1. Leave work at the office.
Perhaps the most important rule of attending a conference is to attend it not just physically, but mentally as well. With technology, it is too easy to sit through a wonderful keynote and hear none of it because you are checking email, sending emails, looking at the news, texting, reading voicemail transcriptions or downloading apps.
Technology has also enhanced my conference experiences by allowing me to take better notes, record video, take photos and instantly share key thoughts and ideas with my office which I might have otherwise forgotten before getting back to the office. But for those who can't muster the discipline to pay attention, leaving the gadgets at the office or in the hotel room might be good advice.
2. Plan ahead.
It's all too easy to rush to a conference and not look at the agenda until arriving. Then, too late, one notices that they haven't brought the right business cards, or a certain printout, or a gift. Earlier this week, I attended a conference on doing business in China. I happen to have had several large bags of expensive chocolate with my company brand on them. I could have brought these to the conference and have given them to presenters, which would have helped them to remember me when I wanted to follow up later, but I was in a rush, and didn't think about it until I was already at the event. Thankfully, I remembered to bring my Chinese business cards.
In addition, by planning ahead one can have questions ready for question and answer sessions, rather than just coming up with something in the moment, which may or may not be the most important question you need answered.
3. Focus on others when networking.
There is a strong temptation to tell everyone about you when networking. Somehow you feel like you've got to slip in something about what you do here and there, because maybe, just maybe, someone will hear it and you'll end up with a deal. Try this next time you're in a networking situation—forget yourself and your business and focus entirely on whomever you're speaking with. Look into their eyes, listen and don't get distracted thinking about what you'll say after they finish their next sentence.
When you do think about something other than what the person is telling you, think about to whom you could introduce the person you're speaking with in a way that might foster a mutually beneficial relationship.
I have a friend who does this every time I see her. She was at the China conference I just attended, and within 30 seconds of seeing me she was pulling me by the arm saying "Josh, you've got to meet so and so over here..." She then introduced me to another five or six people, some of whom I will meet within the coming days. How does that make me feel about my friend? I would do anything for her, and it makes me think about what I can do for her, since she has done so much for me.
There is much more you can do to improve your conference experience, but hopefully these tips will get you off to a good start, or serve as a reminder of what you already know you should be doing.