There are several ways I prepare myself to make the most of any conference that might help attendees (especially my fellow introverts). Here they are:
1. Get logistical - Scope out the sessions you want to attend, backup sessions, and the receptions and parties you've been invited to and lay them out in an agenda for yourself. You can organize this with paper or using the meeting app and your tablet so you can access at any time. If you can look at the attendee list online, do it! Try to make it a point to meet people of interest while at the meeting.
2. Get chargers - An extension cord, phone chargers, emergency chargers...these all help you to have juiced up electronics and to make friends with others who didn't plan as well as you. Label them with your label maker ahead of time to avoid any confusion later.
3. Get out of your head - Focus more on the other people you meet and less on worrying how you might appear to them. This will make you more comfortable and put your conversation partners at ease.
4. Get vitamins - Make sure to bring B12 with you to help provide an energy boost and to replenish after drinking wine, beer, or cocktails at receptions the night before. Some people (yes, I'm talking about myself here) even have a stash of 8-Hr Energy or Red Bull that they keep in their rooms to help replenish vitamins quickly. It helps.
5. Get protein - Another energy helper, protein, will help you last longer at these marathon events. Protein bars and shakes are good for you to have with you in case you miss a chance to get a meal.
6. Get curious - Ask questions. In your sessions, at your tables, from people you meet, ... questions help you build common ground and foster new relationships. Also, don't be afraid to get on social networks ahead of time and use them to network with other people attending the same meeting. You can ask to meet up with a few of these people while at the meeting and that will help you to expand your circle when you first get to your conference location.
7. Get relaxed - Everyone needs a little down time. Don't forget that you can get some quality discussion time with new friends or just a needed refresher on your own at the hotel pool (or gym or restaurant or spa) during breaks. Some friends of mine have labeled our time at the pool at ASAE Annual, "#poolcon" and we look forward to this as much as the receptions!
8. Get out of your room - I have a tendency to hide sometimes. Don't. These conferences are expensive and rife with possibilities for new connections and learning that can change the course of your career or professional development. USE THEM TO YOUR ADVANTAGE.
Some other helpers:
1. The stash - I bring a stash of my favorite teas and coffee sticks (like Stabucks Via) in a baggie to keep in my room so I never run out and always have something soothing around. I like to drink tea before going to sleep at night so this is big for me.
2. The clothes - Dress in layers. Conference rooms can be frigid even in the middle of summer, so carry a cardigan or pashmina scarf with you that will help you stay warm if the meeting rooms aren't.
3. The shoes - Have a pair of emergency flats - if you wear heels, or even if you don't, a pair of extra flats will sometimes save you from shoe issues.
What are some of your favorite tips for making the best of your conferences?