Taking an active approach to meeting people can turn any event into a productive networking opportunity. It’s also a chance to influence how others perceive you, says Susan RoAne, a San Francisco-based speaker and the author of How to Work a Room (William Morrow, 2013). Never forget that other people are listening to and observing you at all times, she says.

Here are six steps to take before, during and after a networking event to ensure you get the most out of your interactions:

1. Assess the event. Be selective about the events you attend because “you could go to a networking event every night,” says Dale Kramer Cohen, co-founder of IvyLife, an Ivy League business networking community based in New York. Choose events based on who will be there and the type of contacts you can make. If possible, obtain the list of people attending beforehand. If you can’t get the list, ask the person who invited you or recommended that you go who might be there, Kramer Cohen advises.

2. Have something to say. Read the news and think ahead about topics that will make for interesting small talk, says RoAne. And yes, you’re going to have to engage in small talk, at least initially. “The only people who demonize small talk are the ones who can’t carry a conversation,” she points out.

3. Summarize yourself. Know how you'll introduce yourself in 10 seconds or less, RoAne explains. But don’t just give your title, describe what you do, she says. “Give people context about why you’re there,” she says.

5. Keep moving. If you’re at the event for an hour, try to talk to at least three people, advises Kramer Cohen. Ask open-ended questions to get the conversation started, but don’t talk with anyone for too long, she says. Gracefully exit a conversation by extending your hand, saying you enjoyed talking, and offer your business card. Then move on to another person or group, says Kramer Cohen.