This question is part of the following Ask The Expert session:
Preparing to attend a conference should begin before you actually go to your first session. Everyone is understandably busy these days, but taking the time to do some prep will greatly enhance your on-site experience, ensuring that you get the most value out of your attendance.
Approximately 2 weeks before the event I recommend reviewing the program and noting any sessions that you particularly want to avoid missing for any reason. This will help you block out those sessions in your on-site schedule so that you don’t plan any conflicting meetings during those times. This should only take 15-10 minutes of your time.
At 2 weeks out you should also consider scheduling on-site meetings with other attendees. Many events have on-line networking tools (similar to LinkedIn) to help with this. If so, USE IT! This is your best tool to ensure you get the most out of your conference attendance, and in my opinion these networking tools are often under-utilized. Reach out to the other attendees, introduce yourself, and request a brief meeting at the event so that you can meet in person. Keep it brief and friendly – a full-blown sales pitch should be saved for a more formal setting. The purpose of the networking tool is simply to introduce yourself and open the lines of communication.
If the event you are attending does not have an on-line networking tool then consider other ways of reaching out to conference attendees – LinkedIn, Twitter etc.
Online networking and meeting requests should take maybe an hour of your time, so is hopefully manageable with your lab work.
A few days before the event spend a little time reviewing the above. Has the conference program changed at all in the past week or two? Has anyone replied to your meeting requests? Be prepared to be flexible – things nearly always change slightly at the last minute.