Make the most of your conference by planning which sessions to attend.
Think about your objectives. What do you want to learn? What will be useful in the long-term? If your organization is sending you to the conference, it’s a good idea to confirm your priorities, objectives, and session selections with your manager, and to be clear on what you should bring back from the conference.
Look speakers up. You can often get a sense of how interesting a speaker might be with a quick web search. Does the speaker blog? You’ll get a sense of their speaking style and depth. Does the speaker share presentations on sites like Slideshare? You may even find presentations similar to the one you’re planning to attend, which will help you make better decisions about whether you want to attend the session in person.
Consider the alternatives. Do you want to attend a presentation, or can you learn just as effectively from blog posts or articles? Depending on your learning style, you might find yourself fidgeting as a presenter explains something that you could’ve just read. Look for sessions on topics that haven’t been written about yet, or topics where you have plenty of questions. Keep an eye out for sessions that promise plenty of discussion time instead of taking up the entire session with a lecture. You’ll get more from your conference experience if you can ask questions and learn from other people’s questions.
Coordinate with others. Do you know other people who are planning to go to the conference? Coordinate your schedule with others so that you can maximize your coverage by exchanging notes. If your coworker is attending a session on one topic, you can attend a different one.
Identify Plan Bs. Plan alternative things to do or backup sessions to attend just in case a session finishes early, is rescheduled, or is a bad fit for you. (See my tips on the hallway track at conferences.)
Share your agenda. If you have a blog, consider posting your session choices and objectives there, omitting sensitive information as needed. This might lead to conversations with other people who are interested in the conference, other people who are planning to attend, and speakers who can help you figure out if a session is the right fit for you. Speakers might even modify their sessions based on what they read.