Your first impression can either energize or torpedo your networking opportunities. People make decisions about others in a matter of seconds. The good news is that there are always opportunities to enhance your presence at networking events, conferences, interviews or parties. Here are seven ways to make a great first impression.

Prepare in Advance

Do your research before heading out to any event where you’ll meet new people. Find out everything you can about the company or group hosting the event. LinkedIn and Twitter are great resources. Plan your objectives for each networking opportunity, identify the leaders or conference speakers you wish to meet and make a list of people you want to contact before the conference. Sneak a peek at the agenda for insider knowledge. With a little prep work, you’ll meet all the right people during the event.

Create a Visual Impression

Don’t underestimate the physical and visual part of a first impression, which includes dressing professionally and using positive body language. Are you glued to your phone? Are you slumped over with bad posture? Are you smiling? Attire and body language send powerful signals. Remember to make eye contact with people you meet.

Optimize Your Time

To optimize your networking, figure out beforehand the best time to arrive and depart. If you are interviewing for a job, always arrive on time or slightly early. If you wish to have an uninterrupted conversation with a speaker, send an email in advance to arrange a time that works for both of you. Otherwise, approach speakers immediately after their speeches, when they are less distracted. Use the program agenda to figure out the best networking times.

Practice Your Approach

Prepare to network and make a good first impressionYour approach immediately sets you apart. If you are at a small gathering or dinner, approach every person you meet with a smile, firm handshake and greeting. Always make sure to meet everyone at your table. Even better, be the one to suggest that everyone introduce themselves. At a larger event, introduce yourself to the person next to you in line, in the meeting and at the reception. If you are talking with someone and someone else approaches, be sure to introduce all parties. Make sure your opening line is appropriate to the situation. State your name, and ask the other person for his name. Find out where he is from or where he works.

Make a Connection

Showing real interest in another person is the key to connecting with them. You probably already know something about the people at an event either because of the event’s purpose or because you did pre-event research. Ask questions, listen to the answers and find connection points with the people you meet. Get their business cards, and write down the connection points on the back. Use their name often during conversation, and they will remember you.

Show Some Attitude

A positive attitude and genuine interest in other people are critical to successful networking. A willingness to help is also an important trait. Opportunities to be helpful are everywhere, and you find them by connecting with people. Can you introduce the person you just met to your college roommate who has the same interest? Can you send a new connection some information to help her job search? Offering help always makes you a valuable connection.

Make it Last

You worked hard to make a great first impression. Now you need to make it last. After the event, tell people how much you enjoyed meeting and talking with them. You can do this by text, email or tweet. Ask them if they wish to stay connected on LinkedIn or Twitter, and send them a link to a blog article they might find interesting.

And remember, it’s never too late to make a good first impression. It takes practice and persistence, but the end result is worth your time and effort.