I've been a conference attendee, speaker, advisory board member and organizer. Each of those four roles has taught me something. I'd like to share a little bit with you so you can make the most of your conference experience.
Point 1: Introduce yourself by name. A lot.
Introduce yourself by name to everyone. Even to people you know, or who you think should know you. The biggest opportunity you have at a conference is to network. The number 1 reason behind failed networking is your name. People may choose not to greet you or connect with you because they are embarassed they've forgot your name. No one will think you are weird if you say, "Hi, I'm Dan Wilson". (Unless your name ISN'T Dan Wilson, that is).
Point 2: Expect good things to happen, tolerate mistakes
As a conference attendee, you should expect a well run conference. However, you should also strive to be tolerant when things go wrong. The people behind the scenes have been busting their tails for months to coordinate a million little details and want you to have the best experience possible. If something goes wrong, it will get fixed. Especially if you are nice about it.
Point 3: Stop checking your emails
Sure, in a 1 hour presentation, there are plenty of opportunities for distraction. However, if you have your face buried in your email, you are missing out on something good. Email is asynchronous communication, leverage it!
Point 4: Be realistic about what you can learn
In a one hour session, you probably have the ability to remember 3 things on a surface level. Thus, take notes about what you are interested in so you can google later.
Point 5: Ask for slide decks
Pretty much every presenter will share their slide deck. Sometimes you'll remember great things from looking at the slides... this should augment, not supplant your own note taking.
Point 6: Give honest and fair feedback
As an attendee, you have the right to give feedback to speakers and conference organizers. This DOES include positive and negative feedback. While no one really likes negative feedback, professionals learn from it and want bare opinions. You paid to be there, you have the right to voice your opinions. Choose whichever medium you are comfortable with.
Point 7: Take a chance
For fun, attend a session you know nothing about. You might find something really interesting!
Point 8: Pitch in where you can
While conference organizers love feedback in any form, what they love most are people who will chip in and help. This could be as simple as folding T-Shirts or making an introduction to a new sponsor... Or just stopping by and saying how much you enjoy the conference.
Point 9: Make friends.
You've got plenty of opportunities to meet people who are interested in the sorts of things you are interested. Make friends, some of those friendships will be very valuable to you.
Point 10: Get plugged in
If you enjoyed the material and the environment, get into the stream. Join a local user group. If there is no local user group, start one. There is strength in numbers.
Have any pointers I missed? Share them in the comments!