Know ahead of time what you want to accomplish during the conference. Do you want to network with peers? Learn more about a work-related topic? Meet current and/or potential clients? Carefully review the conference agenda. Circle or highlight the sessions, events, and workshops that you believe will benefit you most. Note which session leaders you might want to speak with one-on-one.
Be visible: volunteer at the conference, become a presenter or a panelist, and/or simply ask questions at the sessions that you attend. Any and all of these actions will help you stay involved, engaged, and learning.
Before the conference: Read the conference agenda online and determine which speakers you might wish to meet. Research and/or follow them online through Facebook, Twitter, their blog, etc. Then, reach out to them a few weeks beforehand and ask if they’d be willing to get together for coffee, a quick bite, or drinks during the conference.
During: Attend conference social events and introduce yourself to new people at these events—don’t stick with only those from your organization. Ask intriguing questions: “What’s your opinion about the session we just attended?” or “What’s the most insightful piece of advice you’ve heard today?” Remember that the most interesting, useful moments often happen outside of the sessions in informal conversation with others.
Afterward: Send follow-up notes or emails to the professionals with whom you’ve connected. Stay in touch with them and broaden the relationship.
Use a laptop or tablet to take notes during sessions so that you can review what you’ve learned later. (If you handwrite your notes, you’ll need to spend time that you probably don’t have transcribing them!)
When you’re back at work, share your notes with coworkers. These days, this is easily accomplished electronically. Colleagues who didn’t attend will appreciate learning some of the new knowledge that you picked up. Colleagues who did attend will be glad to hear about sessions that they missed. You might also choose to blog about your conference experience.