No one likes networking. Yet we all enjoy the benefit of having a network. And one of the best places to meet new people with similar professional interests outside your usual circle is the networking time during a professional or community event.

The professional or community event (let’s call it PCE from here on out) is a special thing, often for negative reasons, so if you’ve mustered the energy (courage?) to make an appearance, it’s worth attempting to get as much out of it as possible.

I once despised attending PCEs. The thought of attending one made my armpits sweat and a feeling of dread overcame me.

Then I learned to view the PCE for what it is (an event where every attendee expects the relationship building to be transactional and a little awkward) and began attending with a prepared approach to make sure I got out of the event what I wanted to get out of it.

Whether you’re attending a PCE out of obligation, considered choice, or somewhere inbetween, it’s worth optimizing the likely stilted, uncomfortable, and—dare I say it—forced experience of networking for the chance to meet someone you’re glad you met.

There can always be a person-you’re-glad-you-met at a PCE. You just have to find them.

Here’s a thinking guide to assist you in preparing and executing a networking strategy to meet the people you want to meet at professional and community events.