It's no secret that networking events are a great place to meet prospective clients, customers and strategic business allies on a professional, as well as personal, level. But unfortunately, many of us go to these events and eat the food, drink the cocktails, chat with a few strangers, and then never make any meaningful connections.

To increase your chances of interacting on a more personal level and gaining new clients and friends, it's important to set up an appointment to meet at a later date to explore the possibilities of connecting on a more personal level

The key to getting an appointment with someone is to be clear about why you want to meet with him or her. Can you each be a good referral source or ally for the other? Could they, or someone they know, use your services? Come up with compelling reasons to meet in advance and you will compound your chances of getting that one-on-one meeting.

Here are four strategies to get that initial meeting before you leave a networking event.

1. Attend relevant events.

On any given day in cities around the world, dozens of networking events are scheduled. Your first step is to plan ahead and select events where you think your potential clients and affiliates are most likely to be. Don’t assume that you’ll only meet potential clients at professional events. Explore other venues including Meetup groups, charity and community events.

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2. Do your homework.

Nowadays, many networking events are organized online (for example, through Meetup or Eventbrite) and attendee lists are often posted before the event takes place. Review the attendee lists and identify the people you most want to meet. Research their backgrounds to determine how they may be a good fit for your business and how best to approach them with a meeting request.

If you do your research, you'll have more to talk about because you'll know more about the attendees and their businesses.

3. Introduce yourself.

Jot down the names of the people you want to meet on your smartphone or notepad, along with any essential details you need to remember. Once you arrive at the networking event, this list will help you remember names and stay focused on why you want to meet each individual. You may recognize people from photos on the online attendee list or by reading their nametags.

Once you see someone you wish to meet, smile, give a firm handshake, introduce yourself and tell the other person what you do. Ask open-ended questions and try to find something you both have in common. Listen more; talk less. Focus more on the other person and less on yourself.

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4. Suggest scheduling an appointment.

Keep your conversations brief and don’t monopolize a person's time. Focus on building rapport, not on selling. Ask others about themselves and their business and what they like to do when they’re not at work. Most people love to talk about their hobbies and interests. Show a genuine interest in others and what they have to say and then offer to help them however you can.

If you think that someone may be a potential client or business ally, say something like, “It’s been really great talking with you, but I’m sure there are others here you want to meet. I’d like to continue our conversation later because I think there’s some potential for us to work together on ____. I’d love to get together again to learn more about what you do. May I call or email you tomorrow?” At that point, if there is rapport between you, the person will probably accept your request.

Or better yet, make the appointment before you leave the event, then send an email reminder the following day. The longer you wait to set the appointment, the less likely you will get one.

Attending networking events is only the first step toward identifying potential clients or affiliates. One-on-one follow-up meetings can dramatically increase your chances of reaching your business goals.

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