If you’re like a lot of new entrepreneurs I’ve talked with, you probably hate networking events. You don’t like how fake they feel and how forced your interactions with other people can seem. Sometimes you wonder if it’s even worth going to these events, or if you’d be better off just staying home.

Well, honestly, these events are really only worthwhile if you know how to make them work for you. Before you take that as an official blessing to blow off your next networking event, I’m not saying they aren’t worthwhile.

I’m saying that you have to make them worthwhile, and here’s how.

1. Give Yourself Time to Get Ready
First of all, in most cases you’ll have to sign up for the event ahead of time, and you’ll have a few days, weeks or even months to clear your schedule and make time to get ready, to get there on time and prepared. Give yourself enough time not only to find the right clothes for the occasion, but also to mentally prepare yourself for meeting and talking with other people in your field.

2. Practice Talking to Strangers
Leading up to the event, and as you get ready on the day of the event, practice introducing yourself and talking with potential business partners and investors. You can do this by striking up conversations with people you meet randomly throughout your day. You can do it by practicing in front of the mirror at home, too. Don’t underestimate the value of this, and don’t write it off as silly. It’s important insight into seeing yourself the way others see you. And the more you practice, the less nervous you’ll be when it counts.

3. Dress for Your Brand
They say you should dress for the job you want, not the one you have, and that’s absolutely true. Whether it’s right or not, people judge us according to how we look. Choose the clothes you wear to networking events carefully, and when you look in the mirror, ask yourself, “Is this how a representative of my brand should look?” If the answer is, “No,” then it’s time to reassess your wardrobe and what’s missing in your look. Investing in even just a few choice pieces, especially really good shoes, can make all the difference.

4. Walk Up and Say Hello
Now, when you get to the event, you aren’t going to do yourself any favors by being a wallflower. The best approach to networking is to walk in and say “Hello!” to other people. If there is someone in particular you want to speak to, don’t be rude and don’t interrupt them, but don’t be afraid to approach them, either. If not, just introduce yourself to the first person you meet, tell them who you are and what you do, and get to know them.

5. Ask Questions and Show Sincere Interest
As you talk with other attendees, don’t just talk about yourself. Instead, ask questions about them and what they do. First of all, this makes you seem more genuine and sincere, and second, it can help you learn about the person you’re speaking with and whether or not the two of you should keep in touch.

6. Suggest Helpful Resources and Connections
If you feel like you can gain something from a relationship with someone you’re speaking with, show them how they can gain, as well. Suggest helpful resources and connections you have, and you’ll show them that you can be a valuable asset to have around.

7. Offer to Stay in Touch
If you want to keep in touch with someone, don’t wait for them to offer their card. Instead, offer yours or give them your phone number or email address. Then suggest a means to follow up and stay in touch, and you’ll be a step ahead of the game.

8. Take Notes
Finally, before you leave, make sure that you take a few notes on the conversations you just had. You can type these in with their contact info in your phone or tablet, or just jot them down on their business cards, but make sure that you write down a couple of details that you can use when you contact them again. This will not only help you remember who each one is in the future, but it will help them remember you, and feel like they really connected with you as a person.

There you go — eight easy steps to getting the most out of your networking events. Good luck!