Free drinks are a fixture at most networking events; if you’re going to imbibe, do so responsibly. A glass of wine may help you relax, but watch your alcohol intake; you don’t want to be remembered as the person who laughs too loudly at unfunny jokes or begins to ramble incessantly when asked a simple question. Body language is equally important for making a positive first impression: maintain eye contact, stand up straight and avoid crossing your arms.

#5: Follow up. Last but not least, mastering the art of the prompt follow up is one of the most important tips for networking events. Don’t let those business cards languish on your desk or wait for folks to reach out to you. Use LinkedIn to immediately connect with your contacts, preferably within 48 hours of the initial meeting.

What do you do in advance of a networking event to boost your confidence? I welcome your networking meeting tips and feedback below.