Go to sessions a few minutes early and get acquainted with the people sitting nearby. Think of it as painless networking: since you’re interested in the same speakers and topics, chances are you have something in common. And since you have only a few minutes, it’s not nearly as awkward to end your conversation.
Speaking of awkward: Make networking as painless as possible. A preacher friend of mine says his idea of hell is the coffee hour preceding the worship service. If you’re like him, paying attention to body language can help. In a room full of small groups of people chatting, look for those whose arms are relaxed or who are gesturing more, whose feet are not directly facing the others in the group, and who look away from the others in the group more often. If someone in the group makes eye contact with you, you can feel more comfortable approaching them. In addition, smile and make eye contact with others to signal to them that you are approachable.
Come up with one or two key takeaways for each presentation you attend. As soon as you can after a presentation, go through your notes and distill them into one or two takeaways for later implementation. Pages of notes, no matter how interesting they are, won’t benefit you if you don’t identify what specifically is most relevant to you, and as time passes, you will be less likely to go back and re-read them.
Go through your notes to identify action items as soon as you get home. Once you’re back in your routine, it’s harder to remember what happened at the conference. Sort your notes into a list of action items not related to your writing (people to contact, books or other resources to get) and action items related to your writing (tips or techniques). Then, get busy! Follow up while the momentum of the conference is still with you.
Follow up with business cards. As soon as someone gives you their card, jot a note on it to remind you of the context of your meeting and any follow up needed. When you get home, take action on the ones needing follow up and add information for all the relevant cards into your contacts list.
And if you’ll be at the Writers' League of Texas Agents & Editors Conference in Austin this weekend, say hello!